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May 25, 2021

With the support of PHC CARES, Abington Community Library in Lackawanna County is providing anti-racism/mental health kits to their patrons. The story was recently profiledby News Watch 16 (WNEP) and features PHC's senior program officer Jen Danifo. "That's a huge service that the library can bring and the coolest thing about their project is that the patrons themselves were helping to create these kits which can be therapeutic as well," said Danifo. "This is just such a cool project." PHC CARES was an emergency relief fund for humanities organizations facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis. $780,500 in emergency relief grants were given to 140 Pennsylvania nonprofits in August of 2020. Watch the full video below:  Funding for these grants has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan.

May 19, 2021

The PA Kindness Poem Project kicked off in February of 2021 and Pennsylvanians everywhere have answered the call to spread kindness online through social media. From heartfelt quotes to original poetry, PHC's staff have been inspired and encouraged by all the messages promoting generosity, healing, reconciliation, and peace. Soon Philadelphia poet laureate Trapeta B. Mayson will be using these submissions as inspiration for an original poem to be released on World Kindness Day -- but there's is still plenty of time to participate before the August 31st deadline! Learn how you can be part of this project and help spread kindness across the state. Download our social media toolkit for tips on how to amplify your message and graphics that you can share. Here are some #PAKindnessPoem submissions for inspiration:

May 04, 2021

People have a lot to say about Pennsylvania Community Heart & Soul! This resident-driven, humanities-based process engages the entire of a town in identifying what they love most about their community, what future they want for it, and how to achieve it. Participants often become Heart & Soul champions -- and impactful local leaders -- fueling the program's steady growth across the state. Already in 2021, four  new towns emerged along the historic Route 6 corridor. The "Community Heart & Soul Minutes" videos below feature three incredible PA women leaders -- two from Williamsport (Star Poole and Alice Trowbridge) and one from Meadville (Autumn Vogel). They share their insights and experiences on community engagement, personal growth, planning, volunteering, and reimagining local decision-making.    "I started as a Community Heart & Soul volunteer and I got offered an opportunity to tell my story and everything pretty much blossomed from there. I feel like I know most of the city now just from not being afraid to engage in my community." Star Poole, Community Heart & Soul Volunteer and School Board member in Williamsport   "One of the biggest impacts that Heart & Soul had in our community was involving new people -- people who weren't typically involved, weren't typically at the table, weren't typically heard -- and involving them in a really meaningful way in shaping our town and envisioning new possibilities..." Autumn Vogel, current Meadville City Councilor and 2017-2018 Project Coordinator for My Meadville   "As a planner having done community engagement for years, this turns everything on its head. It starts with the people and what the people want and what matters most to them and the projects follow from that." Alice Trowbridge, former Community Heart & Soul Project Coordinator for Heart of Williamsport, Williamsport, Pennsylvania and a Community Heart & Soul Coach   

Apr 26, 2021

This event has concluded. You can watch a recording here.   A politically divided Pennsylvania was thrust into the national spotlight during the contentious 2020 national election, testing the foundations of our democracy at all levels of government. The aftermath left the state with evenly split congressional representation and increasingly inflexible partisanship from all sides. “What's Next?” - National Politics at the Local Level explores how tensions and fractures on national issues are playing out in local Pennsylvania politics. No matter where you stand on national debates about gun control, immigration, and abortion, urgent community issues like safety in schools, infrastructure repairs, and clean water are often decided at the local level and solutions can transcend the national rhetoric.   Join WHYY and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council as we host a lively virtual discussion, moderated by journalist Solomon Jones, about how national politics impact local decision-making - and what’s next for Pennsylvania in this new era of hyperpolarization.  Moderator:  Solomon Jones: WHYY/Inquirer Columist and Radio Host Panelists: Susan Spicka: Executive Director of Education Voters of PA David Thornburgh, President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy Katie Meyer: WHYY Political Reporter   Funding is provided by the "Why It Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation" initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Apr 13, 2021

