September 29, 2005

Poetry Leaders (L-R) Iris Elizabeth Sankey, Sherry P., Monté Clarke, Shurland H. Aird, and Diane Dawson.

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For nearly six years, ASC's Creative Writing Workshop has met weekly to help clients, peers, and volunteers find strength and healing through creative expression. Now, with funding from the Phil Zwickler Charitable and Memorial Foundation Trust, ASC has launched a Poetry Leadership Program that takes the Creative Writing Workshop one step further.

Through this program, five dedicated workshop participants received group facilitation and leadership skills training to enable them to become "Poetry Leaders" capable of leading the creative writing workshops on their own. Participants also received computer training to develop their Internet research skills and assist in the production of ASC's poetry magazine, Situations.

"The Poetry Leadership training took place this spring, and focused on workshop facilitation and presentation skills," explains Gerry Gomez Pearlberg, the workshop's leader. "The Poetry Leaders learned how to access poems online for class discussion and inspiration. They also learned how to develop writing exercises that promote harm reduction, wellness, and recovery."

For Poetry Leader Shurland H. Aird, the training imparted the skills to lead the workshop with confidence, while enriching his own creative process. "As a result of the training, my writing has got more body and soul to it," explains Aird. "I learned to take time in writing and to explore deeper. And when it came time for me to lead the Creative Writing Workshop on my own, I knew I had the skills to carry me through it."

Poetry Leader Diane Dawson said that leading the workshop on her own for the first time was a transformative experience. "I was so nervous, going over my notes a thousand times," says Dawson. "I got to ASC early that morning and when people came into the workshop, with all the eyes on me, at first I was overwhelmed.

"Then it just fell into place and it felt right. Doing the research, picking the right poem, learning how to engage the participants in conversation, going over difficult words with them, watching them learn something new—it was a rush. I felt the fulfillment of getting people excited about something. To be with my peers, interacting, feeling each other's pain, and encouraging each other was a really good experience. It made me think, ‘this is something I could do for the rest of my life.'"

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