Join the conversations we're having at the Pennsylvania Humanities Council:
Beginning this past fall, I have had the pleasure of being PHC’s communication’s intern. Given my rhetoric and public advocacy background, I’m interested in exploring community development and the importance of creating transparency among a group of people. A peer exchange weekend with the Chester Made initiative gave me the opportunity. Chester Made is a civic engagement project that brings together various residents from artists and local leaders to entrepreneurs with a common goal of changing the perception of Chester and building a stronger community. In fall of 2016, the Chester Made team--staff of PHC, Widener University, the City of Chester, and artists from Chester-- travelled to Chicago, Illinois, and Gary, Indiana, for a peer exchange hosted by the Illinois Humanities Council. The purpose of the exchange was to bring people together with similar goals for their communities, motivated to use their skills to transform through the arts. The 2017 exchange gave the Chester Made team the opportunity to share their home and their art in a similar way. (Watch a video summary of the 2017 exchange.) Being a city that has been affected by economic turmoil with a major industry relocating, Chester residents have a goal to revitalize their home. Prior to attending the Chester Made Exchange weekend events, I had not known much about the history of the city or its role in the making of America. By the end of the evening, I had discovered not only some historical facts but what makes the people of Chester so special. The day’s events began with breakfast, followed by a meet and greet between artists from the three cities and partners of the programs. We then had the opportunity to see more of Chester beyond the event location. The driving tour included Chester gems such as Calvary Baptist Church (where Martin Luther King Jr. first began his years preaching), Deshong Park, and a museum on the Avenue of the States. Later that evening, we enjoyed a curated dinner with guest presentations on individual projects by Gary and Chicago guests. As a new witness to Chester Made’s strives in civic engagement, I sat down with a few guests from Gary and Chicago to ask them about their reactions to what they had witnessed during the weekend’s events. The first person I talked to was Krystal Wilson, a poet and artist from Gary, Indiana. She wears many hats that vary from youth poetry program facilitation to creative directing for musicians. She explained her love for the art that she has seen as a part of the exchange experience, stating, “Chester artists have their own distinct thumbprint that adds to the uniqueness of the city with an unashamed urbanism.” Rather than simply being an individualistic process, Chester cultivates various talents for the benefit of the art and the community. Krystal believes that type of structure is what they are trying to achieve in her hometown. When I asked if her community could benefit from a project like Chester Made, she responded, “I definitely think Gary could benefit. It was inspiring to see a platform created for both the youth and adults. Not only as an artist, but just as a member of a community, it is important to come together and show that you care about the direction.” Sam Salvesen, a redevelopment fellow with the City of Gary, was also among the guests. Being that he is not an artist himself, I was curious to know why he was interested in Chester. Sam responded, “On paper, Gary and Chester have a lot in common. Having similar issues to Gary, I wanted to know what are they doing about it? I wanted to see how Gary could profit off of what Chester is doing.” I believe there is much power in residents taking control of their own destiny. Sam expressed admiration for Chester artists in this regard, saying, “Artists are more than just artists, they are community builders. I appreciate how they are building this city with their own imprint.” After engaging with residents and community builders during the peer exchange, I believe Chester Made is not only an initiative to bring residents together but a motto for the city and the embodiment of what it means to be a part of Chester. It gives people something to “sink their teeth into,” as Greg Irvin, a Chester resident put it. Devon Walls, artistic director of Chester Made, exemplifies what it means to be Chester Made. He is an artist that was born and raised in Chester. Devon has been key in developing spaces such as his Artist Warehouse, the Chester Made Exploration Zone, and the revamped MJ Freed Theater. They are all spaces for educating young people, as well as their parents, and encouraging them to express themselves through various art forms. Devon also invested time and money into Chester Made, a project he believed in, for the people he believes in. He was once told that people will not go to Chester to buy art because of the demographic, but programs within Chester Made prove them wrong. Residents of all ages create works of art all while uplifting their community and discussing how to bring about change. There is an inherent community driven nature within Chester Made. By the end of the peer exchange evening, I was in complete awe of what I had witnessed. I saw the potential of what the city could become and how transformative a model such as Chester Made could be for other communities on a national level. There are so many things in the making that are very inspiring for urban areas, such as creating an arts district, a sense of community, and wealth being established by and for the people. Witnessing the 500 block of Avenue of the States was ground breaking for me. This location is the hub of Chester Made activities and home to the Chester Made Exploration Zone. It is an entire block of African American owned businesses and that is so very rare and I honestly could not name one prior to visiting. That is the definition excellence. That is molding a community from the inside out. Nangorlee Demenwu is a Communications Intern at PHC. She is a recent graduate of Temple University with a Bachelors of Arts in Strategic Communication, concentrating in Rhetoric and Public Advocacy, minoring in Digital Media in Technology, a collaboration of communications and computer information science. Nangorlee has worked on a student run campaign to spread awareness of food insecurity on Temple University’s campus. This four month project exposed the issues of hunger on college campuses through seminars, social events, media, and fundraising. She then took this issue with her as she studied abroad in Dhrangadhra, Gujarat, India, this past summer. There, she worked on a mini documentary on food insecurity, nutrition, and general health of local citizens. Beyond her food insecurity initiatives, she has served as a board member of an organization called Black Diamonds Union. Their goal is creating after school outreach programs at elementary schools in North Philadelphia surrounding Temple University.
