We put the humanities in action to create positive change.
PHC has received a $40,000 grant from PECO to sponsor a series of multimedia projects entitled 'Illuminate Chester' which will bring light to the stories that have defined Chester's past and that are shaping the city's future. Through a campaign and special events, stories will be collected from Chester residents and shared broadly in and outside the community. Some of the most powerful will be professionally produced into short documentary-style videos, or other multimedia projects, and publicized.
Take your artistic statement to the streets! Chester Made is offering competitive mini-grants to aspiring Tactical Urbanists to design and implement a project that tests a big idea for embracing the art of change in Chester. We've supported three different projects this season, and there are still more to come! We’ve seen a plastic bag mural bring a bridge to life, a community come together to get a HANDle on violence, and six murals be created during our partners paint party. Each applicant will submit a final report on their project and share photos, takeaways and a reflection on the impact of their project. Through tactical urbanism we can rethink the way we value ourselves, our city and what we create together.
In Monica Hesse’s acclaimed YA novel The War Outside, German and Japanese families are held as prisoners of war in separate areas at Texas’s Crystal City Internment Camp in the 1940s. Haruko and Margot, teen girls divided by culture and circumstance, develop a secret relationship, meeting regularly in the privacy of an icehouse to share their feelings. The tense drama that unfolds raises topical questions about justice and the politics of fear. The Teen Reading Lounge group at the Erie County Public Library, a kind of “icehouse” in northwestern Pennsylvania, read Hesse’s book last fall and identified with the plight of Haruko and Margot. “They were talking about how awful it would be to live in an internment camp and not have access to the things you need,” said Tammy Blount, the Teen Services Librarian who facilitates the group. “The kids were asking themselves, ‘Where do we see that nowadays?’” Teen Reading Lounge is a youth-led, nontraditional book club that encourages deep discussions and projects that have a social impact. The group was started at the Erie Public Library in the fall of 2015 and has been part of their recent growth in youth programming. The library is currently undergoing an expansion that will feature a new teen space with its own book collection, makerspace, and tech area. Blount says she appreciates how Teen Reading Lounge has helped her to develop meaningful relationships with many of the new young people coming to the library. “We get to have important discussions that teens are not typically having,” she said. “The topics are weighty and that builds a deeper bond.” The group is drawing together youth from towns across the county, bringing a diversity of voices to bear on issues raised in the discussions. With the support of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the participants, some of whom face economic hardship, are given the opportunity to go on field trips, engage in special learning activities, and listen to guest speakers -- all tied to the book discussions. Past events have included a sail on an historic schooner, listening to a teen TedX speaker, learning Japanese calligraphy, and hosting Penn State Behrend's portable planetarium at the library. The popularity of the program has library administrators setting their sights on starting a new, after-school group at a branch location. Blount insists that the appeal is not just about the books. “It is much bigger than reading,” she said. “The discussions challenge the teens to see the world through someone else's eyes.” "Teen Reading Lounge has opened me up to many new viewpoints and has taught me how to think about other people's perspectives,” said Clara Tupitza, a regular to the group. She says the opportunity to meet youth outside her usual social circles is a big plus. “It has helped me come out of my hermit shell,” said Madeleine Karikhoff, who says she is pleasantly surprised by how popular it is. She believes the discussions have made her more assertive and helped her to find her voice. When the group reflected on when Haruko and Margot spoke for the first time at the Texas internment camp -- during a powerful dust storm -- they remembered the harshness of their own weather. The winters in Erie County can be severe and the teens figured that the people most impacted by bad weather would be those facing housing insecurity. “There is a lot of need in the area,” said Logan Blount, a junior at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy. They searched online for realistic, impactful ways to help and came up with the idea of making “blessing bags” -- small bags stuffed with essentials. Once their project was publicized at the library the donations poured in. The teens got to work, filling the blessing bags with donated socks, hats, gloves, and toiletries. They also created nonperishable food bags with water, granola bars, packs of nuts, and beef jerky. In January, all the bags were taken to the Upper Room of Erie, an area homeless services agency, with hopes that they would provide some comfort to those seeking shelter from the bitter cold. Luis Cole, the staff member at the Upper Room who received the delivery, said he would be handing them out within the hour. Similar humanities-inspired service