PHILADELPHIA, Pa./SHELBURNE, Vt. (April 15, 2021)—The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) and Community Heart & Soul, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization, today announced the Community Heart & Soul Seed Grant Program to help PA small cities, townships and boroughs implement the Community Heart & Soul model. The Seed Grant Program provides $10,000 matching grants to resident-led groups in communities with populations of 2,500 to 30,000 to implement the Community Heart & Soul model. Community Heart & Soul engages the entire population of a town to identify what they love most about their community, what future they want for it, and how to achieve it. Current PA-based Heart & Soul communities include Ambridge, Beaver Falls, Greater Carlisle, Cameron County, Dillsburg, Meadville, Mount Holly Springs, Rochester, Upper Chichester, and Williamsport. Four communities along the historic Route 6, Carbondale, Tidioute, Wyoming County, and Youngsville, were recently announced as the newest members of PHC’s growing network of PA-based Heart & Soul communities. “Small cities and towns now have access to additional funding to join the growing network of PA-based communities that utilize this inclusive revitalization model to engage everyone and build trust and belonging. Community Heart & Soul uses a humanities-based approach of story gathering and interviews to help residents identify what matters most in their communities and to apply this knowledge in determining their town’s priorities and future.” said Laurie Zierer, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.  “With the Community Heart & Soul Seed Grant Program, we are working to accelerate the growth and adoption of Community Heart & Soul so that even more communities can make use of this transformative model,” said Mark Sherman, Community Heart & Soul Executive Director. “Seed Grants provide communities with startup funding to help them initiate the Heart & Soul process.” A highly inclusive process, Community Heart & Soul reaches deep into communities to ensure all voices, including those that are often hidden or missing, are represented in determining a town’s future. Grant recipients will have the potential to transform their community through Community Heart & Soul, leading to increased local pride, more viable economic development projects, and stronger community connections. The Community Heart & Soul Seed Grant Program is accepting applications on a rolling basis until grant funds are exhausted. Interested communities are encouraged to visit for more information about the program. Questions about this opportunity can be directed to   About Pennsylvania Humanities Council The Pennsylvania Humanities Council believes the humanities inspire people to grow their potential and shape an equitable society. We put the humanities in action to create positive change in our lives and communities. Our work is grounded in people and champions their creativity and big ideas. We bring Pennsylvanians together to shape the future through the power of stories, reflection, and relationships. Our programs and grants generate avenues for civic involvement and community development, and for youth and adult learners to strengthen skills for school, work, and personal improvement. We amplify the voices of talented partners and individuals, and we lead a movement to champion and redefine the role the humanities play in our lives. Website:   About Community Heart & Soul Founded by Lyman Orton, proprietor of The Vermont Country Store, Community Heart & Soul is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to establish and promote a community practice that engages all residents within a community in determining what matters most to the people who live there and uses their ideas and aspirations as the blueprint for a better future. The Community Heart & Soul model has been field-tested in over 90 communities across the U.S. Orton established Community Heart & Soul after serving on his town’s planning commission and growing frustrated that decisions being made that would shape the town’s future were without guidance from the majority of the residents. Website:

Apr 08, 2021

The shift to virtual schooling left many young people feeling isolated from their peers and lacking opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue, or just relax and have casual conversations with friends. Across the state, Teen Reading Lounge staff have worked to address this challenge by providing creative and fun ways to keep kids connected virtually.  Teen Reading Lounge is an award-winning, nontraditional book club created by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council where teens, along with adult facilitators, create their own reading lists and design creative and civic engagement projects that connect to themes in their books. Youth at the Parkway Central Library in Philadelphia are finding the weekly virtual meetings to be “best place in the universe.”  So far, activities have involved making art, creating funny memes, connecting through social media, and “just playing games, and laughing… and the deep conversations about exploring and excavating the things that come out of the books,” said Aurora Sanchez, facilitator of the group.  “When the first session was ending, we were like ‘it’s ending?’ Folks were like ‘no we want to keep going.’ Now here we are nine months later and we’ve been doing this pretty much every week,” said Kris Langlais, Teen Reading Lounge coordinator. Below are the Parkway Central Library teens in their own words speaking out about how virtual humanities programming through Teen Reading Lounge is making a positive impact in their lives during the pandemic.   “It is the best place in the universe.”  ~ “I don't often see myself represented in books and we read a lot of books with Latino characters so that was very nice, and also learning more about Puerto Rico. I’m Puerto Rican so that was very cool, I liked that a lot.” ~ “I like reading all the books, we read a lot of different books in this club… and they made me think a lot, and I love books that really make you think.” ~ “It's so cool having these virtual spaces.” ~ “I’m an only child, so I don’t have anyone to talk to or anyone around me, and it's also fun because none of my friends love books or musical theater. So, it’s a space with people who have common interests.” ~ “I’ve been homeschooled for way longer than this pandemic has lasted so I didn't know anyone who I could talk to about books (or Lin Manuel Miranda being a god). It's been nice to talk with people about books and also cry over fictional characters.” ~  “It keeps me reading and I like that.” ~ “I keep coming back because it’s the most beautifully chaotic book club ever and I love you all so much.” ~ “The thing that is really valuable to me is that I get to come here every week, and just talk about books, and books, and lots of books (I really love books if that wasn’t clear already). I also get to talk about all of my theories, and get to make such cool stuff.”     Teen Reading Lounge is  made possible by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services administered by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Department of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.  The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services or the Department of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, generous individuals, foundations, and corporations.

