2016-2017 Telling Room Annual Report


Dear Friends,

Summer greetings from The Telling Room where children ages 6 to 18 strengthen their literacy skills, build confidence, and find their voices. Our programs not only teach writing skills, they also ignite the very core of what it means to be a writer. 

Langston Hughes cautioned his readers about the consequences of a dream deferred, but at The Telling Room we help students free their voices and realize their dreams right now, in ways that transform their lives, their schools, and their communities. 

This past year, we applauded as our students won multiple literary awards, authored their own illustrated novels, started businesses, and so much more.

We are continually updating our programming to keep pace with the changing needs and interests of our students. Last September, our after school writing program WordPlay transformed into Writers Block. Writers Block now meets three afternoons each week and in addition to free writing time, includes curriculum and writing support structured according to age group.

Our Young Writers and Leaders (YWL) program also grew from 30 to 45 students, adding new students from South Portland and Westbrook. We are actively working to expand the YWL program to Lewiston in 2018. 

Further up the coast, we are partnering with the Millay House in Rockland to offer our vital programs to a new community in Maine.  We will begin offering programming on North Haven and Vinalhaven in the fall of 2017, and RSU 13 in the winter of 2018. 

I am so proud of what The Telling Room has accomplished this past year and excited about the future. Our writing community is strong, vibrant, and growing, and we continue to serve a more geographically and culturally diverse population each year.

I invite you to peruse this report to understand the importance of writing and arts education. We value the hard work of crafting stories, sharing stories, and the critical thinking involved in this process. This artform allows students to find courage within themselves and to enhance the world around them.

None of this work would be possible without The Telling Room staff, teaching artists, volunteers, board members, and our donors all of whom make this organization thrive. Thank you, each and every one of you!


Celine Kuhn
Telling Room Executive Director


Who We Are

The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students’ stories through the provision of free creative writing, literacy, and arts programs for over 4,000 Maine youth each year. Since our founding in 2004, we have served over 20,000 students from all over the state, published ten major anthologies of student work with over 12,000 books in print, and grown into an award-winning nonprofit organization. We have been recognized for our achievements through awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Maine Association of Nonprofits, the Maine Arts Commission, and the Maine Department of Education’s Imagination Intensive Communities program, among many others.

We work with students who may be reluctant to write as well as those who already identify themselves as writers, including: children and young adults who are a part of Maine’s growing community of immigrants and refugees, those with emotional and behavioral challenges, students struggling in mainstream classrooms, homeschoolers enthusiastic to join a creative community, LGBTQ students, incarcerated youth, and passionate young writers who benefit from support beyond what their schools are able to provide.


Our Programs

All core programs at The Telling Room are 100% free to students and their families, ensuring that the students who need our services most – the students who are least likely to have a voice in the community – can participate. Our fun, innovative writing programs are the heart of our organization.

Through skilled, creative, and resourceful program delivery, we minimize overhead and maximize impact.

Each year, our programs are linked by a new theme, and the best student writing from the year is published in a major Anthology released every spring at a community event attended by hundreds of supporters.

We run literary Field Trips for local language arts classes that bring students to our Old Port writing center for a morning.

We visit schools to teach multi-week In School Residencies in which Telling Room writing teachers and community volunteers work in a local classroom to publish an original chapbook.

From June to August, we offer a variety of Summer Camps for writers of all ages and interests.

We teach an annual nine-month-long writing and leadership program for refugee and immigrant youth called Young Writers & Leaders.

In our Young Emerging Authors program, we host four students, selected through a rigorous application process, to write an entire book with us in a single calendar year.

Our Publishing Workshop invites current students and alums to learn publishing skills alongside professional editors and designers during the editorial and production processes of Telling Room book assembly.

And, we host weekly community Writers Block afternoons that give burgeoning writers time to work on their projects. Each session offers solo writing time, group work, and featured workshops with local artists and writers.


2016-2017 Programs at a Glance





Field Trips: 35 total programs, 89.5 program hours, 685 students served

Workshops: 14 total programs, 155 program hours, 803 students served

Residencies: 29 total programs, 376 program hours, 507 students served (and published!)