projects are happening at Teen Reading Lounge sites throughout Pennsylvania. Based on a 2018 analysis conducted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, the program is successfully building participants’ social awareness and empathy -- most strongly in rural and urban areas. At the Erie County Public Library, the teens say they just wanted to do the right thing. “Our discussions about The War Outside showed me that even the smallest bit of kindness can go a long way,” said Tupitza. “I wanted to be able to give that kindness.” Teen Reading Lounge is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services 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. Related Content Teen Reading Lounge Program Info Berks County Library Expands Youth Leadership Opportunities With Teen Reading Lounge How A Philadelphia Librarian Created A Thriving Community Of Teens Teen Reading Lounge Inspires Healthier Model For Dialogue, Nurtures Empathy Teens Build Social Skills, Process Tragedy At Teen Reading Lounge Group In Northumberland
Andre Williams was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1986, at a time when the United States military sorely lacked the resources to help soldiers reintegrate into civilian life. Seeing few options, he took a job in construction while DJing on the side for extra money. His terminally ill father, a master carpenter who passed away near the end of Andre’s service, had encouraged him to find less physically demanding work. Williams’ career did change course, by accident, when he was faced with prohibitively high repair costs for his DJ equipment. Out of necessity, he succeeded in fixing it himself, which sparked a lifelong passion for electronics. He sought training in computer networking and eventually landed a dream job at IBM, where he worked for the next 15 years. Unfortunately, his career was derailed by serious heart complications, leading to an aortic valve replacement in 2009 and a long, painful recovery. When he was finally ready to re-enter the workforce, it was in the midst of a recession, and jobs were hard to come by. He knew he needed to upgrade his skills to compete -- that meant going to college. A friend told Andre about the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterans Upward Bound (Penn VUB) program which helped veterans prepare for higher education. Entering college as an adult is always difficult, but it can be especially challenging for veterans. The Penn VUB program was created to meet their unique needs. Participants in the program are often first generation college students and most are facing economic hardship. Penn VUB’s successful formula combines traditional college preparatory work with immersive cultural experiences and field trips to college campuses. “Once I found out about the Veterans Upward Bound, that was it, I said, ‘I’m going to go there and I find out how they can help me get reacclimated into getting back into college,’” said Williams. What he discovered at Penn VUB was a camaraderie reminiscent of his military service and a program that offered so much more than just college prep. He especially appreciated the inspiring leadership style of Program Director Diane Sandefur, who patiently encouraged the veterans to work hard and achieve their potential. “She reminds me of one of the most serious units in the Marine Corps called Recon,” said Williams. “She’ll do whatever she can to help you to succeed, but you have to put in the effort.” The classes were rigorous and prepared him for the academic workload of college while the lively environment helped him learn to manage his PTSD, which can be exasperated in social settings. “For me, Penn VUB was a saving grace,” said Williams. More than anything, he enjoyed the cultural field trips. With the support of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, Penn VUB has been able to expand its humanities curriculum and provide enriching cultural experiences at theaters, museums, and historical sites that relate to classroom studies. Williams went on a few such trips, but his most memorable was to New York City, where he paid a solemn visit to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, toured the Apollo Theater, took in a showing of Wicked, and walked the campus of Columbia University. “I could actually see myself in Columbia as the result of being there, being able to touch the statue Alma Mater, and seeing the library,” recalled Williams. “It was a wonderful, life-changing experience.” Even after they enroll in college, Penn VUB graduates are able to stop by and access computers, receive guidance, sit in on a tutoring session, or just enjoy some fellowship with other veterans. Williams completed the program in 2016, but he still keeps active in the community. He proudly represented Penn VUB, along with Diane Sandefur and other students, in the First and Second Annual Philadelphia Veterans Day Parades. Williams is currently attending the Community College of Philadelphia with advanced standing after scoring high on his placement exam. He credits this achievement to Penn VUB, which he says gave him both the skills and confidence to be successful. It has been a long road from his heart surgery, but he now feels ready to take the next step in his educational journey -- a technology bachelor’s degree at either Drexel University or Pierce College. “I want to teach computer networking and I would love to be able to teach computer networking to other veterans,” said Williams. “That would be a lifelong fulfillment for me.”
