A Riley Writing Camp for Kids

April 9, 2015
Topics: Museum Home

chadwick blog image
Chadwick as Mr. Riley at the Riley Museum Home in Indianapolis

Riley Hospital has been a household name in my family since my sister’s stay there in the early 80’s. Brandi had a common condition called pectus excavatum, which is when a child is born with a sunken breast bone. Her chest would eventually need to be repaired by doctors, and that was when Brandi became a Riley Kid.

I was very young when this happened, but I have vivid memories of visiting my sister in the hospital. Upon seeing Brandi for the first time after her surgery, I leapt out of my mother’s arms and into Brandi’s bed. Everyone in the room gasped in fear that I might rip some bandages or bump my sister’s wounds, but to this day, Brandi says that the leap brought more joy than pain.

I was also impressed with Brandi’s mode of transportation around the hospital – a bright and shiny red wagon. Today, when I see the Riley Children’s Foundation red wagon logo, I think of my sister’s pleasant stay at Riley Hospital for Children.

Years later in elementary school, I learned about the hospital’s namesake, James Whitcomb Riley. My teachers read us his poetry, and it was easy to see how much Mr. Riley loved children. He often expressed this love though his poetry and some of his poems were written specifically for children. No wonder Mr. Riley’s friends found it appropriate to name a hospital in his honor after his passing. 

More than one hundred years later, I like to think that I have found a similar path to Mr. Riley’s. As a teacher, storyteller, writer and a Mr. Riley impersonator, I find no audience I would rather please than children. I love them, and I have dedicated my life to them.

As my alter ego “Professor Watermelon,” I travel around EDU-TAINING groups of kids, large and small. I inspire them to use the written word as a joyful way of creative self-expression. This summer, I have the honor of teaching the first ever Creative Writing Summer Camp in the new Billie Lou Wood Visitor Center, located right next to the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home.

Children will have the opportunity to explore the museum and experience the house that Indiana’s most famous poet called home. Each day will be filled with creative writing challenges and activities, and by the end of the week, each camper will have a finished story to submit for publication.

The Creative Writing Summer Camp is open to students grades 2 – 8, and will be held June 22-26 from 9 a.m. - noon. Camp tuition is $100 per child. Contact Museum Coordinator Chris Mize at cmize@rileykids.org or 317-808-8565 to enroll your child. 

If you are too old for the camp (wink), come take a tour of the home instead. Perhaps I will see you there—I’ll be the one dressed as Mr. Riley. See you then!

Chadwick Gillenwater

Chadwick Gillenwater (aka Professor Watermelon) is a published author, has worked as an editor for a children’s publishing company, and has several years of experience as an elementary school librarian. Chadwick has been inspiring young authors with school visits and workshops for nearly 10 years.

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