UM-Flint Students Making a Difference with Incarcerated Kids

UM-Flint students David Guster, Meredith Sheatzley, and Hannah Hawcroft work with justice-involved youth in Flint.

Genesee Valley Regional Center is a juvenile detention facility on Flint’s Pasadena Avenue. The kids housed there, aged 10-18, have a structured routine, like attending school every weekday and attending group meetings in the evening.

Youth Arts: Unlocked provides a creative outlet for kids like those living in the GVRC. With a mission of “providing arts and enrichment programming for justice-involved youth in Mid-Michigan,” the organization was co-founded by Shelley Spivack, a Genesee County family court attorney-referee and lecturer in the UM-Flint Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice.

Three UM-Flint students pay weekly visits to GVRC, facilitating classes like dance improv theatre, art and poetry, and more. Read more about their work as Youth Arts: Unlocked interns below.

David Guster

David, a sophomore Theatre Performance major, helps to lead boy’s theatre sessions like “Shakesprov,” where the kids perform guided improv scenes of Shakespeare plays.

“When kids hear that they are learning Shakespeare, they tend to get nervous, and we want this to be positive, not stressful,” David explains. “So we guide them through an improv scene of Shakespeare. We’re not focused on giving them lines to memorize for next week, because the hope is that you get out of the facility and we won’t see you here again.”

David appreciates the opportunity to be a positive male role model during a difficult time in the boys’ lives.

“This program gives at-risk boys the opportunity to experience new things, to be comfortable in their voice and bodies, and play in a stressful environment. It makes me feel good to be helping them.”

Meredith Sheatzley

Meredith uses her skills as a junior Dance & Social Work double major to connect with the girls at GVRC through dance and the visual arts.

Each week, the group learns about a positive, empowered woman, and then the girls translate that new knowledge to art. Sometimes there is a choreographed dance to learn, other weeks they focus on expressive movements where the girls create their own moves representative of who they are.

“The more I get to know them, the more I realized that the girls are so under-credited for what they are capable of,” Meredith, whose internship is funded through the UM-Flint Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, says. “Their work should be shared a lot more.”

Meredith works with her UM-Flint Dance professor Emma Davis (pictured) to help girls express themselves through dance.

Hannah Hawcroft

Unlike David and Meredith, Hannah isn’t a performing arts student. A junior Criminal Justice & Sociology double major, Hannah’s role is to document the activities and interactions that take place during the creative sessions. Are the kids engaged? What kinds of questions are the kids asking the instructors? Were there any behavioral issues?

Hannah’s work is important in helping Youth Arts: Unlocked analyze and improve their programming, as well as in communicating the work of the organization to donors and other institutions who provide support. Her position is funded through the Flint Truth and Action Partnership Project.

Hannah’s career goal is to become a police officer, specifically a detective working cold cases. She values the opportunity to gain experience in the criminal justice system, and working for a worthy cause was enough for her to sign up after she learned of the opportunity while taking one of Shelley’s classes.

“This experience has definitely made me more comfortable in interactions with different kinds of people; the children and teens in the facility, administrators in the GVRC and teachers in the program,” Hannah says.

“They become more engaged as time goes on. There’s a lot of laughter and there’s a lot of just kind of being a kid, which is nice to see,” Hannah says.