Unlike most libraries, Muhlenberg Community Library is in the enviable position of being on the same campus as the local public schools, creating a prime opportunity for drawing in young people. Jacki Clark, Youth Services Coordinator, sought to capitalize on this good real estate by developing a Teen Reading Lounge group in 2018.
About two dozen Community Heart & Soul volunteers packed the Upper Chichester Township municipal building’s conference room on the evening of October 22nd. Representatives from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) and the Orton Family Foundation were there to celebrate Upper Chichester’s work so far and offer training for the second phase of the process. “You all really understand the people-centered aspect of the Heart & Soul process,” said Mimi Iijima, PHC’s Director of Programs and Special Projects, who led the training.
“Surprising!” “Eye-opening!” “Interesting!” Three teens, Alison, Ha and Amanda, representing John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School, stretched out comfortably on an outdoor patio overlooking the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia. They gave spirited responses to our questions about their experiences with Teen Reading Lounge (TRL), a book club developed by Pennsylvania Humanities Council that pairs reading with creative projects and thoughtful discussions.
How do journalists, historians, grassroots organizations, and residents all contribute to telling a community's story and motivating meaningful change? What are the challenges communities face in sustaining a sense of place while also welcoming new members and exploring new opportunities—in ways that are inclusive of our differences and shared humanity? Our civic engagement partners Chester Made and Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul will address these questions and more this fall and winter, telling A Tale of Two Cities through a series of programs and activities as part of the national Democracy and the Informed Citizen initiative.
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.
PHC has partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and Orton Family Foundation to support Upper Chichester and Cameron County along the path to becoming stronger, healthier and more vibrant communities through a humanities-based approach to community development. Through this unique partnership among a government agency, a statewide nonprofit and a national foundation, PHC and Orton Family Foundation will provide training and technical support worth an estimated $60,000 to each community. In addition Upper Chichester Township and The Cameron County Project have each received $5,000 in combined funding from PHC and DCED, for a total investment valued at $130,000.
When Erin Hoopes applied for a grant to bring Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) to the Philadelphia City Institute (PCI) branch of the Free Library, she was searching for a way to attract that notoriously opaque demographic: teenagers. As Branch Manager, she envisioned a thriving community of teens who felt valued and were invested in the library. “Teens were a largely forgotten demographic group at PCI because we had such a strong tradition of programming and services to adults and families with young children,” said Hoopes. “But I knew that if we could just make PCI a more welcoming place for teens, they would feel invited to attend programs and that the library was an important part of their lives.”
Each year, the statewide nonprofit Preservation Pennsylvania puts out a call for nominations to its Pennsylvania At Risk list, made up of sites determined to be among the commonwealth’s most endangered historic resources. In 2018, four remarkable places that are part of Pennsylvania’s history were added to the list and will become Preservation Pennsylvania’s work priorities for the year. Together, these four sites represent approximately 635 years of Pennsylvania history. The tales they tell are about slavery, creating community after the Civil War, taming the Pennsylvania wilds, industrial growth and railroad history, craftsmanship, and the ways that people form strong connections to local places they love.
Declared an "event unlike any other” by The Meadville Tribune, more than 300 people showed up to the World’s Largest Potluck (in Meadville) on a warm July evening -- but not just for the free potato salad and green bean casserole. Hot off the press was the long-awaited Community Action Plan, the aggregate of a multi-year civic engagement project led by the folks at My Meadville. Busily passed out to curious visitors, this summative document charts the course for future community development. “It was great to hold the finished product in our hands and to get to share it with our friends and neighbors,” said My Meadville Coordinator, Autumn Vogel. “So much hard work had gone into the plan -- from our Leadership Team, our volunteers and the whole community.”
Learn how youth organizations and libraries can promote positive youth development skills through the humanities and civic engagement through this latest recorded installment of the Teen Reading Lounge webinar series.
The Williamsport Sun-Gazette has reviewed the new film, From the Heart of Williamsport, which premiered February 9 to a full house of more than 300 people at the Community Art Center. The film was created by the Heart of Williamsport team, who describe it as "a storytelling film that celebrates what we love about our community."