They need an environment that supports developmental growth. They are young girls, ages 10-17, who need a place where their words can be honored and creative expression is possible. They need someone who will listen, someone they can trust.
A unique program is bringing creative expression alive at a most unlikely place-the Genesee Valley Regional Center, a short-term detention facility for juvenile offenders. Girls are volunteering for the "Buckham/GVRC Gender Specific Spoken Word Poetry Project" which is aimed at addressing the unique and unmet needs of young female offenders.
Project co-founder Shelley Spivack, a local attorney and juvenile court referee, says studies show that arts-based programming can be an effective tool in rehabilitating youth, particularly young women. A $3,500 grant from the Flint Women and Girls Fund and the Karen Piper Fund supported this program.
"Our aim is to get the girls writing, get them to express themselves on paper as well as verbally in front of other people," Spivack says. "That's a skill. Their voices need to be heard in the courtroom as well as society. We're giving them the space to do that."
Each week during the program, girls volunteer to participate. Some are detained longer than others, so the group dynamics, and participants, change each week. They begin by writing their thoughts down on large pieces of paper. Then, they are invited to speak the words as they wish. Through the spoken word, girls are encouraged to examine their own self-worth, and how they view themselves.
"The spoken word concept appeals to these girls because they can think of it more like rap," Spivack explains. "The purpose is to not only use the writing, but also to give a voice to the writing."
One participant said that writing gave her an outlet. "She had been put down her whole life, and it gave her some communication skills that may have been helpful in transitioning back into regular high school," Spivack explained.
"When you see the words in their own handwriting, it just moves you more," she added.