Community Partnership Spotlight: Young Kings & Queens Inc.

Our organization wouldn’t be what it is without the help of volunteers and the collaboration with differing organizations within Kalamazoo County. Young Kings and Queens Inc. (YKQ Inc.) is a non-profit organization that is collaborating with us this summer through a book club. YKQ Inc.’s mission is to empower and inspire minority youth to live beyond the scopes of societal norms through exposure to broader experiences and information. Using the tenets of culture, community and identity, YKQ, Inc. raises overall awareness of its youth through education and experiences. They specifically work with youth between the ages of nine and thirteen and have decided to team up with RAWK this summer.

Jason Conde, our Director of Education, is leading youth from YKQ Inc. in a summer book club as they read the award-winning young adult novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give. Thomas’ novel is centered around Starr, a young African American girl who witnesses the death of her childhood best friend by the hands of a police officer. The Hate U Give opens the narrative for activism and the strength of youth voices in times of trauma and hardship with a focus on one’s identity. Youth from YKQ Inc. came to the RAWK center at the end of June and received free copies of the novel. We discussed what we thought the book would be about and set our own daily reading and writing goals. The overall goal is to get them writing in their notebooks every day that we have provided for them and to have them finish the novel before our second meeting.

The book club members will return again on August 2nd to discuss their reactions to the book and how they see their stories represented within the novel and how the novel may impact their own stories. Then the youth will come back for a third and final visit the following week to share their creative written responses about the book and other pieces of writing to create an anthology they will be able to keep.

Overall we have been excited to work with YKQ Inc. because their mission aligns strongly with RAWK’s and it opens doors for both organizations, allowing voices and stories to come together that might not have interacted if this collaboration did not exist. We have also been excited to spread the influential and valuable work of Angie Thomas by assigning The Hate U Give as it encourages youth to stand up and use their words even when it's tough, even if their voice might shake. 


Welcome RAWK's New Executive Director!


Welcome RAWK's New Executive Director! 

Nicki Poer.jpg

Join us in welcoming Nicki Poer as our new Executive Director!

After a months-long search with an impressive pool of applicants with widely varied experience, we are thrilled to celebrate the dynamic addition of Poer to our organization. We are grateful for her energy and enthusiasm, confident that she is the leader RAWK needs in this new phase of our organization.

For the past nine years Nicki has served as the Director of Education & Outreach at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre where she created and runs the Academy of Theatre Arts which runs theatre education programs year-round for youth and adults. Her work at The Civic also includes partnerships with Kzoo Parks and Rec, Communities in Schools, and Kalamazoo Public Library. Originally from Illinois, she came to Kalamazoo from Connecticut where she was the Education Associate for Community-Based Programs at the Tony Award-Winning Hartford Stage. Nicki holds an MFA in Acting from the University of Montana and a BA from Millikin University. She found her passion for working with youth while touring through the US, Canada, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with the Missoula Children's Theatre.  

Karen Trout, RAWK board president: "On behalf of the entire board of directors, I have full confidence that RAWK will be in excellent hands under Nicki's leadership. She brings enthusiasm, strong community connections, and proven administrative skills, all of which will ensure RAWK's unique ability to celebrate and amplify youth voices, and thereby contribute to youth success."

The work Poer has done in our community to provide platforms for youth to flourish creatively is a fitting compliment to the work we do at RAWK. The curriculum at the Academy of Theatre Arts has focused on emotional intelligence, empathy, and building self-confidence through performance and technical theatre skills.

"My passion for the community of Kalamazoo runs deep and I am honored to join RAWK to help the youth of Kalamazoo to continue to have safe spaces to find their voices, share their ideas, and express themselves," Poer shares. "RAWK has experienced immense growth over the past six years due to the dedication of an extremely skilled staff, supportive board of directors, loyal volunteers, and the community of Kalamazoo itself. As we look to the future, RAWK will continue to expand programming to adjust to the changing needs of Kalamazoo youth to help them succeed in an ever-changing world." 

Nicki lives in Kalamazoo with her husband, Brad who is the theatre professor at Kellogg Community College and her children, a 7 year old daughter and 3 year old son.  The family is completed by their 12 year old Australian Shepherd, Elwood who is named after the Blues Brother.

She will be joining the RAWK team in her official capacity at the beginning of July 2018. Yet another reason why this summer is going to RAWK!

A New Chapter for RAWK

Dear RAWK families, youth, volunteers, partners, donors, collaborators, friends,

Way back in 2011, Anne and I began dreaming of RAWK. We had high hopes for what could be, and now (with hard work and unequivocal support from our community over the past 6 years) we’re living in what is as we celebrate milestones: a writing center, a storefront, a publishing center, expanding staff, growing programs and partnerships. 2018 marks the beginning of RAWK’s 7th year as an organization. We continue to dream big, to set high goals to better serve youth in our community.

