House writing project tells a generation’s story of foreclosure and abandonment

Foam houses, each displaying a student's work, sit on the lawn at Lake Erie Ink.

A week before Halloween, students at Lake Erie Ink’s Ink Spot after-school program were asked to write a description of a house on three-dimensional foam panels. The goal was to teach the concept of personification, giving human traits to nonliving objects. The results surprised the staff.

The project was the idea of Lydia Munnell, an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Northeast Ohio Literary Corps stationed at Lake Erie Ink, a Heights-based nonprofit co-founded by Amy Rosenbluth and Cynthia Larsen that provides writing opportunities for young people.

“I expected spooky houses full of vampires and ghosts,” said Munnell. “What I didn’t prompt or expect was for every description to be a realistic and heartbreaking sketch of an abandoned house.”

“When we broke to write, the kids were quiet and started immediately. I was excited for what they’d produce, but still assumed it would be a bunch of stories about haunted houses with bloody walls. I would have accepted those stories—part of what I feel so strongly about at Lake Erie Ink is that Amy and Cynthia have created a space where kids feel free to write what they want—but I should have known they would go deeper.”

As Munnell moved among the foam houses, reading, a pattern emerged. “Every kid had written a story about a lonely, abandoned house,” she said. “Without even trying, they had co-written the story of a generation of Cleveland kids. It was the fruit of the housing crisis, and it was their real lives. They knew about the shadow an abandoned house casts on a neighborhood and front yards scarred by the constant stabbing of ‘for sale’ signs because these houses are on their streets.”

“They weren’t prompted to write about foreclosure, and if they had been, what came out wouldn’t have been nearly so organic or honest,” said Munnell.

Lake Erie Ink, located in the Coventry School building at 2843 Washington Blvd., provides academic support and opportunities for young people in Greater Cleveland to express themselves through creative writing. To learn more or to volunteer, visit www.lakeerieink.org or contact Lydia Munnell at 216-320-4757 or staff@lakeerieink.org.

Selected student works:

I watch as the children pass me and think about how ugly I am, as I slope down the hill. My eyes are gone and feet are barely there. I wish someone would say ‘Hey that’s a nice house. How about we live in it and make it all pretty?’

I wish someone would move in and spill tea on me, my old, slow petite self. The kids never see me and run into me. I wish they wouldn’t ruin me anymore.

My garden was once lively, but now no more. The weeds spread over me and hide a little of me. Maybe I’m grateful, maybe not.

Oh! Look a new family! Will they choose me? Yes!-Now I am pretty and dearly loved. My life is accomplished. SO now I can drift away forever and ever.

—Sarah M., 5th Grade

I knew they would be leaving soon but I didn’t know they’d be leaving as soon as right now.

Maybe they’ll come buy me, but maybe they will not. I hope they do because I want someone to sleep inside me.

I wish my tongue could reach out and feed the people to me and maybe they might come live inside of me.

I’ve been home so long. I wish I could stand up and be a person, but all my windows see is the grass and the sky and when the tourists come by.

—Tyler G., 4th Grade

My chipping yellow paint and purple falling shutters get covered up in snow. Why don’t the people shovel my way or pick my raspberries? No one ever even rocks on my swing on my porch!

As we were driving down Mulberry Avenue, we came to a stop. This is it! We all got out and ran up to enjoy the pretty swing, colors, and structure. I know it sounds crazy but I’m pretty sure I saw her smile.

You would never believe what’s happening! A nice family of 2 children and 2 adults finally moved in! They fixed up my paint, watered my garden, and made my squeaky swing stop squeaking.

It’s summer now and were picking raspberries, growing flowers and swinging on out porch swing

And finally I feel at home.

—Emma H., 5th Grade

He’s cold. He needs water and needs somebody to blow bubbles in him once in a while.

He remembers when they used to mark the wall with a circle.

He misses the bubbles they use to blow.

I can remember well, especially when they burst.

—Javon Y., 5th Grade

I have lived through many years.

I am small but strong.

Many people have lived in me.

Now I am only home to cobwebs,

spiders, and dust.

—Lily W., 5th Grade

Heights Observer Editor


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Volume 6, Issue 1, Posted 11:55 AM, 01.02.2013