Life Stories: Keep Delivering

Lisa M.’s mother and her siblings

By Lisa McLaughlin

My mom died last summer. Her sister, my Aunt Mary, died nine months before that. Eight months before that, her other sister, my Aunt Doris, died. In the span of a year and a half, I lost the three major forces in my life.

What I did not lose was their stories. I did not lose their stories because I have been writing them down. For years. It does not make the loss of these women any less painful, but going back to these stories is a way to connect with them even if they are no longer on earth.

Some of the best stories my mom and aunts told me were about their family of six kids growing up in South Orange, N.J., during the Depression.
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Just Another Day at PWN

By Casey RJ Dalrymple

The first assignment was to find love poems — short ones. Having just graduated with a degree in literature, hewing close in my studies to brief lyric poetry (not out of aesthetic concerns so much as out of time restrictions), I was delighted. Still, it was my first day, so I hesitated to show it to the room, cluttered with red envelopes for an event later that evening, the three women I just met in it trading words and papers at an intimidating rate. Read more

For Our Young Writers: Telling Their Stories Is Key

By Eileen Huang

The inimitable Toni Morrison once said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” I’ve carried this adage with me since I first started writing. I’ve written the things I want to read—the unsayable and ephemeral that can only be fully captured on paper.

I was not surprised to see students at Project Write Now do the same. Since I first began volunteering as an intern at PWN’s after-school writing studio, I’ve seen middle school students write pieces that are impressive in both their memorable language and complete originality. I’ve read stories from students about time travel, late-night existential crises, and crumbling dystopian worlds. Once, a boy wrote a poem about grief in a way many older writers cannot. “I remember you,” read one line, “the way you laughed with your mouth barely open.” These are fleeting moments, details you can miss in life with a single blink. Read more

The “I Love” Epic Poem

Photo Credit: Christine Enna

This poem is the culmination of The Red Envelope Project, a community project about spreading love and gratitude as far and wide as it can go. During the month of February, Project Write Now team members handed red envelopes all over Red Bank, N.J., with a piece of paper inside, prompting receivers to add their line of “I love ____” and pass it on. Envelopes poured in for weeks, some coming from as far away as Texas. PWN team members wove those lines into this epic poem, which was read by all who attended our event at Glen Goldbaum’s Lambs & Wolves on March 2.

I love kisses and hugs.
I love spending time with my friends, both near and far.
I love the smell of garlic and olive oil cooking.
I love sleeping in my bed.
I love promises of tomorrow.
I love my new puppy, Eli.
I love growing acorns into trees.
I love my mom and dad.
I love art and photography.
I love pink frosting on cupcakes.
I love watching TV with my husband.
I love to be hugged and kept warm.
I love seeing my students smile.
I love eating ice cream with my brother.
I love where I live.
I love my family, teaching, and going outside.
I love mac and cheese and surprises.
I love playing with my sweet and happy dog, Socks.
I love going on vacation with my whole family.
I love jumping into cool water on hot days.
I love grilled cheese sandwiches.
I love creating beauty in the world. Read more

The Red Envelope Project: Spreading Love & Gratitude

By Lisa Hartsgrove

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get—only with what you are expecting to give—which is everything. ― Katherine Hepburn

The other night in class, I drew a big heart on the whiteboard and asked my teen students to name some of the things they love. As I began filling in the heart with their responses, my students grew more and more excited―they loved so many things! From “drawing” to “pets” to “walks on the beach at sunset,” it wasn’t long before I passed the marker into their hands. They formed a line at the board, every one of them having something to add. Their words multiplied until they outgrew the heart, and then they made more hearts to fill with answers.

These are the kinds of moments I love most at Project Write Now―witnessing the connections that happen when people come together to write. In my class, I have students from Fair Haven, Ocean Township, West Long Branch, Middletown, Rumson, Port Monmouth, Shrewsbury, and Morganville. What brings them together each week are the stories they share and the power of their words, which create friendships that have deepened beyond our classroom walls.

The Red Envelope Project was inspired by moments like this and our desire to bring even more people together through a community project that is all about spreading love and gratitude. During the month of February, Project Write Now team members handed red envelopes all over Red Bank, N.J., with a piece of paper inside, prompting receivers to add their line of “I love ____” and pass it on. When the page was full, the self-addressed, stamped red envelope was to be sent back to the studio. Read more



By Jamie Galyas

One summer morning, not long after my high school graduation, I googled local writing workshops. I had been accepted to Emerson College, but it was deferred until January 2017. I knew I needed a place to keep writing and build my confidence, and then I stumbled upon Project Write Now. My future with the nonprofit amounted to something bigger than I could have ever imagined.

