A teen practicing a play at Mighty Writers Philadelphia Taj Wright, 14, during rehearsal for the upcoming show, "Acting Absurd", at Mighty Writers on 15th and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia. Credit: Charles Mostoller

A popular local writing program is all about helping young people find their voices.

"Kids in Philadelphia are walking around with these incredible stories in their heads, just being in the city," said Mighty Writers director Tim Whitaker. "It's just a matter of showing them how to let it out."

It's been five years since Whitaker, a veteran Philly journalist, started the Mighty Writers program, and in that short time it's expanded to include 2,200 students and 300 volunteer-teachers.

 

There's even a waiting list for the after-school program, which has 50 kids a day attending.

It all arises from the unique approach at Mighty Writers, which draws in new students who, via word-of-mouth, "heard that it's cool," as Whitaker put it.

Comic book writing classes, weekly writing workshops taught by professional writers and SAT prep are offered at Mighty Writers, all in small class environments.

"It's about the intellectual skills, dialoguing capabilities, the confidence to agree to disagree without snapping on each other," said youth coordinator, James Owk, 31. "There's not 35 rambunctious kids, it's just 10 people."

Owk said he gets teens to participate by asking them to deeply read into books such as James McBride's novel "The Color of Water," James Loewen's historical "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and Jay-Z's memoir "Decoded"

Kids prepping to rehearse a play at Mighty Writers Workshop leader David Terruso leads some warm up exercises before practice for the upcoming show, "Acting Absurd", at Mighty Writers on 15th and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia. Credit: Charles Mostolller

In September, Mighty Writers West opened up at 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue. With their headquarters at 15th and Christian streets, they've already got South Philly covered.

Whitaker said their next target for expansion is North Philadelphia, and then more micro-centers -- smaller locations for programming that will attract locals.

The Mighty Writers program takes kids from ages 7 to 17. Workshops at Might Writers run the gamut of genres from poetry, fiction, memoir, writing for the stage to comic books.

The center's walls are covered with pictures of superheroes like Spiderman side-by-side with photographs of writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ralph Ellison, Jamaica Kincaid and Angela Davis.

"It's all about building their self-esteem," Whitaker said. "Once they get a footing, you see their personalities start to change."

Locations:

Mighty Writers South,1501 Christian Street

Mighty Writers South Street,1537 South Street

Mighty Writers West,39th and Lancaster streets

Mighty Writers currently has 300 volunteer-teachers, 2,200 students and three locations — all of which are growing.New volunteers can volunteer weekly, daily or however fits into their schedule.

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