Category Archives: Community Literacy Center

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The CSU Community Literacy Center (CLC) helps create alternative literacy opportunities that work to educate and empower underserved populations, and foment university-community literacy collaboration.  Through the SpeakOut! writing workshops, the CLC confronts stereotypes of at-risk youth and incarcerated women and men, circulating the stories and creative work of community writers through print and multi-media publications, believing that these dynamic literacy activities are key to individual success, cultural awareness and a more socially just world.

Tenth Anniversary of SpeakOut!

For ten years, the Speak Out! Writing workshops have allowed writers to explore who and where they are in their lives through creative expression. The primary philosophy of this program is that every person has a story to tell; each has words that are valuable and necessary.

SpeakOut! Writing Workshops for adults take place at the Larimer County Detention Center with separate programs for men and women, and Community Corrections and Work Release for women transitioning back.  At-risk youth participate in programs from Turning Point, Matthews House and Remington House. SpeakOut! won the “Program of the Year” award at the recent Larimer County Jail volunteer awards banquet.

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In weekly workshop sessions, facilitators seek to present a range of approaches and techniques for engaging in writing. Each session involves the presentation of contemporary writing techniques and tools, giving participants the opportunity to apply the concepts discussed to their own lives through guided writing exercises. Writers respond to prompts on issues central to their lives, including confinement, freedom, family, pain, anger, beauty, love, life, place, and home. Participants are then invited to read their work aloud and give/receive feedback.

The writing that results from the workshop is compiled in a bi-annual journal, which is circulated at no charge. Public readings are held at the end of each semester, where community members can hear, in their own voices, the issues prisoners and at-risk youth face, providing an opportunity to counter negative stereotypes regarding incarcerated people and individuals in treatment programs, and hopefully create a society less hostile to prisoner re-entry.

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Writing is… in the voice of SpeakOut! writers

Writing is hard, confounding, helpful, hopeful, hideous.
Writing is my mind doing jumping jacks while my heart takes pulse.
Writing is a way to free your mind. Writing is my world when I am so confined.
Writing is a way of expressing one’s self, showing emotions, making people laugh…making people understand.
Writing is a never easy process until you’ve learned at SpeakOut!
Writing is bearing witness to those whose voices have been silenced.
Writing is the voices of those that I have been and those that I am.
Writing is alive.  It is a universe where the pen is exploration and exploration is endless.
Writing is diving into the soul while breathing out the cosmos.
Writing is a way to get feelings, ideas, songs, and poems expressed.  Then, we can share them or not!  But at least they’re not burning idly inside of us.
Writing is a way to thing about and reflect back on past experiences—good or bad.  Writing can help channel emotions you thought couldn’t be tamed.
Writing is freedom, joy, and happiness.

What’s Happening Now

This year SpeakOut! is ten years old. Look for a ten-year retrospective of the community voices that have collected in their volumes over the past ten years, and special events to mark the beginning of their next decade.

The CLC has a record number of workshops and volunteers excited to work at the Larimer County Detention Center, Community Corrections and Work Release for adult women and men, and Turning Point, Matthews House, and Remington House residential treatment centers for youth.

Through the interns who have chosen to work with this program (graduate students in the English and Sociology Departments this year), the CLC continues to develop new ideas for workshops, support research in the field by co-authoring academic papers and create new ideas for grant funding.

CLC Intern Lily Alpers

CLC Intern Lily Alpers

CLC Intern Kate Miller

CLC Intern Kate Miller

CLC Intern Cara Ramsay

CLC Intern Cara Ramsay

CLC Intern Sarah Rossi

CLC Intern Sarah Rossi

CLC Intern Larissa Willkomm

CLC Intern Larissa Willkomm

On the CLC blog you can get to know CLC facilitators and read their reflections on their work within the community through their blogs.

The CLC is back in Eddy Hall, in a newly refurbished space.
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The CLC has a new Associate Director, Mary Ellen Sanger. Learn more about her in this recently published profile on the blog.

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CLC Associate Director Mary Ellen Sanger

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Mary Ellen Sanger
Associate Director Community Literacy Center

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What brought you to CSU?

Since moving to Fort Collins two years ago (for love), I have volunteered at CSU: with the Community Literacy Center leading writing workshops at Larimer County Detention Center, and with Mary Ontiveros and the Diversity team on a project they had in hand at that time.

