Northwest Community College Initiative Coordinator Charlotte West, who is based at Edmonds Community College, writes about building community partnerships with the local chapter of a national non-profit, 826 Seattle.
One of my favorite parts of my job as coordinator for the Northwest Community College Initiative (NWCCI) program is building relationships with community partners who help introduce our students to various aspects of US culture. I also enjoy having the opportunity to introduce my students to organizations that work with issues that are important to me.
I have been a writer for most of my life—I wrote stories as a child, was editor of my high school newspaper and have more recently been published in higher education publications. That’s why I was so excited to discover 826 Seattle, the local chapter of a national non-profit writing and tutoring center. Hidden behind the storefront the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company in north Seattle, 826 provides an after school tutoring program as well as workshops that encourage writing, creativity and inspiration.
A few years ago, I volunteered with 826 as a tutor in their In-Schools program, where volunteers visit local elementary schools and work on writing projects with students in their classrooms. Last year, after brainstorming ways to help connect our NWCCI students with elementary school students, I reconnected with 826 and the International Club was born. A few times a month, we visited 826 with two or three NWCCI students, who brought photos and artifacts from their countries and shared their culture with the 826 students during the after-school tutoring program. We’ve been doing this with the last two groups of NWCCI students, and it’s something I’ll look forward to continuing in the future.
From this initial collaboration, I worked with Steve Yasukawa and Alica Craven at 826 to develop a three-day international storytelling workshop. We interpreted folk and fairy tales through dance and acting and several of the NWCCI students brought books from their countries that they shared with the kids at 826. The kids then worked in groups to write stories based on the illustrations in the book. We also learned about fables and that some moral lessons are the same across cultures.
Here’s one of my favorite stories that Rosemond, an NWCCI student from Ghana studying project management at Edmonds Community College, wrote with 826 kids Even, Nathaniel, Munira, Jonathan, and Betsmona:
Once upon a time, there was monkey named Diego living in a zoo. Diego came from a cave outside the city of Accra. Diego was very well behaved during the day. When the other monkeys would steal people’s things like their popcorn or ice cream, Diego would steal them back from the people. He would also collect bananas for the other monkeys. During the wet season, Diego made sure all the other monkeys had shelter from the rain.
One day during the dry season it was really, really hot. Everyone was itching from the heat, especially Diego. All the monkeys were down at the watering hole splashing up water on their backs. Diego was daydreaming in the shade. When Diego had free time he would always daydream. He would dream about Central Ghana where there was a rope course he could play on all day and night.
His plan to escape the zoo for the ropes course took many years to fall into place. He spent his night digging under the fence and each morning he would roll a boulder over the hole to hide it. Each night he would try and signal to the Zoo Keeper with crazy hand gestures that he wanted to use his motorcycle. The Zoo Keeper thought he was just an angry monkey at night, he had no idea that Diego was trying to communicate.
Finally night came and Diego removed the stone from the hole and snuck through it to the other side of the fence. He snuck into the zoo keeper’s office to find him sleeping. He reached inside his pocket and stole the keys to his motorcycle without anyone noticing. He hopped on the motorcycle and realized he had no idea how to get there but then noticed the motorcycle had a navigation device built into it. The road was long and dirty and bumpy but finally he arrived. The heat in central Ghana was the hottest he’d ever felt but he’d never felt more at home on the rope course.
Diego lived out the rest of his days leaping and jumping and with no regrets for the hole under the fence or the stolen motorcycle. Even though he seemed very giving to the other monkeys during his time at the Zoo, Diego had a personal plan for himself. For many months after Diego left, the other monkeys went hungry, and many of them got wet because Diego could not provide them with shelter.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.