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has expanded its award-winning Teen Reading Lounge program to twelve sites, including eight libraries across the state and four out-of-school-time sites in Philadelphia. The primary goal is to leverage the humanities as a tool for positive youth development, with an emphasis on engaging low-income youth and youth of color. "Traditional programs for teens follow the 'if you build it, they will come' model," said Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director. "Teen Reading Lounge is different because we start by asking teens what’s important and interesting to them. We’ve seen some very positive outcomes—and as we move forward and expand the program, we want to ensure its participants are as diverse as the population of our state." First launched in 2010, Teen Reading Lounge is an interactive book club for youth ages 12-18. Through youth-focused book discussions and hands-on projects, teens come together to explore their communities while building valuable 21st century learning skills. Beginning in fall 2017, PHC re-envisioned Teen Reading Lounge as a longer-term investment in public libraries that focuses on building capacity to engage teens through humanities-based programming. PHC will provide eight participating libraries with funding, training and technical support through an extended commitment from 2017 to 2019, working with library leadership as well as frontline staff and volunteers. The funds PHC provide will cover program expenses and an outside facilitator—a local professional with expertise in working with youth who can help library staff develop and deliver the program. Beyond direct funds, library staff will also receive training in working with facilitators and teens to design a program that’s meaningful for their communities. Since its inception, Teen Reading Lounge has run in more than 80 communities and engaged more than 1,000 youth in rural, urban, and suburban areas across the Commonwealth. Participants show improved skills in the following areas: communication; interpersonal relations; critical thinking, problem solving and creativity; literacy and media. 85% of teens say they would participate in the program again, and 80% report they would tell their friends to join. Increasingly PHC has worked with Teen Reading Lounge sites to design programs that encourage teens to become active in their community and improve skills directly related to civic engagement. As a result, 60% of recent participants said that they would help site staff develop new programs for teens, and 40% said that Teen Reading Lounge made them want to get involved in activities that would improve their community, school, or neighborhood. In addition, PHC has partnered with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) to launch Teen Reading Lounge in out-of-school-time (OST) sites across the city. DHS funds OST programming for over 16,000 youth each year. In this initial pilot cycle, DHS identified four OST sites that are a good fit for Teen Reading Lounge from among the more than 70 providers and hundreds of programs it oversees. PHC has provided the Teen Reading Lounge framework and experienced facilitators to train provider staff and help implement the program. Through all Teen Reading Lounge sites, in all settings and all geographic regions of the state, PHC is committed to improving access and equity in education. Pennsylvania is a “regressive” education funder (meaning the poorest schools receive the fewest resources), and in recent years PHC has shifted the focus of Teen Reading Lounge to engage students who are disproportionately harmed by this inequity: youth from low-income backgrounds and youth of color. A recent program evaluation shows that, among all Teen Reading Lounge participants, these youth are most likely to show improved skills and a stronger sense of identity. All sites participating in the 2017-18 Teen Reading Lounge program currently serve low-income youth, and PHC will provide all with further training in engaging and working with diverse and low-income youth. Sites hosting a Teen Reading Lounge in the 2017-2018 program year are listed below by county: Beaver Baden Memorial Library and Laughlin Memorial Library (program co-hosts) B.F. Jones Memorial Library Berks Kutztown Community Library Muhlenberg Community Library Erie Raymond M. Blasco, MD Memorial Library-Erie County Public Library Northumberland Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia—Lucien E. Blackwell Branch John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School Out-of-School-Time Program Northeast Frankford Boys & Girls Club Sunrise of Philadelphia at South Philadelphia High School University of Pennsylvania Netter Center for Community Partnerships at UACS West Philadelphia High School Union Public Library for Union County Teen Reading Lounge is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a key part of its prevention focus, The Philadelphia Department of Human Services provides financial support to operate the Philadelphia out-of-school-time pilot sites.