Writers Block: 6 total programs (in studio), 138 program hours, 63 students served

Summer Camps: 12 sessions, 330 program hours, 216 students served

Publishing Workshop: 2 total programs (in studio), 35 program hours, 20 students served

Young Writers & Leaders: 3 total programs (in studio), 240 programs hours, 60 students served

Young Emerging Authors: 1 total program (in studio), 120 program hours, 5 students served

*We also ran 31 special events and programs for our students outside of regular program hours.


Our students came from:

South Portland
North Yarmouth
Cape Elizabeth
South Berwick
Long Island, NY
New Gloucester

Falls Village
Old Greenwich, CT
Brooklyn, NY
Frye Island
Madbury, NH
South China


We offered services to these students with the help of the following collaborators:

Portland Public Schools
Space Gallery
State Theatre
Freeport Community Library
University of Southern Maine
Yarmouth Education Foundation
Portland Museum of Art
Space Gallery
University of Southern Maine
South Portland Public Schools
University of New England
Arts are Elementary
Hurricane Island
Maine Children's Alliance
Portland Press Herald
Portland Phoenix
Portland Sea Dogs
The Forecaster


The Language Exchange
Piper Shores
Island Institute
Petite Jacqueline
The Collaborative for Perpetual Innovation
Rockland Historical Society
Millay House Rockland
The Farnsworth
Stanford University
Intercultural Community Center
Boys and Girls Clubs Bangor
Boys and Girls Clubs Greater Portland
Westbrook 21st Century
Portland Public Library
Curtis Memorial Library
Community Financial Literacy

The Anthology Project: Sparks

What creates a spark? What produces that flash of light, that jolt of energy up your spine and through your fingertips, when you are faced with the unexpected? In our 2017 anthology, Sparks, sixty Telling Room authors explored the theme “encounters”—the chance meetings and moments of connection that supply the sparks that can ignite a story. Within the book’s pages are poems, flash fiction, short stories, journalism, and personal essays where readers meet a pocket-sized dinosaur at a birthday party and a bull moose in the forest, confront prejudice and worst enemies, and face the loss of home and the birth of a new sibling.

Sparks authors are among the more than 3,300 students we served this past year, and are residents of the following towns: Biddeford, Bowdoinham, Brunswick, Chebeague Island, China, Cumberland, Durham, Falmouth, Freeport, Fryeburg, Gorham, Hampden, Harpswell, Kittery, Portland, Pownal, Richmond, Scarborough, South Berwick, South Portland, Standish, Waldoboro, Wells, Westbrook, and Yarmouth. They all took part in one of our writing programs, including the writing contest, summer camps, customized projects, our core programs—Publishing Workshop, Writers Block, Young Emerging Authors Fellowship, and Young Writers & Leaders—residencies in Maine schools, and our online submission portal, which receives hundreds of pieces of writing from young people all over the world.

After the May book launch at Big Night at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall, which drew a record number of people and broke records for book sales, the authors in Sparks hit the road, going on a book tour and conducting readings and Q&A sessions at Longfellow Books in Portland, Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick, and Elements Books in Biddeford. Their encounters as book authors have only just begun. Please consider encountering them, too: tellingroom.org/store


Program Highlights


Richmond 4th/5th grade Flash Fiction Residency: Focus on Encounters

Richmond represented a geographic expansion of our residency program this past year, as we served their entire 4th and 5th grades for the first time. The Marcia Buker Elementary School really rallied around our collaboration and the four classroom teachers we partnered with embraced our work together wholeheartedly, from getting their students excited about our arrival to following through on our lessons on days we weren't there. They worked together to create a meaningful community celebration for the students when we launched their chapbook Now I Know Everyone in this Town Again and all four teachers attended our Big Night celebration to support and cheer on their four students who were selected for our annual Telling Room Anthology. As the students wrote their books, they gained valuable literacy skills, hitting elements of the entire writing process all the way through publication. We are already planning to expand our work in Richmond next year to include an 8th grade group, in addition to seeing the 4th and 5th grade classes again.

After the program ended, we heard this feedback from the teachers at Marcia Buker Elementary:

"I just wanted to thank you for all you did to make last night’s reading such a successful event!! It was wonderful. You folks truly reach the hearts and souls of our young writers!!

