Lake Erie Ink connects people
Visit Lake Erie Ink’s website right now, and you’ll find a simple mission statement: Lake Erie Ink (LEI) provides creative expression opportunities and academic support to youth in the Greater Cleveland community. And insofar as the Coventry-based nonprofit has served more than 2,200 youths in its on- and off-site programs this past year, that’s true. Essential to what LEI does, but that is absent from its mission statement, is the an inevitable byproduct of what happens when youth feel supported and heard—Lake Erie Ink connects people.
When I came to Northeast Ohio to attend college, I was little more than a tourist here. While I had a sense that I wanted to know both Cleveland Heights and Greater Cleveland better, my understanding was peripheral. Outside the bounds of campus, I had no community. When I graduated in 2012 and was hired as an AmeriCorps member at LEI, I got my first glimpse at the kind of community LEI offered—one facilitated by the conviction that young people not only have something to say, but also want to hear others as much as they want to be heard.
In the two years I’ve spent at LEI, I’ve been able to witness all kinds of connections. I’ve seen a full-time writer connect with a fourth-grade boy who devours books, but is convinced he hates to write. They bonded over stories and sometimes found a way to write together. I’ve watched a Case Western Reserve University freshman ride the bus to our space twice a week to be bombarded with questions about college by a group of sixth-grade girls. And I’ve seen a grandmother with a passion for paper arts talk tattoos with an illustration major from Cleveland Institute of Art. When adults and youth are given the opportunity to write together in a supportive space, they form connections that are sustained long after they’ve left that space behind.
LEI has made more than 2,000 connections this year across nearly 30 communities, and as we kick off a summer of programming, I look forward to the relationships that have yet to form. They’ll form in camps, such as the weeklong Community Connections for third through eighth-graders, designed to introduce them to our corner of Greater Cleveland and help them identify assets in their own communities. Youths will connect in Writing Outside the Box, a camp that uses storytelling and visual arts to explore public space and the way we connect to others through the world around us. Throughout this summer and the coming year, LEI will provide students with a place to write, draw, perform and, most importantly, to hear one another.
Hasan, a fourth-grader recognized the importance of connection when he wrote the following poem:
I’m in a different world, it is a world where
everybody is nice
and people don’t have to lock their doors at night
and people don’t have to have enemies
where everybody knows others’ first names.
Well I name this fantasy world Hope
And it won’t be a fantasy forever.
LEI offers all kinds of chances to make a connection this summer. For more information visit www.lakeerieink.org.
Lydia Munnell is a Cleveland Heights resident and has been coordinator of Lake Erie Ink’s after-school program since 2012. This fall she’ll begin a teaching assistantship and MFA program at Bowling Green State University.