Every time senior communications major Jaimee Swift steps into the Mighty Writers building, tucked into a corner on Christian Street, she said she is “inspired by the youth and their tenacity and zeal for writing and life.”
Upon entering the building the first things seen are fully stocked bookshelves. Children sit attentively listening to a story being read aloud, intently focused and quiet. The love of reading and writing is evident in such a scholarly environment.
Mighty Writers, a nonprofit offering after-school tutoring and educational opportunities for elementary– to high-school– aged students, gets Philadelphia’s youth college and career ready by strengthening writing skills. The program is known on Main Campus because of supporters and volunteers who are among Temple’s students and staff. George Miller, a journalism professor at the university, is on the board of directors. Local volunteers, some of whom are Temple students, work with students at the Mighty Writers center at 1501 Christian St.
“Volunteering at Mighty Writers has definitely changed my life,” said Swift, the president of Temple’s chapter of Her Campus, a national online magazine for female college students.
She heard of the organization through a former Her Campus Temple member, and has since gotten involved with volunteering at Mighty Writers.
Youth coordinator and alumnus James Owk and another youth instructor, Rachel Loeper, lead after school instructive sessions that include time to do homework, followed by time in which they lead classes of their own curriculum.
In addition, Owk heads the Team Scholar Program, which is designed to immerse high school students in preparation for college. The Mighty Writers program provides tours of colleges, instruction of how to navigate FAFSA and interactive learning using hip-hop artists’ success stories. The class recently read Jay-Z’s “Decoded” to explore a modern interpretation of the American dream.
Mighty Writers provides free services for attending students. In order to attend, students must go through an application process that involves submission of an essay and examples of their previous work, and are expected to be very committed to their assignments in both school and in Mighty Writers’ programs.
“Most of my students [will potentially be] first generation [college students],” Owk said.
Owk, a first generation college graduate himself, said he stumbled upon the job of teaching at Mighty Writers coincidentally. Along with jobs at Mighty Writers such as his, volunteer efforts are a major contribution to the program.
Development Director Maggie Leyman said mentor-student interaction and workshops are designed to be fun experiences that draw students in and encourage them to write with clarity.
“Our workshops incorporate kids’ interests…so we can first get them engaged and then get them writing,” Leyman said.
The organization’s founder, Tim Whitaker, ended his own 30-year journalism career to start Mighty Writers in 2009, and this hands-on form of instruction has been catering to Philadelphia’s youth ever since.
Owk described Whitaker as “an OG.” A student in his class giggled at the description, leaning over his current assignment, a research project on the history of Halloween and harvest ceremonies.
“College students should get involved because they want to, not for credit,” Owk said. “That’s what a community like this deserves.”
Volunteers go through an interview process, and should be committed just like the students, workers said. The general opinion of Mighty Writers’ volunteers seems to indicate, though, that this effort does not go unrewarded.
“You can either take my word for it, or come see it yourself,” Owk said. “The community is a wealth of connections and positive action, all it takes is to get involved.”
Erin Edinger-Turoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.