Partnership Spotlight on CAW: Nonprofit Collaboration Maximizes Impact in the Classroom

Citizen Schools was created with the belief that millions of talented Americans were sitting on the sidelines of public education. Working with many organizations and individuals from all walks of life, we are committed to cultivating partnerships that provide the greatest experiences for students. Citizen Schools opens the schoolhouse doors and expands the team of adults who care about, mentor and coach young people, contributing to their sense of self-worth, achievement and success.  

At Citizen Schools New York, one of our most impactful and valued partnerships to-date is with a longstanding nonprofit partner: Creative Art Works (CAW). CAW is a 31-year-old nonprofit that empowers NYC young people through the visual and multimedia arts. Their programs equip children, teens, and young adults with essential tools and skills; connect them with community, academic success, and career opportunities; and inspire them to reach for new possibilities. Their in-school and out-of-school time classes, public art youth employment programs, and community art-making events are provided locally in partnership with public schools, recreation and cultural centers, juvenile detention centers, parks, and libraries. A Citizen Schools collaborator and partner since 2012, CAW has led nearly 40 apprenticeships covering innovative topics such as Cartooning and Anatomy, Urban Design, Stop-Motion Animation, and Sneaker Branding.

Many of Citizen Schools New York's corporate partnership supply talented volunteers, yet CAW’s partnership is unique as they mobilize trained, professional artists to teach our signature apprenticeship courses. Daniel Bergman, Program Director at CAW, describes their Teaching Artists as, “a unique breed,” saying, “They are all professional artists who are dedicated to their own work, but are committed emotionally to working with youth.”

The training and professionalism of CAW’s Teaching Artists quickly becomes evident when they enter a classroom. When asked about the advantages of working with professional Teaching Artists, Citizen Schools’ Civic Engagement Manager, Allison Smeck, shared, “You never have to wonder if things are on track in the CAW apprenticeships. Their lessons and materials are thoroughly prepared and engaging in every class, every semester.” Smeck went on to say, “CAW apprenticeships are consistently a crowd favorite. This semester at Isaac Newton Middle School, CAW is leading an Urban Design and a Cartoon and Anatomy drawing class that is hitting student interest square on, and is equipping students to grow in their imaginative and expressive drawings.”

Another important distinction of CAW’s approach is that they utilize an emerging strategy known as “Creative Youth Development,” which leverages the craft of art making in order to teach broader life skills such as collaboration, communication skills, and leadership development. “Both Citizen Schools and CAW’s approach sees the student as a whole person. CAW equips students to express their reflections and realities creatively and safely, which is beneficial not just to them, but to the communities where they will grow up and eventually serve,” Smeck reflected. While methodology may differ, the work of helping students to develop essential interpersonal skills while also inspiring educational or career goals is essentially a shared mission of both organizations. Furthermore, when nonprofits are working together toward shared goals in the same community, both organizations grow in capacity and enhance the experiences of all involved. As Bergman describes best, “What’s extremely exciting about nonprofit collaboration is that it allows for synergy, which is really a win-win all around and allows you to truly make an impact in a school.”