The testament that stands out the most to me is a boy who was in Special Services for writing. He was very insecure and needed a great deal of encouragement. Through the Telling Room and Teaching Artists Putnam and Ashley's presentations, he grew and grew, not only in his knowledge and ability but his self-confidence!! He has been dismissed from Special Services, is working in the regular classroom and his piece was chosen to be part of your anthology Sparks.

Another is a boy who is very bright. He would complete the work assigned to him but there was no "spark" or interest in writing. Working with Putnam and Ashley his entire outlook changed. Now, he writes on his own with much more enthusiasm and enjoyment. His piece was also chosen for your anthology, Sparks. His mother has noticed the change in his writing as well and is very pleased!

Another student would make a list of very simple sentences. They were not fluid and often not coherent. Now she is writing beautiful stories with enthusiasm! Her sentences are more complex and very coherent. And most of all - she loves to write! Thank you, again!"

"Our current 4th and 5th students are not the same writers we had prior to our residency with the Telling Room. The writing they were able to produce with the mentoring of Putnam and Ashley is immeasurable to their beginning of the year writing. The students have taken every bit of advice and suggested strategies to heart and have continued to apply it to their writing and other content areas during and since our residency. I cannot recommend this resource enough."


Founders Prize Winner and Young Writers & Leader Student Zainab Almatwari

Zainab Almatwari, participated in the Young Writers & Leaders (YWL) cohort that we offered this past February with multilingual students from Westbrook—our first time serving this community with YWL. Her poem was selected to receive this year’s Founders Prize and at Big Night, Telling Room founder Sara Corbett announced, “After much debate and lots of deep love for all of the Founders Prize nominees’ stories and poems this year, we’ve chosen the poem ‘The Transform Plate Between L.A. and Sacramento’ as our winner. It’s always a fantastic and heartening experience, getting to read this great writing!!”

Zainab’s poem closes out this year’s anthology, Sparks. She says, “This poem is where my road and my words meet.” She first started writing poems in June 2015 when a picture inspired her, an encounter that she called the “green light of my path.” Zainab was only a freshman at Westbrook High School—and 14 years old and newly from Iraq—when she read her poem aloud and on stage in front of an audience of more than 400 people. She and other Westbrook YWL students also presented their work alongside the Civil Rights Team at an all-school assembly. Zainab says The Telling Room has helped with her language skills, as well as with her confidence. In a Keep Me Current feature, she says, “Everyone has something to share and you never know who could benefit from it, so everyone should share. Everyone has stories.”


The Transform Plate Between LA and Sacramento

By Zainab Almatwari

1. The Transform Plate

Mrs. Fernald taught us in our Earth Science class
That there are three different kinds of plate tectonics
The transform plate, or the transform fault, is one of the three
That plate is between LA and Sacramento
Where two lands move apart
And the result is a new land
That is what happened to me

2. A Rock and a Hammer

The big rock that was in my way between Iraq and the U.S.
Was my grandma
The hardest thing was leaving her behind
She was the rock
But she was also the hammer
She said: “I trust you. You can do it. Just go.”

3. A Small Fox

I used to be a small fox
I always had that sneaky part of me
That sneaks into the serious one
That part that told me to leave my goals
And do whatever I like to do
But after a while I realized
That building a better life
Does not happen by doing whatever I like to do
But by everything I want to do
I can do it like a lion
Be brave
And go right for what I want

4. Maps

I expect from myself to draw the roads that I want to walk on
All the cars, even the O2 that I breathe
I expect from myself to see, hear, touch, feel, and smell
I feel the reflection of myself as I can touch it
My new self gave me the pen to draw a street
That connects London, LA, Tokyo, and New York
In my fox self I thought those cities weren’t mine
I thought each city was for its people only
My fox self was like a city in Antarctica
No name, no people, no feelings

5. Expectations

My parents pictured me as the recycling of their hopes
But with the goals of a mind independent and trusted
They saw me as the finder not the searcher of their lost moments
But I expect from myself more than people do
High dreams but I believe and I know
That I am going to reach the top
Even if I am short