I was accepted into PWN’s summer Teen Internship Program as part of a project that involved interviewing a senior citizen and documenting his story. It was such a powerful experience that I asked Jennifer and Lisa if I could continue interning that fall. With open arms, they welcomed me, and I started helping with the after-school program. The students, mostly 7th and 8th graders from Red Bank, surprise me every day with their amazing writing talents and ambitious dreams. All of them, at such young ages, are able to write striking poems and flash fiction pieces. Then Jennifer asked me to be the lead editor for PWN’s new online literary magazine, Bridge Ink, which will launch in January.

At PWN, everything changed for me. I was writing again. But not just articles, poetry too. I remember Jennifer telling me that a journalist needed to do creative writing, as well. I pushed myself to see beautiful things in ordinary places. Read more

When Memories Are Shared


The cousins in our earlier years.

By Jennifer Chauhan

I love Thanksgiving. It’s always been my favorite holiday. I remember as a kid being so excited to go to my Aunt Carol and Uncle Joe’s house, an hour’s drive away on the North Shore of Long Island. My mom was the second oldest of seven siblings, so I had a posse of cousins whom I loved hanging out with. I remember the warm “I’ve missed you” hugs, our Schumm family signature cheese muffins, and ping pong tournaments in the basement.

But what I remember most are the spirited conversations at the big oval table in the dining room. Of course, we kids would be at the designated “under 18” table in the kitchen, but shortly after nibbles of apple pie, we would sneak in to listen to our parents reminiscing and laughing before the conversation turned to politics and arguing (mostly friendly) ensued. And then at some point in the conversation, a grown-up fell asleep (a Schumm family curse).

My childhood memories have been triggered a lot in recent weeks, as Project Write Now has made surprise visits all throughout the community to encourage people to jot down favorite memories on sticky notes that we will display at our first big fundraising event on November 29. The theme of the evening is “A Night to Remember,” and we have everyone–chefs, photographers, musicians, poets, students–sharing stories generated by memories. Read more

The Universal Writing Prompt: I Remember

By Allison Tevald

In my third semester of graduate school, I became seriously stuck in my writing. I was avoiding the blank page, afraid that what I wrote would suck and need to be scrapped, or, worse, that I would crack open and spill out something painful. My professor at the time was understanding and told me everything that we at PWN tell our students of all ages: Everyone has a story to tell. Write to find your voice. Write to discover. Do not self-edit while drafting.

Then, I got an email from him:

Subject: I forgot!

This one is essential: I Remember, by Joe Brainard

Reading Brainard’s memoir, I discovered if he has something to say about linoleum floors and oreo cookies dunked in milk, then I too had something important to say. I marveled at how, in scattered sentence and short-paragraph form, he zoomed in on his own personal moments, and then pulled out to a wider lens of common experiences. The scope was astounding, and his grace and honesty beautiful. Read more

Love, Loss & Everything In-Between: My Interview Experience

By Bethaney Clarke

This past summer, we had the honor of working with a group of talented teens as part of our Teen Internship Program. Two dozen teens volunteered their time assisting in our summer camps or interviewing and documenting the stories of Red Bank seniors and other notable citizens for “The Interview Project.” I loved every minute I spent with these incredible teens―training them and learning about them as writers, watching them teach lessons or coach the younger students in our summer camps, and seeing them present their interviewees at our celebration and speak about their experiences. This is such a special program that we offer and I wanted to offer a teen’s perspective, so I asked Bethaney to write about how “The Interview Project” impacted her.
–Jennifer Chauhan, Executive Director

Imagine you’re 85-years-old and no one has ever asked you to sit down and talk about your life experiences. Think of all of the things you’re dying to say and the things in life you’ve never stopped to consider, to remember, or to cherish. Think about the opportunity to make a connection with someone. Laughing, reflecting, crying, and smiling. Imagine the flood of thoughts and memories and emotions. How you can’t stop yourself from spontaneously changing from subject to subject because you haven’t touched these places in your life in so long and they’re all just rushing out of you. Read more

Fight for your Write: Girl Power

By Lisa Hartsgrove

They didn’t know what to expect. Neither did I. What might come out of a “girls only” writing group? Their experiences were all bound to be very different from one another; what was too sensitive a topic? Is there such a thing? How would I handle it? How would they? Read more