For 29 years, Joan Ellis of Red Bank confined her thoughts to 500 words.
For more than two decades, Ellis, 89, was a film critic for The Two River Times in Red Bank and for a second publication in Vermont. Ellis, who loved her job, never missed a deadline and always adhered to the 500-word limit in her reviews.
She resigned from her duties on Feb. 5.
“(Writing movie reviews) was all fun, but that’s been my problem,” Ellis said in an interview on Feb. 6. “I’ve started to forget things. It’s no good to write movie reviews when that happens … That is an age problem.”
Although Ellis will no longer critique films, she will never stop writing.
At present, Ellis attends Project Write Now in Red Bank. Project Write Now is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that transforms individuals, organizations and communities through writing.
For three years, Ellis has explored her own life story under the instruction of Allison Tevald, a program coordinator and co-founder of Project Write Now.
Ellis, who is enrolled in a memoir class for adults, said she is routinely encouraged by her instructor and classmates to push the boundaries within her imagination.
“I love this class. (My peers and instructor) are saying ‘no, don’t reduce everything to its simplest (form),’ ” Ellis said, noting she was previously limited in her writing. “(My memoir) class is absolutely wonderful … It is very obvious to me that everyone in this class loves to be here.”
Project Write Now began as an outreach effort of JC Writing Studio, which was founded by educator and writer Jennifer Chauhan, a former educator at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in Rumson. She is also the executive director of and a writing instructor with Project Write Now.
“I noticed that when I was teaching … something amazing was happening in my creative writing classes,” Chauhan said, explaining that her students inspired and supported one another. “I left my teaching position and thought I would start a little writing studio and teach creative writing.”
Chauhan, who also previously worked with children in foster care, said she always knew that whatever she pursued, she wanted to help others in the process.
“I spent my first year after I (received a master’s degree) working with children in the foster care system in New York. I worked for a nonprofit organization where we helped these children write their personal stories and then published a magazine,” she said.
Initially teaching writing workshops, Chauhan partnered with local schools and mission-based organizations to offer free creative writing workshops to children. She also helped high school seniors with their college essays.
This effort began to evolve, Chauhan said. With a little help from others who shared similar passions, Project Write Now launched in Red Bank in 2014.
Project Write Now offers classes for writers of all ages. While the price of classes vary, Chauhan said she never turns anyone away and she said financial assistance is available for participants.
The fee-based classes and fundraisers help support the outreach programs Project Write Now offers the community, Chauhan said.Those programs include in-school and after-school workshops and college essay support.
Project Write Now also offers guest speakers at Red Bank Middle School; summer writing programs; and writing workshops at Shore House, a clubhouse in Long Branch for adults living with mental illness.
For a complete list of outreach programs, visit projectwritenow.org/outreach
“Being a Red Bank-based organization, we also wanted to give back right here in our community. We have been able to forge a really wonderful partnership with Red Bank Middle School. We go weekly to work with seventh- and eighth-graders in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program,” Chauhan said.
Advancement Via Individual Determination is a nonprofit organization that provides professional learning for educators to improve college readiness for all students, especially those traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
“Our mission is to transform lives through writing,” said Tevald, the Project Write Now co-founder, program director and writing instructor. “I think people aren’t given the opportunity to write so much. We live in such a hectic world. (At Project Write Now), we provide the space and the instruction to get your stories down. Through that, people have been connecting with one another.”
Project Write Now will host its fundraiser “CringeFest III” at Red Tank Brewing Company, 77 Monmouth Street, Red Bank, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 25. A second showing will take place at Porta, 911 Kingsley St., Asbury Park, at 7 p.m. on March 3.
“CringeFest” will feature adult writers from Project Write Now who will share their embarrassing stories in front of an audience. Proceeds from the event will benefit the nonprofit organization’s community outreach programs. Tickets are $35 for the Feb. 25 show and $45 for the March 3 show.
For more information about Project Write Now, visit https://projectwritenow.org/