Last fall, not long after the presidential election, Laurie Zierer spoke with Congressman Charlie Dent in his district office in Allentown. Zierer, who is executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC), made the visit with Josh Berk, executive director of the Bethlehem Area Public Library, to present the case for strong federal funding for arts and humanities. At that time Zierer told Dent that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) had brought $24.3 million to Pennsylvania over the last five years, and nearly $700,000 directly to his district. “I asked him, ‘Can you imagine how much more compelling the story would be if we added federal funding for the arts, library, and museum sectors?’ And he said, ‘I think it’s time to have a meeting.’” On June 19, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council convened that meeting: a conversation between Dent and regional humanities, arts, library, museum, and university leaders at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem. The event served to connect dots between various sectors within arts and humanities—and between federal funding and the impact of arts and humanities on local communities. More than 70 people attended, including national and state leaders from NEH, National Humanities Alliance, Pennsylvania Department of Education/Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Pennsylvania Library Association, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and PA Museums. In remarks at the top of the program, Margaret F. Plympton, deputy chairman of NEH, said, “Today’s event is an affirmation that the National Endowment for the Humanities, its sister agency the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and our state partners in the region matter and have had a positive impact on the Lehigh Valley, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and on the nation in general.” Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed elimination of NEH, along with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). More recently a bill to continue to finance those agencies won approval from the House appropriations committee, whose membership includes Dent. During the event in Bethlehem, Dent urged all present to continue contacting their members of Congress to urge them to support strong funding for the federal cultural agencies, and he emphasized repeatedly that Congress, not the President, “will ultimately control the purse strings on this stuff.” In her presentation, Zierer revealed that $68.5 million dollars had come to Pennsylvania directly through NEH, NEA, and IMLS in the last five years, including more than $1.2 million in Dent’s district. To flesh out the larger economic impact of that investment, Randall Forte, Lehigh Valley Arts Council executive director, gave a preview of the just-released Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 report for the Lehigh Valley. After Zierer’s and Forte’s presentations, moderator Tracey Matisak introduced audience members who described the impact of federal funding for arts and humanities in the region in three categories: Kassie Hilgert, president and CEO, Artsquest , spoke on economic impact; Berk and Jenna Lay, associate professor of English, Lehigh University, covered education; and Doug Roysdon, artistic director, Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre, spoke about how federal funding is crucial to providing access to arts and culture for all. “Libraries across the state have been able to better serve our communities thorough NEH and IMLS funds and I'd like to highlight in particular the Teen Reading Lounge, which is one such program that was very successful in Bethlehem,” Berk said. “The Pennsylvania Humanities Council-funded Teen Reading Lounge program allowed us to attract teens who might otherwise not have come to the library and to offer them the type of valuable enrichment they might not be exposed to elsewhere.” Congressman Dent took questions from the stage, and spoke with audience members over lunch after the formal event, consistently assuring all that their voices were being heard. “Your work enriches our communities and our lives,” Dent said, according to a follow-up article in the Allentown Morning Call. “People in the arts will go into communities that are often distressed and turn them around. They’re not only helping culturally and artistically, but they are participating in a very important community development aspect.”
