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Rockford kids learning to speak their minds and hearts through Lit Up

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INSPIRING 815 Lit Up 3

ROCKFORD (WREX) — Lori Beach-Grass is a great example of the power of passion.

Her resumé includes 20 years of teaching in Rockford, at nearly every grade level available.

One of Lori's loves was the CAPA program, or Creative and Performing Arts program.

She enjoyed being able to see kids so driven at such a young age.

"I love all the creative artists we have and performers we have, Lori said.

"Many in 6th grade, 11 or 12 years old that already know what they want to do and what they want to be.

Unfortunately, Lori was forced to leave the classroom a few years ago.

It was through no fault of her own, rather the challenges of living with multiple sclerosis.

"Every year at the end of the year I would go see my neurologist and he's say are you ready to retire yet. I'd say 'no one more year, just one more year."

"In 2016, I went in and he said 'you just finished that year.'"

A tough pill to swallow, a difficult health diagnosis couple with having to leave what she loves.

However, that never stopped Lori.

She continued to connect with students in her own way, through an after school group she created called Lit Up.

"This came from a project that started in the classroom. We did a writing project I called the 'Shakesperiment.' We pulled certain themes out and the kids started writing poems and putting all of these things together."

"It turned into this kind of a spoken word, readers theater presentation."


One assignment has grown into a weekly routine.

The kids would want to meet every week to go through a new book, share poetry or just talk about what's going on in their life.

Lori encourages them to discuss their 'differents.'

No not differences.

Differents.

"Everyone has their own different that they live with. We talk and write about the fact that we all have invisible differences that we carry with us."

Lori openly talks about living with MS, sharing her struggles with these young kids and teens.

She has fostered a special bond with these kids to where they show up to sessions every single week and even reach out to Lori outside the program.

"I have kids that were in 6th grade when we first started this that are now in high school and they still come to Lit Up."

"It's a definite place of family. A definite place of safety."

Lit Up has done much more than just help kids open up.

It's also garnered the attention of the community.

This group of kids was able to perform at the Nordlof Center, sharing their own spoken word with their families, peers and superiors.

An event that truly shows the impact Lit Up has on kids that, normally at their age, are as talkative as a church mouse.

"We want to be able to make it cool and acceptable to speak your mind through poetry through the spoken word and be accepted.”

A mission that has carried on throughout all of 2020.

While they can't meet in the classroom, they hop on zoom every week, picking up where they left off as if nothing has changed.

"We've never missed one meeting since spring break in March. Sometimes we'd only have four (people), sometimes we'd have 18. They wanted to come share on their own time."

Lori hopes to one day expand Lit Up to other schools in the area and give all kids the opportunity for an outlet and a place to feel like they belong.

Civility can come from the smallest, most unlikely places but the impact it can have is insurmountable.

We need your help to track down the people making our lives better for the greater good.

If you know someone trying to improve the 815, you can fill out a nomination form here or you can reach out to eleake@wrex.com.

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at eleake@wrex.com or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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