6. The Transformation

I left the small fox in my backpack
She was the dictionary of my life
She was my Google Translate and my bad words
She was the hand that touched me through the continents

7. Altitude 39,000 Feet

I came with a heavy mind
Full of dreams
Goals and thoughts
Literally I thought about the Latin numbers
The Greek government
The top of a triangle
The pictures of the tracks
The scary swarms of bees
I tried not to think about anything
While I was thinking about everything
Everything was pretty important for me

8. The Lion

I love my lion self
Even if I close my eyes and walk in the main street
Even if I say no while everyone says yes
Even if I tell my sister: “Don’t talk to me for ten minutes!”
But I come back and give her my favorite highlighter
I love myself
I love me as a lion


An Award-Winning Young Author

Liam Swift was only a sophomore at Casco Bay High School when he received a Scholastic Gold Key Award for his prose poem “Back Cove,” which appeared in The Telling Room’s 2015 anthology When the Sea Spoke. He was also featured in The Telling Room’s 2016 anthology, Once, with another prose poem, “All Nighter.” But his biggest coup came this past year when he published a book of his very own with us as a result of his fellowship in our Young Emerging Authors program. That book, a slim volume of fiction called The Sky at 5 A.M., won him a national Silver Medal in the 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for novel writing—it was one of only twenty-three novels to win any award at the national level!

When Liam was writing The Sky at 5 A.M., he saw the whole novel unfold in shades of blues and purples, and he decided to give his central character, Kyle, this same trait. In the novel, Kyle feels like a wanderer, unsure of where his “home” actually is. At age sixteen, he leaves for the wild Alum Brook boarding school in Arkansas, entering a new world. There, Kyle finally starts to feel like he is falling into place. But after his father, who had left him when Kyle was six to join the Navy, comes home one weekend for a surprise visit, Kyle’s world gets flipped upside down. The idealized version of his father begins to unravel, and Kyle’s internal world, which has been based on the conditions of the sky he perceives as a synesthete, begins to change, too. Will it lead him home one last time?

Liam is multi-talented. He enjoys photography, making short films, skate boarding, and playing piano and ukulele. He has hosted open mics with Maine Academy of Modern Music for the past several years and won the Best Vocalist award at the MAMM Slam. As a singer-songwriter, he is currently recording an album of original music. He is also someone who has synesthesia, a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses (such as sight).


Volunteer Spotlight

Clare LaVergne

The Telling Room presented the 2017 Youth Engagement Award in May at Big Night to Clare LaVergne. The Youth Engagement Award is given to a Telling Room volunteer who has worked throughout the year to engage, empower, and mentor Telling Room students.

Ashley McBreairty, a student editor said, “Working with Clare all year in Publishing Workshop has been such a privilege. She has helped me a lot more than she realizes. I picture her with her notebook, making a few notes here and there, sitting with us around our table as we write and edit together. She always has such a warm nurturing personality. She has done so much for me.”

During this school year, Clare LaVergne has given The Telling Room over 120 volunteer hours in service to students from all different programs including: Publishing Workshop, Young Writers & Leaders, In-School Residencies, and Field Trips. She also advocated for Arts Education with Telling Room students at the State House this year when national funding was being threatened.




We just love Clare. She’s bright, funny, talented, and has helped so many of us improve our writing. She started as a volunteer in February of 2016 and has worked hard since then to become an official teaching artist and The Telling Room’s publications fellow.

Student Rhode Phambu said when she presented the award to Clare at Big Night, “Clare was my mentor in the Young Writers & Leadership program. We worked together when I was writing my personal memoir. Clare understood how I felt, and she kept asking me questions that helped me write my story. She helped me connect my little stories to one big one.”

Congratulations, Clare!


Donor Spotlight

Charlie Miller  |  Why I Give to The Telling Room

"Being a mentor in the Young Writers & Leaders program changed my sense of how I want to be a part of what The Telling Room does. The question I always ask myself is about integration – how do we get refugee and immigrant youth integrated into Portland society? I’m always looking for ways that kids can jump the barriers that are there if they care to. So my interest in The Telling Room is certainly personal. I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful experience with the two kids I’ve mentored. They wrote about how their families came to be here and what it was like when they arrived. A lot of these kids don’t have a lot of interplay with the mentors we have here, and that’s what excites me about the YWL program, because I think The Telling Room does cross those boundaries.

