Our Impact Why We Exist
We deliver writing and arts workshops, where we bring together professional writers and artists, as well as trained volunteers, to work with and mentor young people. Our free programs are open to all children and youth, ages 6-18, from across Toronto, with a particular focus on newcomers, English language learners and those who come from low-income households.
Stories are the vehicle through which we share who we are. We help young people strengthen their literacy skills so that they can share their stories with the world.
Our Story What We Do
History of Organization
Since 2009, we have delivered writing workshops to over 3,000 children and youth in schools and community centres across Toronto.
Story Planet was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2010 and became a registered charity in August 2011.
In 2012, we opened a new writing centre at Bloor and Dufferin where kids, youth and school groups participate in creative writing and arts workshops and get academic support.
Inspired by 826 National, a similar organization in the U.S., we also operate a social enterprise called the Intergalactic Travel Authority (ITA), which exists in front of our workshop space and generates income to help support our free programming. The ITA also acts as a gateway to the community and allows us to meet, interact and work with some amazing people who find out about us when they come in to buy a gift or coffee.
Accolades and Accomplishments
Since 2009, Story Planet has worked with over 150 classrooms and numerous community groups in the delivery of our programs, reaching over 3,000 children/youth. The response to our workshops has been overwhelmingly positive, with 100% of teachers reporting that they would recommend a Story Planet workshop to another educator, and demand continues to grow rapidly. Jessie Schram, a grade 7/8 teacher, called our workshop, “The best literacy experience (including visual literacy) my class has had all year.”
Story Planet has been the recipient of funding from the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, CIBC and the RBC Foundation, as well as numerous private donors. Our work has been highlighted on national television (Global TV) and print media (The National Post), and profiled in a local paper (The Grid) as a great place to volunteer. We were also asked to facilitate a workshop at the TDSB Boys Literacy Conference, and we were selected to be keynote speakers at the Ontario Teacher’s Federation/Frontier College “Books of Life” Conference. In May of 2012, Story Planet was selected to offer programming in collaboration with five TDSB schools as part of their AuthorFest program, facilitating writing and storymaking workshops with over 250 students.
In 2013 we were on Space TV, in numourous publications (both print and online) and received an award from our MP Andrew Cash for contributions to the Bloordale neighbourhood. In 2014 Space TV again did a spot on us, as did TVO. We are part of the Hive Toronto collective, a group of like-minded organizations developing digital and web literacy skills, having twice received grants through their funding process.
Our Programs How We Do It
Story Planet brings young people (ages 6 - 18) together with writers and artists to create inspired art and writing projects, through a variety of free programming. With the help of our social enterprise, the Intergalactic Travel Authority, as well as charitable funding and donations, we enable young people to share their stories.We offer:
- Writing and Storymaking Workshops: A variety of free workshops focused on creative writing and the arts, resulting in the production of a published piece by each participant.
- After-School Programming: A free after-school program for children and youth to receive one-on-one help with school work and communication skills.
- Youth Programming: A variety of free programs enabling at-risk youth to express their stories through various modes of creation.
Writing & Storymaking Workshops
Story Planet offers workshops to students across the GTA, in schools, community organizations and in our writing and arts centre. We offer four types of workshops:
- Alpha workshops are two-hour sessions for classes of students from across the city. Students work collectively as a group to create a story, while a professional artist illustrates it and a typist records their ideas. At the crisis point of the story, each student writes his or her own ending and then every story is bound into a book for each student to take home.
- Beta workshops last three half-days and are built around the unique needs of each teacher to complement curriculum requirements. Teachers and Story Planet staff work together to create a project that allows students the opportunity for hands-on experiential learning.
- In Zeta workshops, students spend several weeks/months exploring different mediums (e.g. illustration, animation, film) to produce a story.
- Evening and weekend workshops are offered for youth on topics such as resume and cover letter writing, college applications, essay writing, and exam preparation.
Each workshop is project-based, allowing participants to work through the creative process towards a final goal. This gives students the chance to develop project-managment skills, as well as stronger communication skills.