What does it mean to work with communities to make social change? “Sometimes you have to get off the bus. We cannot be tourists as program partners or grantmakers,” said Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director Laurie Zierer, recounting how she first met Chester artist and entrepreneur Devon Walls. “I remember launching the Chester Made project,” Zierer said. “We did just that—we got off the bus driving us through downtown Chester, and we talked with people. And that’s when everything started to happen for us. We began meeting artists like Devon who had long been working to revitalize the downtown and engage the community through the arts.” Both Zierer and Walls made presentations Friday, June 19, during “The Story of a Block: A Tour of Chester’s Avenue of the States with Artists, Entrepreneurs & Urban Farmers.” PHC and the Barra Foundation coordinated with Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia to produce this interactive site tour of Chester’s downtown. Kimberly Allen of Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and Chester City Councilman Al Jacobs gave opening and welcome remarks. Andrew Frishkoff, executive director of Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corporation, facilitated the panel presentations, in which a mix of funders, artists, activists, and business owners explored the value of collaboratively funded projects. Introducing the panel members, Frishkoff said, “It takes a village to accomplish the kind of work being done here.” In addition to Zierer and Walls, presenters included Laura Koloski, senior program specialist at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage; Chuck Lacy, co-founder of the Barred Rock Fund; Kristina Wahl, president of the Barra Foundation; Sharon Meagher, former dean from Widener University; and representatives from the Chester Made and Boundaries and Bridges projects. Discussion topics included Chester Made, a humanities-based initiative to recognize and promote arts and culture in Chester and to harness their power as a force for community revitalization; Boundaries and Bridges, an initiative to strengthen ties between Widener University and Chester residents; and New Day Chester Inc., a mission-related investment partnership created to acquire and develop properties along Chester’s Avenue of the States. Beyond the panel discussion, the event gave current and potential funders the opportunity to tour downtown Chester and experience firsthand the place-led efforts that are creating positive change there. As participants arrived for registration and breakfast, they encountered three different agriculturally-based projects initiated through collaborative funding: Chester Housing Authority’s Mobile Market, Sowing Good Seeds’ portable garden beds, and fresh produce from Fare & Square, Chester’s community grocery store. After the panel, attendees were free to travel up and down Avenue of the States to participate in activities at the Chester Made pop-up makerspace with Alex Gilliam from Public Workshop, enjoy performances by local musicians and poets, and continue conversations in spaces that represent growth and development made possible through collaborative funding. Performers including Jerry Dukes, Kenneth Hunt, India Irvin, and Robert Young shared their talents as well as personal examples of the transformative power of the arts in their own lives and communities. After the tour, David Bradley, founder of Live Connections, facilitated conversation over lunch from Shugar Shack Catering. Chester residents, project partners and the funders present discussed grantmaking practices, and together explored what it means to “let go” in order to develop local assets and organizational capacity with – not for – a community. To close the day, Honorable Thaddeus Kirkland, mayor of Chester, thanked all present for forging valuable community partnerships that are bringing hope and real change to the city. He also noted that collaborative funding opportunities and initiatives like Chester Made have helped the city become nationally known as an arts and humanities hub, which has in turn worked to change the perception that all news about Chester is negative. Kirkland advised all present to keep working together and—quoting Harry Belefonte—to "stop letting other people tell your story."
PHILADELPHIA, July 10, 2017—The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has partnered with the Orton Family Foundation to support the city of Uniontown as it incorporates a humanities-based approach to community development. Uniontown has been awarded a $1,000 grant from PHC along with training support valued at $7,500 provided by the Orton Family Foundation to help the city prepare for a Community Heart & Soul® project. PHC and Orton are working together to bring Community Heart & Soul, a community development model pioneered by Orton, to small cities and towns across Pennsylvania. Uniontown will be the fifth Pennsylvania community currently participating in the program, joining Carlisle, Easton, Meadville and Williamsport. “We believe the humanities can provide a path to action and long-term positive change in Pennsylvania,” said Laurie Zierer, PHC’s executive director. “With story-gathering at the heart of planning and development, local voices become the foundation for building stronger communities and a better future.” In 2015, to achieve the greatest impact and broadest reach through humanities-based community development, PHC partnered with Orton to bring Community Heart & Soul to Pennsylvania communities in a unique blending of the humanities with resident-driven community development. Community Heart & Soul actively seeks the collective wisdom of all residents, including those whose voices are often missing, and brings people together to build stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant communities. The grant and training are for preparing Uniontown residents for a successful Heart & Soul project. Support will primarily target project personnel and communications, as