A creative journal: Lake Erie Ink founder looks back on 10 years of fostering youth creativity

Ten years ago, English teachers Amy Rosenbluth and Cynthia Larsen saw a need to emphasize the importance of writing skills and creativity to area youth. The two met, realized they had similar visions and Lake Erie Ink was born in 2010.

In March the organization will officially celebrate a decade of bringing creative writing to youth through the many programs offered in its facility on Cleveland Heights’ Coventry PEACE Campus and across Cleveland’s East side.

Lake Erie Ink has continuously grown to foster creativity in the Cleveland Heights community. But it has been a long journey from humble beginnings to what the organization offers today.

Rosenbluth and Larsen met through a parent-teacher group and found out they had many shared interests and experiences.

“We were both teachers, we both taught in California, and I think the biggest indicator of our shared values is the fact that we each got our teaching licenses from the same bureau in San Francisco,” says Rosenbluth.

<span class="content-image-text">Ten years ago, English teachers Cynthia Larsen and Amy Rosenbluth saw a need to emphasize the importance of writing skills and creativity to area youth and created Lake Erie Ink.</span>Ten years ago, English teachers Cynthia Larsen and Amy Rosenbluth saw a need to emphasize the importance of writing skills and creativity to area youth and created Lake Erie Ink.They had individually been doing their own work to promote creative writing and thinking in Cleveland Heights schools before meeting and merging their missions. Larsen was volunteering at various Cleveland Heights elementary schools, while Rosenbluth was teaching at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland and holding slam poetry competitions at the Cleveland Heights Public Library.

“Besides our similar experience in teaching, we were both inspired by other non-profit groups throughout the country doing similar work to what we were doing individually—specifically the 826 Valencia program [in San Francisco],” Rosenbluth explains.

She adds that the goals of Lake Erie Ink are to create time for students to think creatively without fear, to provide resources for students to improve their writing ability, and to offer a space for student voices to be heard and amplified.

Rosenbluth argues that it is often easy for teachers to create and stick to a schedule—which can inadvertently stifle creativity. “Schools lean heavily on tests, standardized or otherwise, which can sometimes create a routine of repetition and memorization without room to think creatively,” she says.

Gaining ground

Establishing Lake Erie Ink was not easy, says Rosenbluth, who compares the organization’s origins to “building a plane while you’re flying it.”

After meeting, Larsen and Rosenbluth started their own poetry clubs in 2008 at Boulevard and Fairfax Elementary Schools in Cleveland Heights. Rosenbluth was still working at Lakeland and hosting poetry slams at the library, which proved to be a fruitful relationship to have cultivated.

“We started out hosting teen writing workshops and poetry slams at the Heights Libraries, [which] allowed us to use the space at no cost,” recalls Rosenbluth. “We also knew teachers who would allow us to come into their schools to work with the kids, knowing our backgrounds in education.”

During this time, the poetry clubs began to grow in popularity—so much so that between 2009 and 2010, five other Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools started their own clubs.

The movement started gaining traction and Larsen’s and Rosenbluth’s schedules began to fill.

“We applied and received grants from Reaching Heights and parent-teacher associations in the region which formally allowed us to work with kids in the Heights Schools,” says Rosenbluth. “Then we wrote a larger grant proposal to create the organization [Lake Erie Ink] instead of just working within schools. We received seed grant and start up funding from the Fowler Family Foundation.”

Lake Erie Ink was officially established in March 2011, prompting Rosenbluth to leave her job at Lakeland to commit herself entirely to building the organization.

“In all of our programs we emphasized and tried to teach originality and presentation of a student’s writing,” she says. “I personally found that students want to be heard and tend to create more and better work when they feel they can freely express themselves without fear.”

Expanding horizons

What started as drop-in poetry workshops and slam poetry competitions over the last decade has become so much more.

One of the many projects that has evolved over the last five years is the Teen Book Project. High schoolers from across the region comprise an editorial board that gathers to establish a theme (during the pandemic the board has been meeting over Zoom).

This year’s 13 board members came up with the theme “On the Other Side.” Any student from any school in Northeast Ohio can submit a piece of work, and the editorial board collects the pieces to create and publish a book with the editorial help of BELT Magazine.

The book is released each spring and can be found at local independent bookstores throughout the area like Mac’s Backs Books, Heights Arts, and Loganberry Books.

Lake Erie Ink offers programs at the Cleveland and Shaker Heights libraries called "Evening INK, open to teens, and Weekend INK. open to all ages. Since the pandemic hit both programs have shifted virtually.

“Our staff is really passionate about teaching, so when we found out about the quarantine it took all of about a week for all my teachers to transition all of their courses online,” says Rosenbluth. “It was really remarkable—we were probably fully online by the middle of March.”

Most of those teachers’ programs fall under either the Weekend INK or Evening INK umbrella, but eventually both programs consolidated into one larger program called Creative Communities.

One of these programs is called Inside Out—a writing workshop for LGBTQ+ youth in Northeast Ohio.

“The program created a safe space for students who are in the LGBTQ+ community. It helps these young creators to connect, which naturally fosters improvement in their writing abilities,” says Rosenbluth.

The program was started in April and ends next week, on Monday, Dec. 14.

Fresh Ink—the organization’s young professional board—is holding a virtual Scattergories game event on Friday, Dec. 18. Tickets are $10 and all proceeds go to Lake Erie Ink’s continued support of creative voices in Northeast Ohio.

Zack Asher
Zack Asher

About the Author: Zack Asher

Zack Asher is in his final semester at Ohio University, earning his bachelor’s degree in news and information. He is currently interning for FreshWater Cleveland. He lives in Solon and is an active guitar player for local band Fuzz Aldrin.