Mar 17, 2021

Equitable community projects ensure that everyone has a seat at the table -- especially those voices that are often missing.  On Wednesday, March 31, 2021, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) gathered a panel of seasoned activists and artists for a conversation on achieving greater inclusivity in community engagement practices using storytelling and art. Below you can watch the full video of Who’s missing? Cultivating inclusive community engagement through storytelling and art: Four communities from across the commonwealth were represented, sharing strategies, lessons from the field, practical tools, and answering inclusivity questions: Lancaster (Salina Almanzar, educator, writer, and social justice advocate) Artists are using inclusive engagement skills to create community informed public works of art in Lancaster’s Latinx community. Almanzar will highlight the Seed Project, a new, five-year initiative, focused on BIPOC area artists, aiming to foster relationships among artists and creatives in Southeast Lancaster City. Greater Carlisle (Cara Holtry Curtis, Archives and Library Director, Cumberland County Historical Society; Carmen James, Board President, Mt. Tabor Preservation Project) Black residents were reluctant to share their stories about an abandoned church built by a former enslaved person. But a story-gatherer from the Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul project persuaded the Gumby family to bravely share their story, which led to church preservation efforts leading to its eventual designation as a National Historic Landmark. Erie (Kelly Armor, Folklorist, Storyteller, Musician, Teaching Artist; Nibal Abd El Karim, Palestinian singer and educator) Armor will highlight an outreach program she developed with the Erie Children's Museum's staff, volunteers, and New American artists to share stories through public art projects. This program built on the work of the Old Songs New Opportunities program, which empowers newcomers to share their indigenous knowledge to benefit the wider community. Williamsport (Alice Trowbridge, Williamsport Heart & Soul Project Coordinator) The Heart & Soul team used resident driven principles to unearth missing voices and engage all residents to determine shared values for community planning. The results included surprising outcomes including the emergence of new leaders.   The event was moderated by Ulysses Slaughter, PHC's Senior Project Director.  Sarah Merritt, Director of PA Creative Communities at the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, delivered the introduction.