well as any additional measures to ensure community readiness for Heart & Soul. As the fiscal sponsor of this development grant, The Redstone Foundation will utilize these funds to assist the efforts of community leaders who want to use the Heart & Soul model to engage and involve the entire community in development efforts. About the Pennsylvania Humanities Council The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) puts the humanities in action to create positive change. PHC programs and grants bring Pennsylvanians together to build avenues for civic involvement and community development, and for youth and adult learners to strengthen skills for school, work, and personal improvement. An independent partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, PHC is part of a network of 56 state humanities councils that spans the nation and U.S. jurisdictions. Learn more at pahumanities.org. About the Orton Family Foundation and Community Heart & Soul The Orton Family Foundation is focused on building stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant small cities and towns across America. Founded in Vermont in 1995, the foundation devoted more than a decade to working with small towns to create a community development model that helps build trust and empowers residents to shape the future of their communities. Community Heart & Soul® projects are underway across the country creating positive change that is resident-driven and recognizes the value in the unique character of each place and the deep emotional connection of the people who live there. For more information visit orton.org Contacts Mary Ellen Burd Director of Communications Pennsylvania Humanities Council 215.925.1005 ext. 121 firstname.lastname@example.org Leslie Wright Senior Associate of Marketing and Communications Orton Family Foundation 802.495.0864 email@example.com
The Meadville Heart & Soul team is hard at work, having recently relaunched their project under the name My Meadville. This relaunch, along with expanding their ranks and partnership development efforts, has enabled them to garner the community support and buy-in that is crucial to the success of Heart & Soul. My Meadville has successfully integrated their efforts into preexisting community development efforts and serves as a unifying force among them. “It’s all about having your finger at the pulse of the community, from the grassroots level to the top,” says Autumn Vogel, the Project Coordinator of My Meadville, “and about building relationships and having the time and effort to support that. There’s a particular energy and excitement here.” This excitement is why My Meadville has been able to forge a wide variety of partnerships with organizations and individuals across the town, including a notable partnership with the Meadville Medical Center Foundation. The Foundation is sponsoring a full-time Americorps VISTA position for the My Meadville team, who will work on further developing the team’s Community Network Analysis. This analysis will provide a crucial insight into who lives in the community and the connectors between them-- a vital resource not just for the Heart & Soul project, but for organizations like the Medical Center Foundation who want to better serve their community. Other partners include Meadville’s City Council, Crawford Area Transportation Authority, the Meadville Public Library, Allegheny College, Crawford County Systems of Care, Grow Meadville, a variety of local businesses that offer products in exchange for time residents spend on the project, and many others. While partnerships are a vital way to ensure community support during this process, Vogel’s team commits to the idea that the people involved in the Heart & Soul project are involved as unique individuals, and not just as representatives of other entities. This team brings a variety of skills and perspectives shaped by professional and personal experience. Data Team Leader Stephanie Martin, for instance, is an Economics professor at Allegheny College, and leadership team member Zach Norwood serves as Crawford County’s Deputy Planning Director. The team is also aided by City Council Member Nancy Mangilo-Bittner, who offers the team a key connection to local government. Many members of the leadership team are able to incorporate Heart & Soul work into their professional lives and have been indispensable in forging the partnerships that have given My Meadville community-wide credibility. The team holds a thoroughly non-competitive view towards other community efforts, focusing their time and energy on building relationships and earning trust so that they can build on the momentum and drive that already exists in Meadville. “People recognized there were a lot of community efforts, but they needed to be aligned,” says Vogel. “We are joining conversations that are already happening.” The My Meadville team is working hard not only on developing multiple partnerships within the community, but on appearing at events to gather stories from a diverse array of participants and organizing story circles so that residents can hear each other’s stories face-to-face. With over two hundred interviews and eight hundred surveys completed, Vogel and her team have found consistently that the community values the community of Meadville and town life, as well as the natural resources in the area. Through their storytelling work, the team has also heard about the value of civic engagement, economic opportunity, and health and safety, and have been listening to the citizens’ concerns and possible solutions with regard to the change they want to see in Meadville. The team’s work has been bringing the community together through their shared values, a discovery that will lead to productive, citizen-centered change in the future. “You can’t argue that one group is driving the ship,” says Vogel. “And it’s not about being competitive with other community efforts, but about building relationships and earning trust, so you can utilize the momentum and the drive that is already happening.”