What is the Community Literacy Center (CLC)? What is it doing that we should know about?

This year the CLC celebrates ten years of promoting literacy through SpeakOut! writing workshops, enhancing opportunities for creative expression for confined populations and at-risk youth. From its inception in 2005 when SpeakOut! consisted of a single workshop for the women in the Larimer County Detention Center (LCDC), this year we expand to six – maybe even seven – workshops at the LCDC for men and women, Community Corrections for women, and Turning Point, Matthews House and Remington House for young men and women. These workshops promote community action and social change, culminating at the end of each semester in a creative journal compiling the voices of writers who have participated in the program. Please stop by the CLC office – we would love to share a journal with you! The voices are surprising and clear and need to be heard.

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What is your current role at the CLC?

As the (first ever) Associate Director of the center, and after two years as a volunteer workshop facilitator, I assist Tobi Jacobi in the administration of the program and mentoring and guiding volunteers and interns.

What does your typical day of work there look like?

Thankfully I haven’t experienced anything typical about my days yet. One day I will be meeting with the six inspiring interns who chose to enrich their university experience through learning to facilitate creative spaces with SpeakOut!, another I will be polishing several grants we are putting in place to help fund our anniversary activities, or hanging a solidarity poster in our refurbished office, making appointments to get to know the contacts at our workshop sites, or devising a new spreadsheet to record attendance statistics. It’s a great position for me, where I get to use a lifetime of career experience in one small but powerful office.

What is one of your favorite things about the CLC?

The CLC provides safe spaces for expression for so many whose voices may not otherwise be heard – important for the writers and for the listening community as barriers blur and diverse groups come together. That this work is facilitated by energetic, curious and visionary interns (and volunteers) is one of my favorite things. They invest their time, intellect and hearts in facilitating important spaces for literacy, writers develop and share their voices, and the model moves forward as interns carry the experience into their post-workshop life, enriched and enriching.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I like knowing that some of what I do may make a difference in how someone experiences the world and their space in it.

What special project are you working on right now?

The CLC is working on activities around our tenth anniversary. Depending on funding, we are planning a ten-year retrospective publication, with material compiled from the journals published each semester containing writing from all the programs, and one or more special activities that can celebrate the reach of the program and as importantly, its future.

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Why are the Humanities important?

Long ago I was a science and mathematics nerd, who just happened to read and write a lot. I tripped over foreign languages (particularly Spanish) and appreciated the doors that opened as I rubbed up against a broader range of human experience.


That is a great part of the strength of the Humanities – with a base in Humanities, we are able to contemplate our role as intellectual, moral and spiritual members of society, grapple with social justice issues, imagine and express a better future.


What had the greatest influence on your career path?

My “path” was a meandering one. I moved from publishing with Academic Press in San Diego in the 80s, to tourism in Mexico in the 90s and 00s, to nonprofit administration in NYC during the past ten years. I think that the experience of living in a country where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line (that, plus advancing age) has instructed me to devote my time to matters that matter, and not to a stranger’s bottom line.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be a doctor. Until I realized I had to dissect cats in college. Nope.

What or who inspires you?

Solidarity inspires me. Yes, definitely solidarity.

What accomplishments are you the most proud of?

I was in jail in Mexico. That’s not the thing I’m proud of. After 17 years living and working there, I was falsely accused and imprisoned for 33 days. I wrote a book about the experience, and while I am proud of having written the book, I am more proud that those who have read it, close the cover and say – “what an amazing community of women you met inside!” I am proud to have been able to bring something of their voices home with me, and release their solidarity into the world.

What book or reading experience had the biggest impact on you?

We just lost one of my favorite writers earlier this year. Eduardo Galeano, from Uruguay, who wrote: “We are all mortal until our first kiss and our second glass of wine.”

What are you currently reading, writing?

Currently reading: Lucia Berlin short stories – “A Manual for Cleaning Women”

Currently writing: in my head, the next great Mexican-American novel. On paper, poem-esque scribbles with the women of Community Corrections.

When you’re not working, what do you do?

Every spring I grow a whole garden from seed. I can’t survive without that miracle. When the garden fades in fall/winter, I make altered-photo transfer prints of the blooms. I pet two rescue cats throughout.

What’s one thing you dream of being able to accomplish in your time at Colorado State University?

I dream of unearthing hearty, steady, earnest funders who understand the importance of keeping alternative literacy spaces vibrant and growing.

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