Since 2009, Story Planet has provided workshops to more than 3,000 students across the GTA, challenging the way students think about writing and language, and providing them with opportunities to explore literacy in new and exciting ways.
After each workshop, Story Planet facilitators ask participants if they would like to share something from the workshop. When Anoosha was asked what she liked about her class' Beta workshop, she paused and smiled, and then exclaimed, "I didn't know I liked English!"
In a three-day workshop, Anoosha and her grade 5/6 class created abstract "spun paintings" using a bicycle and crafted "I see" list poems to respond to their work. Anoosha was able to explore new artforms and means of communication that she hadn't tried before, all at a time when she and her classmates were struggling to process the loss of a fellow student who had passed away three weeks prior to the workshop.
We had asked the teacher whether he thought it was best to postpone or cancel the workshop, but he decided the workshop would be helpful for his students. When the workshop began, it was clear that the class needed creative ways to communicate what they were feeling. After she wrote her list poem to accompany her own artwork, Anoosha began writing an "I remember" list poem about her friend. Several other students followed Anoosha's lead and wrote their own poems about their friend, and when the class was asked to design the cover of the book, they asked that it be purple, in honour of their friend who passed away. A week later, Anoosha and her classmates each received a copy of their collective work in a bound book, showcasing the project; a tribute to their friend and a celebration of their friendship.
Toronto Vital Signs Report
A recent study found that "course and activity fees can create barriers to students' participation and sense of belonging."
Our workshops offer students opportunities to participate in creative projects that stimulate their interest in literacy and writing, and introduce them to creative professions. By offering our programming at no cost to the students (schools can make a donation, if they are able - most often, they are not), we ensure that every student has access to these opportunities and feels a sense of belonging and connection to their classmates, and to the world around them.
“The most amazing experience! I’ve been teaching elementary school in Toronto for 14 years, and I have to say that my field trip to Story Planet’s Intergalactic Travel Authority was the best trip I have ever taken a class to.
I take great pride in developing a love of reading, storytelling and creativity in the students I work with, and Story Planet was an incredibly creative way to enhance all of those important skills.
My grade 4/5 students and I found the opportunity to create a story collectively very inspiring and fun, especially in the unique ways the Story Planet team members facilitated the process. In 2 hours, the students brainstormed a wild story (everything was fair game), while one of the staff typed the thoughts, another professional artist helped the story come to life visually. At the crisis point of the story, each student wrote their own endings; then all the endings were collected and we all received a book of our work to take home. So much creative fun!”– Finnegan Henderson, Teacher - Warren Park Public School, Spring 2014
Our after-school programming (grades 1 to 12) focuses both on providing one-to-one homework support, as well as creative programs that develop academic skills through project-based writing and art activities. Our creative programming ranges from designing maps of magical lands, to creating a student-published zine of stories and poems, writing and creating short films to publishing a "how to write stories" story book. All of our after-school programs are facilitated by staff, volunteers, and often a professional guest artist or writer. In the past school year, we offered this programming Monday through Thursday.
We serve our immediate neighbourhood, Bloordale, which is the most multicutural ward in Toronto. The children enrolled in our programs come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Chinese, Bengali, Tamil, Portuguese and Carribean. Many of the parents either do not speak English or struggle particularly with written English, and many of the students have had little or limited exposure to art.
Story Planet has offered the After-School Program since the beginning of the 2012 school year. In the first four days of the registration period, the program filled to capacity with a waitlist of more than 20 students. The demand for the program has continued to exceed our available spaces which confirms that we are addressing a significant gap of service in the local community.
Giving children and youth the opportunity to work on targeted areas of identified need, on a regular and sustained basis, supports their learning and skill development in writing, reading and communication. Trained volunteers, many of whom are creative professionals provide one-on-one support, enabling young students to finish their homework more regularly and see an increase in grades.
"I like coming to Story Planet because I get to do fun stuff and my homework."-Ninad, afterschool participant
Toronto Vital Signs Report
"The number of people without the English literacy rates needed to thrive will reach chronic proportions, rising 64% over the next 20 years."