Governor Tom Wolf has appointed Gwendolyn White (Erie), Allen Dieterich-Ward (Shippensburg), and Christina Donato Saler (Bala Cynwyd) to the Pennsylvania Humanities Council Board of Directors. White, Dieterich-Ward, and Saler bring diverse sets of knowledge and experiences from across the state. “All three of our newest Board members embody the spirit of community,” said Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC). “We are very fortunate to have them by our side as we continue to strengthen our work across the state. "Year after year I’m astounded at the level of talent, expertise, and energy we’re able to access with our board,” added Zierer. “We have a very strong leadership foundation in place, and we couldn’t be more pleased with these appointments. Each of these individuals’ deep professional backgrounds and passionate commitment to strengthening the humanities will bring insightful perspectives to our Board.” PHC is governed by a 24-seat board of directors, which is made up of both elected individuals and governor appointees. Currently there are 18 members serving on the board. Members are eligible to serve up to two successive three-year terms. New Board Members: Christina Donato Saler is Senior Counsel with the class action law firm Chimicles & Tikellis LLP. Christina’s experience crosses several practice areas; she has prosecuted federal securities cases, shareholder rights cases, derivative actions, consumer class actions, and First Amendment cases involving individual plaintiffs against media defendants. Christina also takes an active role in managing the firm’s client relationships. Christina began her professional career in advertising and was a senior account executive with the Tierney Agency in Philadelphia. She has a bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University and a juris doctorate with honors from Rutgers Law School. Allen Dieterich-Ward is an associate professor of history at Shippensburg University. An environmental and urban historian with a focus on political ecology and community development, Allen has earned acclaim for teaching, professional service and scholarship. He won the 2016 Arline Custer Memorial Award from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference for his book, Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Allen holds a PhD in history from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in history from Michigan, and a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster. Gwendolyn White is a Personal Lines Underwriting Manager for the Erie Insurance Group. She has been involved for nearly three decades with the United Way of Erie County, where she currently serves as chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, a member of three other committees: Community Building, Executive Compensation Review, and Governance. Gwendolyn is board chairperson of the Greater Erie Community Action Committee, an organization dedicated to helping break the cycle of poverty.
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and The Orton Family Foundation to support the City of Easton as it incorporates a humanities-based approach to community development. In this unique partnership among a government agency, a statewide nonprofit, and a national operating foundation, the city of Easton will receive a total of $47,000 in funding, with both PHC and DCED providing $23,500; in addition, PHC and the Orton Family Foundation will provide training and technical support worth $53,000. “We believe the humanities can provide a path to action and long-term positive change in Pennsylvania,” said Laurie Zierer, PHC’s executive director. “With story-gathering at the heart of planning and development, local voices become the foundation for building stronger communities and a better future.” In 2015, to achieve the greatest impact and broadest reach through humanities-based community development, PHC partnered with the Orton Family Foundation to bring Orton’s Community Heart & Soul® model to Pennsylvania communities. Community Heart & Soul actively seeks the collective wisdom of all residents, including those whose voices are often missing, and brings people together to build stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant communities. “Congratulations to the residents of Easton on winning support from PHC and DCED for a Community Heart & Soul project,” said David Leckey, executive director, Orton Family Foundation. “Community Heart & Soul is a catalyst for change that takes into account both the unique character of a town and the deep emotional connection of the people who live there – a town’s ‘Heart & Soul.’ These collective insights into what truly matters most to residents serve to guide a town in making the best decisions about its future and that leads to opportunities—including economic development—that residents might not have discovered prior to Heart & Soul. We are looking forward to what Community Heart & Soul can do for Easton.” Easton will be the fourth Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Community; the other three communities, Greater Carlisle, the City of Meadville and Williamsport, recently completed a full year of work using the Heart and Soul® model and received $87,200 in second-year funding from PHC, in addition to continued training and technical support from PHC and Orton. PHC hopes to expand the program to include additional cities and towns later this year. “DCED’s Governor’s Center for Local Government Services is excited to partner with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Orton Family Foundation, as we view it as a unique opportunity to build better communities for all of Pennsylvania,” said DCED secretary Dennis Davin. “By listening to, and including all residents, we can effectively collaborate for better and stronger results.”
