Volunteering at Fighting Words: A Snapshot

The Fighting Words volunteers scurry to set up the screen and the data projector in the Bundoran Library. Anxiously, we count the number of volunteers on hand. Will you lead the brainstorming? Will you type? Has So-and-so been vetted yet? We need to recruit more volunteers!

The busload of primary-school students arrive at 10:30, and the brainstorming begins. What does it take, the Storyteller asks, to create a story? The students shout out their answers. Pencils and paper! Commas! Brains! The ideas flow faster than the typing, but the students begin to focus when their words appear on the screen. We need a plot! Dialogue! A beginning, a middle, and an end!

Now, the Storyteller asks, who – or what – could be the main character? A person? An animal? A robot?

As the energy rises, the Storyteller tells the students that it's time to contact the Publisher. From behind a bookshelf, a grouchy voice shouts out “WHAT IS IT?”

“Mrs McConkey? I have some writers here who are working on stories. Would you like to publish them?”

“WELL, WHO ARE THEY?”

“They're some very bright children...”

“CHILDREN? You've brought me CHILDREN again? How many times do I have to TELL you that CHILDREN CAN'T WRITE?!!”

A groan rises up from the students. Mrs McConkey grudgingly agrees to consider the stories – as long as they're populated with original characters who use no excessive violence.

Then it's back to the brainstorming. Who – or what – might be the Main Character's best friend? Greatest wish? Worst fear? The students offer suggestions and choose one, voting with their eyes shut tight. If they try to sneak a glance, two volunteers called the No-Peek Police wave foam-rubber fingers at them.

Sentence by sentence, the Storyteller leads the students to dictate the beginning of a story. Then she send them to the tables to write their own middles and endings. Volunteer tutors sit with the students, helping anyone who gets stuck. Meanwhile two volunteers print the opening paragraphs and illustrations that yet another volunteer has drawn. The storybooks begin to take shape.

At noon the students read their own stories aloud. The extroverted ones ham it up, while others shyly offer their stories to the volunteers to read. No one is required to read, but most do. And a few minutes before the students board the bus back to school, Mrs McConkey's voice cuts through the room like a circular saw: “YOUR BOOKS ARE READY! I MUST SAY THAT I'M IMPRESSED. YOU DIDN'T TELL ME THAT THESE WERE EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN!”

Tom Sigafoos is the Coordinator of Fighting Words in Donegal.

You don't need to be a writer to volunteer with Fighting Words. Some volunteers simply provide a calm adult presence to keep students on task. Some volunteers illustrate stories, others help with logistics, and everyone shares their observations and suggestions in each workshop de-briefing. All Fighting Words volunteers are fully trained and Garda-vetted.

As one volunteer says, “It's hard to describe how rewarding a Fighting Words workshop can be. Creating stories with enthusiastic children will brighten any day.”

Enrich your own life while you boost the confidence and talents of the next generation of Irish writers. Contact the nearest Fighting Words programme – see Locations