And, I simply believe in the process of writing, I believe in the process of sharing what you are writing with other people, and I believe in the process of learning from what other people are writing themselves. To me, giving kids the opportunity to do this, and to come look around the corner or get outside of constraints-religious, cultural, spiritual, geographical, whatever, is important. And I think what happens here is powerful."


The Financial Story



Huge thanks to the generous individual, corporate, and foundation donors who supported us this past year.


See our full donor list here


Our Team

Board of Directors

Susan Conley

Vice President
Patty Howells
Cooking Teacher

Tim Schneider
Maine Public Advocate

Kim Kalicky
Assistant Vice President for Client Service, R.M. Davis, Inc.

Ekhlas Ahmed
Young Writers & Leaders Alum
Make it Happen Coordinator, Casco Bay High School

Lydia Atwood
Manager, Valuation Services Group, BerryDunn

Chris Bicknell
Executive Director, New Beginnings Inc.

Dan Edwards
Principal, Edwards Creative

Catherine Fisher
Personal Historian

Anja Hanson
High School Completion Counselor,
Portland Adult Education

Lily King

Kate Swan Malin
Co-Founder, Sassy Media Group

Maryann Shaw
Executive Assistant, Key Bank

Beth Stickney

Sean Tabb
Marketing Manager, L.L. Bean

Paige E. Todorich
Financial Advisor
Wilkes Duffy Wealth Management | HighTower



Development Committee
Patty Howells, Chair, Board Vice President
Mary Baumgartner, Community Member
Susan Conley, Board President
Anya Endsley, Community Member
Andrew Griswold, Staff
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Katie Magoun, Community Member
Kate Malin, Board Member
Rachele Ryan, Staff
Sarah Schneider, Staff
Ruth Story, Community Member
Ronnie Weston, Community Member

Finance Committee
Tim Schneider, Chair, Board Treasurer
Lydia Atwood, Board Member
Kevin Cote, Community Member
Brian Eng, Community Member
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Bonnie Norlander, Community Member
Sarah Schneider, Staff
Donna Simonetti, Community Member
Sean Tabb, Board Member

Glitterati Committee
Maryann Shaw, Co-Chair, Board Member
Paige Todorich, Co-Chair, Board Member
Susan Conley, Board President
Catherine Fisher, Board Member
Andrew Griswold, Staff
Shazelle Goulet, Community Member
Patty Howells, Board Member
Alisan Kavookjian, Community Member
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Kate Malin, Board Member
Bailey O’Brian, Community Member / Intern
Amy Raina, Staff
Rachele Ryan, Staff
Sarah Schneider, Staff
Sonya Tomlinson, Staff

Governance Committee
Dan Edwards, Chair, Board Member
Anja Hanson, Board Member
Patty Howells, Board Vice President
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director

Human Resources Committee
Kim Kalicky, Chair, Board Secretary
Chris Bicknell, Board Member
Jen Harnish, Community Member
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Bonnie Norlander, Community Member
Beth Stickney, Board Member

Programs Committee
Susan Conley, Chair, Board President
Ekhlas Ahmed, Board Member
Shima Kabirigi, Staff
Lily King, Board Member
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Su Langdon, Community Member
Nick Schuller, Staff
Sarah Sirois, Community Member
Marjolaine Whittlesey, Staff

Super Famous Writers Committee
Susan Conley, Chair, Board President
Lily King, Board Member
Celine Kuhn, Executive Director
Andrew Griswold, Staff
Bailey O'Brien, Intern


How to Support The Telling Room

Donating to The Telling Room is about believing in our students.

The Telling Room began as a grassroots group of volunteer writers and educators fueled by a belief in the power of the written word to change our community for the better. Your belief and financial support makes it possible for The Telling Room to be what it is today: a thriving nonprofit organization with a paid staff of twelve, three interns, a volunteer teaching artist in residence, and 250 volunteers serving over 4,000 students each year. We are a registered 501(c)(3) organization, so all donations are tax deductable.

Tax ID # / EIN: 74-3136956