For author Alex London, dystopias are not just a fun premise for a novel. In a recent visit to the teens of Huntingdon Valley Library’s Teen Reading Lounge program, London emphasized the extent to which dystopias should reflect and engage with real-world issues in a meaningful way. When he was 21, London had the opportunity to work with Refugees International, an organization which advocates for the rights of displaced people around the world. He wrote a “grown-up book” based on this experience, One Day The Soldiers Came, in which he interviewed children in war-torn areas. This gave him an interest in how children and teenagers are able to adapt to adverse circumstances, which over time gave him the impetus to begin writing science-fiction novels, the first of which was Proxy. When a teen asked about his inspiration for writing Proxy, London said that he wrote the book that he needed when he was a teenager. Citing his love of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game while decrying the blatant homophobia espoused by the author himself, London set out to write a dystopian novel that engaged with societal problems through the eyes of a protagonist who is openly gay while not being solely defined by his sexuality. Proxy is set in a rigidly structured society in which the poor are constantly indebted and are forced to serve as proxies to the wealthy elite, taking punishment for their transgressions. The novel examines many issues, including class, consumerism, and climate change, and in his talk London discussed the importance of these issues by connecting the fictional dystopia to aspects of the real world. The teens at Huntingdon Valley were enthralled by London’s charismatic presentation, and they never ran out of questions to ask. We at PHC did have the opportunity to ask more questions, and we were interested in what London had to say more broadly about the importance of literature and the humanities in the lives of teenagers. What motivated you to join and work with Refugees International in the first place? I wish I could say it was some noble drive; but I was 21 and really craved adventure. I was also terribly curious how, in the early days of the 21st century, wars were being fought by, for, and around children all over the world and no one was paying much attention to what they thought about it all. My curiosity got the better of me and I raised some funds, partnered with the amazing people at Refugees International, a refugee advocacy organization, and began traveling to learn about the lives and perspectives of young people affected by armed conflict. They very quickly showed me that they were the protagonists of their own lives with stories as epic as anything in literature. I knew I had to do what I could to amplify their voices rather than my own. What makes you enjoy working specifically with youth as much as you do? How else will I find new music to listen to? Seriously though, I think literature is a relay race, passing the baton from one generation to the next. I like doing my part to keep that race going, to inspire a few young thinkers the way older teachers and writers inspired me. That's how progress happens. Libraries often struggle to adequately serve the teen populations in their area, whether due to lack of funding or personnel who are passionate about working with teens. As someone who used to be a librarian, how do you think libraries can best serve and continue to be relevant to teens? Listen to teens; include their voices in the process of programming, organizing, and collection building. Keep them involved and value their perspectives as stakeholders. Show them they are valued and they will return the favor. You have mentioned before that you used to be a reluctant reader. What changed that for you? What do you think can be done to help more young people find their love of reading? It's no longer revolutionary to say the key is reading choice. Let readers read what they want and they will find what they want to read. Our job is to create access by building diverse collections that speak to a variety of levels, tastes, and experiences, and to help with the discovery process through book talks, displays, activities, programming, reviews, and encouraging peer to peer recommendations. The right book at the right time can unlock the parts of yourself you didn't know existed, but you have to access and that is where libraries do vital work. In light of the debate of whether funding should be cut to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arts (something that obviously impacts us a lot), do you have any opinions about humanities-based programing like Teen Reading Lounge, or about the importance of valuing literature and all the humanities as a society? Obviously, as a producer of books, I'm biased, but I believe these things are essential. There is a reason that art and literature have endured even the darkest times in human history and that brave souls have risked their lives to smuggle books in and out of repressive regimes. Individuals can be destroyed. Ideas endure. Our laws are the form our society takes, but the humanities--our intellectual traditions, our literature, our cultural institutions, those are the content. Those are the things that create meaning we can pass through generations, expanding and refining what we mean when we say 'We.' Without the humanities, the fabric of our society starts to unravel and we become mere products of our geography. Art, literature, ideas--and the institutions that make them accessible to all--those are the threads that stitch society together. I shudder to think what would happen if they all unraveled. It's not easy to stitch together again. But it's a challenge the humanities are up for if necessary. Come what may, art endures.