Mar 03, 2021

Community Heart & Soul continues to grow in Pennsylvania, with new sites just announced along the Route 6 corridor. Overseeing this active and diverse network is Jen Danifo, PHC’s dynamic Senior Program Officer, who is helping communities prioritize equity in community planning. The program uses the tools of the humanities – storytelling, community discussions, and analyses of a community’s history, culture, and trends – to build an equitable action plan for the future.  Danifo was recently certified as the first Community Heart & Soul® coach in the state but has been involved with the program since 2015. She leads in-person and virtual training sessions on understanding community demographics, identifying and connecting with historically marginalized voices, and using storytelling to engage all residents in planning and development.  The official Community Heart & Soul organization, based in Vermont, celebrated Danifo’s certification virtually, and included video submissions from some of the community members she worked with. "We are so grateful for the connections that you've allowed us to make with other communities and for the love and support you've given us in these difficult times," said Autumn Vogel, past coordinator of My Meadville, in one of the celebration videos. As a new coach, she is now responsible for guiding three Heart & Soul communities step-by-step through the program: Dillsburg, Upper Chichester, and Cameron County. During the pandemic, this has meant lots of one-on-one time in Zoom video calls but that hasn’t slowed things down. “Jen is the best coach, mentor, superstar, and friend to all,” said Barbara Kelley, Upper Chichester Heart & Soul Coordinator. “She has resources in abundance, advice anytime of the day, and is a great asset to us.” Danifo says she just appreciates helping people put the humanities into action to make meaningful changes in their communities. “It’s been a real joy to see communities tap into their own assets to build sustainable, unique plans for their future,” said Danifo. “ PHC and the Community Heart & Soul program teaches residents to use humanities techniques to build a better understanding of communities, their history and to name and identify barriers to inclusive, equitable and sustainable resident participation in community planning and development."   See some of Jen Danifo’s most memorable Community Heart & Soul moments below in her own words. Upper Chichester Heart & Soul Gathers to Discuss their Stories “A major milestone in the process is the community coming together to review resident stories exploring lived experience in their town. Not only does this build understanding and empathy among neighbors, it allows residents to identify and discuss what a community collectively values. This becomes the basis for a community’s action plan.  Over 100 residents came together in February 2020 – right before the pandemic hit."   Cameron County Residents Work Together to Include Everyone in the Planning Process “Community Heart & Soul is unique in that it puts power in the hands of the residents and, in many ways, provides a crash-course on how decision-making power is shared (or not) in communities, and how residents can work together and with local government to forge a path forward. This is not easy! You need a dedicated and resilient team like the one pictured here in Cameron County."   Greater Carlisle Celebrates Hidden Voices "The process of story-gathering – asking residents to share their history in a community and what they value about where they live, can be transformative for some communities. The group in Greater Carlisle discovered the story of the Gumby family, their connection to the Mt. Tabor AME church – literally hidden in a field for years – and a history of ignoring African-American experiences and contributions to the community.  Openly discussing this hasn’t solved everything, but it’s led to some great efforts to celebrate the lives of Black residents. Recently, the borough issued a resolution apologizing for the historic marginalization of this community.  The church was also added to the National Register of Historic Places."   Williamsport’s Lady of Light Project & Celebration "Williamsport, one of our pilot communities in 2015, has continued to find ways to embed story-gathering into planning processes happening in the community. Local creative nonprofit, FactoryWorks, used the process to create a community mosaic in an old, repurposed factory. The team consulted with the Heart of Williamsport group to learn the process of interviewing and collecting stories and artifacts from local residents. This became the inspiration for the piece and the artifacts were incorporated into the physical design."   Ambridge Prioritizes Connection During the Pandemic "Three communities in Beaver County launched Heart & Soul just as the pandemic shut down towns across the state. Despite this, the team in Ambridge found creative ways to engage residents at a time when so many people needed it. Building on a history of Ambridge “connection,” the team visited four parks with a huge chalkboard in early fall and asked community members to share what they loved and hoped for in their communities. "  

Feb 25, 2021

“Rocks,” “Level 10,” “V/TO,” and “Right Person, Right Seat.” A new language and way of doing business has taken hold at PHC and it is all part of an effort to further enhance its operations. Whether they realize it or not, every organization has an operating system -- a way that human energy is guided to solve problems, prioritize, communicate, and lead. An effective and efficient system is important because it helps employees achieve goals and put the organization’s vision and mission into action.  With an ambitious strategic plan and a big vision to be advocates and leaders for the humanities in PA, PHC wanted to prioritize next steps, clarify roles, and identify the changes needed to achieve its mission. Core to that is culture -- determining how the organization works together and what it most values.   After carefully evaluating its own internal needs, PHC’s leadership team turned to the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS) for a reboot. EOS provides industry-tested concepts, practical tools, and coach-led learning modules that help all employees accomplish meaningful and rewarding work to the best of their abilities. These new resources are especially important to PHC as a statewide organization leading complex tasks in partnership with communities across the state, as well as administering numerous emergency relief grants and educational programs. “It is teaching us how to organize our human energy around priorities to help things move forward,” said Brandon Woods, PHC’s Operations Manager. “The goal of EOS is to get everyone rowing in the same direction.” An organization-wide implementation of EOS does not happen overnight and starts with undergoing an in-depth journey with a trained consultant. For that, PHC connected with Monica Justice, Certified EOS Implementer® with The Allele Group, who worked pro bono with senior staff members virtually throughout 2020.  Justice says EOS accomplishes three main things:  Helps leaders align on their vision for the organization and have that vision shared by the entire team.  Provides tools that support focus, discipline, and accountability so the right stuff is always getting done to move the vision forward.  Fosters a high-performing, fun-loving team who share the same core values.   Part of the EOS training focused on identifying, planning, and executing PHC’s highest priorities projects -- called “Rocks.” Rocks are assessed within 90-day timeframes and answer the question, ‘What is most important right now?’ Longer term goals are set at the 1, 3, and 10 year marks. Senior staff also worked with Justice to better structure their meetings and created a set of core values to help guide day-to-day operations.  “Since beginning to implement EOS, I've observed the PHC leadership team gain greater clarity on their roles, improve their ability to predict and execute on their plans through quarterly Rock setting, and work through issues together as a team,” said Justice. The EOS model involves six key components that are progressively strengthened in order for an organization to improve its performance: vision, people, data, issues, process, and traction.  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, these six components, and the developed core values, snapped into action as senior staff worked as a team to set goals and marshall PHC’s resources to address the emerging crisis. “It was really special for me, as their Implementer, to see the core values get more dialed in over time as the PHC team navigated COVID19,” said Justice. “They say it takes a crisis for you to see what people are really made of.” The EOS system arrived just in time to support two new major initiatives starting in 2021: an organizational equity journey with Promoting Good LCC and a strategic rebranding with Paragraph Inc. “It is exciting to watch us increase traction on our key priorities,” said Laurie Zierer, PHC’s executive director. “PHC has always performed at a high level but EOS is giving us the tools to accomplish even more as we support people-centered humanities projects throughout the state of Pennsylvania.” EOS will be rolled out to all PHC staff and board members throughout 2021.   Additional Resources EOS Worldwide website "What the Heck is EOS?" book