Story Planet's After-School Program supports the development of strong writing and communication skills in young people, ages 6-18, living in the Bloordale neighbourhood. By offering free after-school creative and academic writing support, we enhance their future employability and capacity to lead healthier lives.
Each of our youth programs is unique and designed to give participants the confidence to tell their stories in a safe and encouraging environment. These programs are all youth-led, and as much emphasis is placed on nurturing positive communities as on skill development and self-expression. The youth workers that lead our youth programs are trained in anti-oppressive practice, and care deeply about the welfare of the youth they work with.
- The Youth Publication Project is an eight-month project that takes teens through the writing and publication process, from content creation through to book launch. During this process they have the opportunity to work with professional writers and publishers. This program wrapped in November of 2013 but has been extended as an ongoing weekly drop in writing program for teens.
- The Young Filmmaker’s Project is a free after-school program, held weekly at Story Planet for at-risk youth, aged 13-18. Over 8 months, participants learn from film industry professionals about all aspects of filmmaking, including writing, acting, directing, filming, sound engineering, lighting, editing, producing, and publicizing. By the end of the program, participants will have created their own short-films, which will premier at a local Toronto movie theatre.
- The Digi-Storymaking Project is a free 12-week after-school program, held Mondays at Story Planet for youth aged 13-18. This program provides youth with the means to tell their stories using digital tools, such as photography, sound capture, editing, and animation. Participants will create their own digi-stories and share them over the web, via blogs, websites and social media, and then screen them at the Toronto Textile museum.
"I get a safe space where I can express my feelings and emotions in all my writings."-Siam, Youth Programming Participant
Toronto Vital Signs Report
"Most Toronto schools provide their students with regular opportunities for arts education and expression, though as in so many areas, schools with higher-income students have greater access to resources and opportunities."
By providing free arts programming in mediums that normally require financial capabilities (publishing, filmmaking, technology-based creation), Story Planet ensures that all youth are given equal opportunities to tell their stories regardless of their financial situation.
After-School Program: CIBC Children's Foundation, TAC, OAC, Hive Toronto
Writing and storymaking workshops: individual donors. Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, CIBC Children's Foundation.
Youth Programming: TCF, Trillium, Safer and Vital Community
Our workshops are also supported by a variety of community partners, including: public schools, where we deliver in-class workshops; community centres, which offer us workshop space and resources (e.g., St. Alban's Boys' and Girls' Club, Scadding Court Community Centre); and businesses/organizations, which provide donations of product (e.g., Kallima Paper, First Book Canada, Toronto Public Library, Foodshare) and in-kind support (e.g., Context Media).
What You Can Do
Writing & Storymaking Workshops
Grants to this program will allow us to continue offering our freeworkshops (especially longer-term ones) to kids and youth, and will enable us to expand our reach to neighbourhoods we previously were not able to support. Funding will be used to support volunteer recruitment and development, and pay for staffing and travel costs, as well as programming supplies.
Ultimately funding helps us offer stable and consistent programming that ensures we really make a difference in your people's lives.
With financial support, Story Planet will be able to offer free writing and storymaking workshops to students across the GTA, ensuring that they have access to programming that supports the development of strong literacy and communication skills; the same skills that are key to their future success.
Grants to this project will enable us to deliver it to its full potential. We would like to run 4 days of afterschool programming throughout the school year as we have a strong need in the community and beyond. Our afterschool programs help with homework support, story creation, writing groups and art projects, all with a view to helping kids tell their stories with confidence and skill.
With financial support, Story Planet will be able to facilitate consistent after-school programming in the Bloordale neighbourhood, strengthening the communication and literacy skills of local youth, and fostering improved school performance and engagement. We'll be able to answer the need for these programs more effectively and reduce the waitlists we have.
Funding for this programming will allow us to continue to engage at-risk youth in a variety of forms of self-expression, giving them a creative outlet to express their experiences. It will also allow us to work with these young people on a consistent basis, so that we can continue to make a positive impact on their lives.
With financial support, Story Planet will be able to facilitate expanded forms of our Teen Writing Groups, run more Filmmaking Clubs, and continue to develop and run additional specialized programs for youth.