Five years ago this month, we opened our doors with a bold plan: to help people become better writers. We had one small classroom on the second floor of a cool, industrial-style building in Red Bank and a staff of four. We were excited to share our mission and our passion for writing. At the time, we had no idea how life-changing the writing experiences would be—not only for our students but also for our own organization.
When we launched, we had only one class of three adult students and zero community outreach programs. But we were determined. We believed in the importance of giving people opportunities to write in meaningful and reflective ways. And most important, we wanted to provide those opportunities to anyone—regardless of income level or hardship, especially children and teens.
Our model was to offer fee-based classes in our studio, which would help support donor-funded outreach programs for underserved populations. As we pitched our ideas to local schools and mission-based organizations, partnerships were forged. That fall, we began assisting high school seniors with their college essays through the SOURCE at Red Bank Regional. By January 2015, we committed to weekly writing workshops with 7th and 8th graders in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program at Red Bank Middle School, a partnership that is still thriving today.
As word spread, our fee-based adult classes and youth/teen summer camps took off, and we needed to move downstairs to a bigger space. More and more schools and organizations reached out for our services. We began working with a variety of groups—adults living with mental illness at Shore House, teens dealing with emotional difficulties from Family Based Services Association of NJ, and a women’s mentoring program at Lunch Break, among others—and customized workshops based on the organization’s needs.
Sure, we were thrilled with how many people we were touching, but even more we began seeing how essential and life-changing our writing workshops were for our students.
A 7th grade boy in Red Bank who never spoke up or shared his writing in class began opening up in our after-school program. Toward the end of 8th grade, he shared a deeply personal poem with the class, who responded with empathy and encouragement. “Thank you for letting me show my creativity,” he wrote in a card.
A 5th grade girl in Asbury Park who was quiet but wrote profound poetry slipped the instructor a note on the last day telling her she had been dealing with depression, but she loved the poetry and writing prompts, which helped her find her voice. “You helped me more than you could ever know,” she wrote.
An adult in Long Branch living with mental illness who had long ago given up the idea of being a writer credited our workshops with reigniting her passion. She not only began writing again but also shared her pieces through live storytelling events.
None of these anecdotes would be possible if not for our community partners, who invited us into their spaces to write with their students and clients. We are grateful to them for trusting us and believing in the benefits of reflective writing.
The impact was happening in our studio, as well. Many of our students would linger after class to tell us how writing with us became the highlight of their week. Some were living the long-held dream of being a writer and getting published. Others were grateful for the safe space, experiencing the healing effects of writing and sharing personal stories. They told us we were giving them the writing community they had been searching for their whole lives. They asked about volunteering or even teaching.
At year three, we sat down and reworked our mission: transforming individuals, organizations, and communities through writing. We wanted our guiding principles to reflect more accurately what was happening through our programs. Our students were not only improving their writing skills but also discovering their voice, their confidence, and a deeper insight into who they are. They were also bonding with their peers in meaningful ways.
Five years later, we can measure our growth in numbers. Our current six-week session has 12 adult classes with a total of 74 students. To date, more than 500 adult students have walked through our doors for workshops, services, and events, and more than 600 children and teens have attended classes and summer camps.
Through our community outreach programs, we have worked with more than 30 schools and mission-based organizations serving nearly 2,500 children/teens and more than 600 adults.
Our staff has grown to 20 part- and full-time talented, compassionate writers and artists who are committed to our mission and who pour their love of writing into their teaching.
But for us, it’s the depth of our impact—both on the individual and on our community—that has been most gratifying, which is hard to capture in a spreadsheet or graph.
The best we can do is continue sharing our students’ stories, which we will do in the weeks leading up to a special FIVE-YEAR WRITERS CELEBRATION featuring our current and former teen writers on TUESDAY, DECEMBER 3, at 6:30 p.m., at Red Bank Middle School. So please SAVE THE DATE!
We would not be where we are today without the support of all of you who have taken classes, signed your children up for summer camps, attended an event, or volunteered your time. We are grateful to all who have generously given donations, especially our Founding Donors, who took a chance on us more than five years ago and helped us launch an organization that I believe has become a vital part of the Red Bank community.
On behalf of the Project Write Now team, thank you ALL so much for your continued love and support!
Project Write Now has brought so much joy and meaning to my life, and I’m so excited to see what comes next.
With love and gratitude,