The Richmond Women's Resource Centre (RWRC) (our neighbour tenants in the Richmond Caring Place) have so many great programs, one of which is the Hot Ink program for teens. A lover of creative writing herself, volunteer blogger Lillian Liao spoke with the RWRC, Hot Ink founder Anita Law, and past participant Alexandra Tse to find out why this program means so much to young girls who are discovering their potential.
At the end of each Hot Ink year, the participants compile their best work into zines, which are available for purchase at the Richmond Women's Resource Centre
In January of 2008, the Hot Ink program began its first chapter. Six years later, the program has only began to write its story.
Based out of the Richmond Women’s Resource Center, Hot Ink is a writing program aimed at helping teenage girls feel comfortable with expressing themselves through writing. This program runs parallel to the school year, providing a way for students to explore writing outside of the school setting by attending weekly sessions of Hot Ink. The sessions are structured around learning different writing skills, styles, and forms. In these sessions, a facilitator will guide the participants through a series of writing workshops that involve guest speakers, field trips, writing lessons, and writing exercises.
Before any good story there is a prologue in which ideas can begin to take root. The vision for Hot Ink first came to founder Anita Law when she was given a financial grant and the opportunity to work with a NGO by starting a community project. A long time lover of creative writing, Anita decided to combine her passion for writing and her desire to contribute to the local community into a program that fulfilled the community’s need of having a safe space for young girls.
“At that time I was taking a lot of classes with components of women and gender studies. I was learning about the concept of ‘safe spaces’ for minorities and vulnerable populations, and I thought a class focused on teenage girls would be perfect,” Anita says.
Using her previous experience working with youth in high schools and teaching English to immigrant women, Anita was well prepared to transfer her ideas into a classroom setting. With the help of several high school teachers, the Hot Ink program began to take shape with the aim of achieving one specific goal:
“The goal is to give girls confidence in their own ability to express themselves - to give them the confidence not only to do what they already know, but to grow and develop.” Anita says.
This goal of fostering self-confidence within young girls resonated with the Richmond Women’s Resource Center, allowing the Hot Ink program to find a permanent home.
“Our goal at the the women’s center is to provide a supportive environment in which women are able to achieve their potential. Hot Ink lines up well with the broader goals of the women’s center by providing a safe place for young women to develop confidence and self-esteem,” says RWRC coordinator, Florence Yau.
Beyond just providing a safe environment, the Hot Ink program also provides a creative setting in which participants can write their own stories. Past participant Alexandra Tse recalls her time in the program as an unique, enlightening, and joyful experience.
“All the participants happened to be very talented writers and we were very supportive of each other,” Alex says, “It was amazing to benefit from the creative energy that comes from sharing with and working within a group. I didn't have writer's block at Hot Ink.”
This creative energy allows participants to foster a sense of community in which they can grow individually as a writer. The delicate balance between the individual and the communal resonated with participants, who found themselves forming connections with fellow participants - all while getting to know themselves better as writers.
“One of the most rewarding parts of the program was to feel like I could be a writer. It gave me confidence in my own writing,” Alex says, “As a group, we produced a lot of writing to be proud of. I also made a lot of good friends. We all still keep in touch today.”
These rewarding experiences did not come without challenges. Within the program, participants are asked to share their work with others in order to receive critiques that will better their writing skills. Alex recalls a feeling of apprehension and nervousness in opening up to the group.
“It is a vulnerable thing to do - to share your work,” Alex says, “But the supportive environment of the group helped facilitate the sharing.”
The anxiety that participant can feel when it comes to sharing their writing places further emphasis on the importance of having a safe environment. For founder and past facilitator, Anita, watching students overcome their apprehension of sharing their work was a highlight of her experience:
“Having somebody feel safe enough to share something they’d just written off-the-cuff with people they’ve only had two sessions with, and seeing that trust develop as the term went on, was really special,” Anita says.
Over the years, Hot Ink has further expanded its reach into the community. For RWRC coordinator Florence, one of the most significant changes was opening up the program to a larger age group.
“When it first started, it was only offered to senior level students in high school. The program has since expanded to include grade 8 and 9,” Florence says, “There is a different dynamic when you bring in younger girls. We’ve been seeing a mentorship developing when mixing younger girls with senior level girls.”
Another major change is currently taking place within the Hot Ink program. Previously, the program has always been held in high school classrooms. This year, the program will take place at the community library. Florence is looking forward to seeing how the change in setting will affect the participant experience. Looking even further into the future, Florence wishes to expand the program by connecting and collaborating with other community writing events.
“If there is a writing competition within the community, we can encourage the participants to give it a try as a next step,” Florence says.
In the six years the program has been running, Hot Ink, like any good story, has certainly made its mark on the community.
“Time to time, we have returning Hot Inkers - students who have attended Hot Ink previously. They ask about when the next Hot Ink program will be,” Florence says, “Parents are now coming to ask about the program. They want to know whether there are any creative writing programs within the community.”
For Anita, the longevity of the Hot Ink program is a sure sign of a need within the community for girls to have safe spaces to express themselves.
“I think what happened is that I happened to hit on something that sustained the interest and addressed a need in the community,” Anita says, “When that happens, the program will find a way to keep going.”
The story of Hot Ink is far from being finished.