It is with a grateful heart, swelling with pride and hope, that I share this news. I will be stepping away from RAWK in my role as executive director. It’s an exciting time for both me and for RAWK, as I leave to pursue opportunities as an author/illustrator, and RAWK begins a new chapter here at 802 S. Westnedge. RAWK’s transition moving beyond our co-founders began last year when Anne stepped away from RAWK. Let me assure you it is a sign of a healthy, sustainable organization, that this is happening. I keep saying we’re stepping away, and that feels misleading. Really, we’ll never step away, as Anne and I will always have the honor of being RAWK’s co-founders. Our board of directors has assembled a transition committee to ensure a seamless process as we look for someone to take over the reigns who is devoted to RAWK’s mission, vision, and place in our community.

It has been a privilege to lead such a remarkable group of people who enthusiastically show up to do the work—our board, staff and volunteers know the power and importance in valuing youth voice. Through RAWK, I have met so many inspiring people in our community, committed to literacy, youth, and equity. Anne and I often gush about how we are forever changed by this work—by knowing all of you and seeing youth voices celebrated and amplified in our community.

I am confident that equity, access, joy, and creativity will continue to be the guiding constellation for our organization. I will forever be involved with RAWK as a cheerleader, a patron, and an ambassador, not only for RAWK but for the youth we serve. Thank you for the love and support over the years. I’m looking forward to seeing what fantastic things RAWK continues to accomplish in our community.

With a heart full of gratitude, 



RAWK's Summer Intern!

Being a small non-profit organization, we are often in need of help to accomplish the many tasks at hand. We are grateful to the Community Building Internship program through the Center for Civic Engagement at Kalamazoo College. This is our second year working with their program, and benefitting from the help of a summer intern. 

We're thrilled to introduce you to Destine Price, our 2017 summer intern. Working with someone who grew up in Kalamazoo and whose heart is devoted to community and voice has been fun, to say the least. To say even more, Destine is inspiring. She comes to work eager to dig in, happy to take on any and all tasks asked of her, and with an honest desire to learn. She is all about collaboration and open communication. We laugh a lot, too. This summer has been HUGE for us in many ways, and her hands and heart for the work we do (both behind the scenes and with the students we've served this summer) has been essential for us. If you see Destine around Kalamazoo, be sure to give her a high five. Grateful to work alongside such a creative soul.

We asked Destine a few questions (and of course she answered in the most poetic, beautiful Destine-kind-of-way):

How are you today?

Today I am accomplished. I rose from fluffy white sheets at 5 am sharp and transported to work within  warm, wet breezes of countryside dew. I glided into the calm stories of openness at the Reality Factory and was struck with purpose. Today I feel very overwhelmed having worked two jobs and having to prepare for the next. I am thankful however, after shifting and moving this body, I have a grounding space to recoup mentally. So today I am overwhelmingly thankful to being accomplished!

Where'd you grow up?

I grew up in Kalamazoo for most of my life, and for a short period in Pontiac,Michigan.

What do you do now?

I search. I’m currently in the process of searching for myself again in everything that I do. I find happiness in words. I find joy in music. I find peace in water. I see potential in the upcoming school year at Kalamazoo College. I find stability in the work that I do to support my health and my family’s. Right now I am putting much work into myself for positive outcomes in the near future.


Why not? Why not be a part of an organization whose mission compliments my desire to see a change within youth in our community? After reading RAWK’s mission statement and purpose, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this in some way. I have the capacity to take in so much knowledge and experience in this point of my life and I felt as if RAWK was the perfect place to begin. Expressing authentic voice holds a large space in my heart and working with RAWK steadily fills that space.

What's your role with RAWK this summer?

At RAWK I help with just about everything! I play a role in organizing, preparation, fundraising, and brainstorming. I help with coordinating workshops before they begin at times, I help to research and draft grants, and help to do needed organizing. In my eyes, I serve as a helping hand to an organization I love to be a part of everyday.

3 important words:

Authentic, Justice, Care

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I see myself doing something that I love. From going from undecided to a decided major at K, to launching projects of my own within my community. I see myself finding the passion that I have been craving and working hard to make that vision come true.

Is it really the end of the summer?

We're still basking in the glow of our RAWK READS! event last night at Bookbug—always proven to be a beautiful reflection of our summer that's filled to the brim with writing, creating, and planning. Our students sharing their work with an eager audience is integral to our core beliefs, as we're always striving to celebrate and amplify youth voices. While last night was the perfect close to our busiest summer on the books, our office is far too quiet today. We want to be congratulating each other and sharing sweet anecdotes from the night, but we're missing one person. Last night also marked the last day for Anja, our summer intern.

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