Edited by Randi Bjornstad

The Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation recently awarded $8,000 to Wordcrafters in Eugene to expand the nonprofit writing organization’s Writers in Schools (WITS) residency program, which benefits schools characterized by low-income, rural, or incarcerated student bodies.

The Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation was established in 1997 and serves as an independent philanthropy organization representing the Cow Creek band of Umpqua Indians. Since then, they have given over $20 million to non-profit organizations in Coos, Deschutes, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, and Lane counties.

Wordcrafters will use the grant to fund residencies for programs in three schools:  Kalapuya High School, whose student population is composed of youth from low-income communities; Elmira High School, located in a rural community; and the Phoenix Treatment Program, which serves incarcerated youth. In total, the grant will allow Wordcrafters to serve more than 240 students.

WITS residencies are based on methodology from the WITS Alliance, which began in 1983. The methodology says public school environments benefit from intensive literary arts instruction, giving students of all backgrounds the chance to hone their unique communication and critical thinking skills. This provides them with powerful tools in adulthood that are relevant in whatever life path they choose to pursue, writing-related or not.

In Wordcrafters’ WITS residencies, a professional writer is paired with an instructor from each of the selected programs. Students work with the professional writer on developing their own spoken word poetry pieces. They participate in group work and performances culminating in a class chapbook, poetry reading, or art project. These residencies allow students from under-served communities to experience the entire creative writing process, from first drafts to final revisions, with help and support from a professional writer.

These residencies focus on spoken-word pieces, which is the mode of writing that Wordcrafters finds engages at-risk students most successfully. Spoken-word poetry encourages them to examine their emotions and their past and present experiences, and to develop a personal style that reflects their identity and message, using words, body language, tone, rhythm, and presentation.

These new ways of self-expression boosts students’ confidence that their thoughts and words matter and that they have the skills to communicate their ideas meaningfully to others.