PHC's Teen Reading Lounge has run in 79 libraries across the state of Pennsylvania. In addition to the original program structure, PHC has also launched special Teen Reading Lounge pilots that focus on engaging youth from diverse and low-income backgrounds, as well as providing ways for teens to meaningfully contribute to their communities and participate in civically focused activities. Through our efforts to continuously improve programming, PHC has built relationships with expert consultants such as Valerie Adams-Bass. Valerie Adams-Bass is a developmental psychologist who earned her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She focuses on adolescent development. Dr. Adams-Bass is an Assistant Professor of Youth and Social Innovations in the Department of Human Services at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. She is a faculty affiliate with the Youth-Nex Center to Promote Effective Youth Development in the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia and an affiliate faculty member of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Pennslyania. Valerie has helped PHC understand how the humanities and the higher order thinking skills associated with the humanities can prepare underserved youth to participate in a larger civic and political arena. She shares some thoughts on these topics in the following post. ______________________________________________________________________________________ When youth are involved in projects in which they have an expressed interest or identified as important, they are excited about the initiative and are willing to take the lead; they are invested in the vision and the final project or product. This is defined as a youth-driven initiative--a hallmark of PHC's Teen Reading Lounge program. Take a minute to imagine how you feel when you are working with a team of colleagues or classmates and your ideas are central to the project. How much effort do you put into the project? What if you are in charge of planning a family reunion, how would you describe your efforts? Most likely, you were willing to work diligently towards a successful project or reunion. Youth often respond similarly when they are involved in youth-driven civic engagement, and with the support of adults, a dynamic project will emerge. As co-chair of this year’s annual Youth-Nex Center for Positive Youth Development at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education I am excited about researchers, practitioners and youth coming together for our theme of Youth Civic and Political Engagement. Civic engagement provides an opportunity for young people to become actively involved in their communities. Commonly referenced definitions of youth civic engagement focus on traditional activities that correlate with citizenship through political and community involvement. More comprehensive definitions of civic engagement for children and youth include a range of activities such as participation in food drives, an annual walk or run fundraiser, serving as a youth representative on community boards, involvement with local political organizations, participation in community preservation activities, or developing an agenda to address or bring attention to social inequities such as public education, gentrification-community displacement, police brutality or health disparities. For urban youth who are often racially/ethnically diverse, labeled at-risk, and silenced about issues that directly impact their lives, civic engagement projects allow them a platform to express their voice collectively and respond to challenges from a first-person perspective. Through their work, scholars such as Ginwright, Flanagan and Noguera provide examples of urban youth organizing using a Positive Youth Development framework. Positive Youth Development is an asset-based approach to supporting the healthy development of youth through the 6 “Cs”; Character, Competence, Confidence, Connection, Caring and Contribution (i). Youth who exhibit the first 5 Cs are more likely to be civically engaged, and providing them opportunities to contribute (civic participation) leads to further positive youth development (ii). Essential to supporting youth who are involved in, or developing youth civic engagement projects are caring adults who can help make connections to community resources. Public libraries are a rich resource for youth civic engagement. Connecting with youth who are involved with a project or providing an opportunity for youth to develop a civic engagement project is an ideal opportunity for librarians to introduce youth to the wealth of knowledge freely available to them and for libraries to gain new patrons who may become active supporters of the library. A few of the most valuable resources that libraries offer are caring adults, free safe space, free access to digital resources, free access to newer technologies, free access to a world-wide web connection, free access to thousands of books, videos, music, photographs, magazines, newspapers, maps, digital archives and in some cases microfiche--yes microfiche! Teenagers are at a stage in their lives where they are experiencing increased autonomy and decision making. Allowing them to take the lead is a perfect opportunity for them to practice and develop leadership skills and make decisions. Whether gathering support for involvement in an annual fundraiser of their choice or a social justice initiative, youth today are tuned into media more than any other generation and can likely put together a publicity campaign better than many adults, knowing where and how to target multiple audiences across the variety of social media platforms that are available today. Depending on the project, youth may develop a sustainability plan that includes recruiting additional youth and community partners as collaborators for the project and for the library. Youth civic engagement fosters the 6 Cs-Character, Competence, Confidence, Connection, Caring and Contribution. More and more practitioners and researchers are acknowledging the value of youth civic engagement. What are you waiting for? Make the connection! -Valerie N. Adams-Bass, PhD (i) Sherrod, L.R., Torney-Purta, J., & Flanagan, C.A. (2010). Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons Publications. (ii) Lerner, R. (2004). Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among America’s youth. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.