Feb 18, 2021

In 2019, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council partnered with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to provide funding to communities in the Commonwealth designated as Community Heart & Soul towns. The goal of the grant opportunity was to sustain resident involvement in community planning and development and center storytelling in the process of celebrating the art and culture of each community. Four communities received a $2,000 grant to co-develop projects: Greater Carlisle (Cumberland County), Upper Chichester (Delaware County), Meadville (Crawford County) and Williamsport (Lycoming County). Each community used the process of collaborative storytelling to tap into the history, memories, and hopes of residents. Undeterred by a global pandemic, these communities designed projects that provided a space for healing injustices, celebrating human connection, centering inclusivity, and harnessing the creativity of residents.   Carlisle To raise awareness about the historic Lincoln Cemetery, the Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS) worked with the Greater Carlisle community, descendants of individuals buried in the cemetery, and local artists to recognize the over 600 people buried at Lincoln dating back to the 1900s. For years, the cemetery, which was a final resting place for many African-American residents, was neglected and ignored. There was no official recognition of this sacred land and headstones were removed or vandalized. Funding from PHC and PCA supported an effort to tell the story of the cemetery and restore honor to the individuals buried there. CCHS worked with community members and family descendents to design public projects.  Residents wrote the names of the 676 individuals buried in the cemetery on colorful ribbons and tied them to the fence surrounding the land. The project culminated in the development of a permanent mural, led by local artist Jim Griffith, to honor those forgotten individuals.  “This project led to renewed discussion about the history of the Lincoln cemetery. The borough recently issued an official resolution of apology for the treatment of this cemetery and the African-American community.  There are still wounds that need to heal and stories that need to be shared but these projects are one step in the right direction.” ~ Cara Holtry Curtis, archives and library director at CCHS   Upper Chichester Upper Chichester Heart & Soul worked with a local artist, Veronica Batter, to design a series of family-friendly art activities celebrating the diversity of individuals and public spaces in the community. A partnership between the library, the township, and the business association, families were invited to pick up rock painting kits and participate in three painting workshops to design projects that represented themselves, their families and their communities. Families were encouraged to visit their local park with their rock creation and take a picture - a safe, socially distanced activity in the time of the pandemic. Not only did this provide an opportunity for intergenerational programming for the residents of Upper Chi, it also raised awareness of the many recreational spaces in the community - a hope residents expressed in stories collected in 2019 as part of the Heart & Soul process. The activities were so successful, the community is planning more for 2021. “We asked families to consider what matters most to them and their lives and to create something in response to that...During the pandemic, this was a meaningful activity that celebrated our community, the spaces we gather and the people who live in it.”  ~ Barbara Kelley, assistant township manager    Meadville Inspired by community ideas and drawings, the Art & Environment Initiative brought together a team of community artists to design a vibrant relief mural on the ARC of Crawford County’s Snodgrass Building, which provides housing for residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Part of a much larger redevelopment of the entire space - this mural and the collaboration among artists, residents and local nonprofits - builds on Meadville’s Heart & Soul process by highlighting the inclusivity and the connectedness that makes the community so special.  The cheerful addition to the side of the building features flowers, a butterfly and a bee, and was created from pieces of laser cut aluminum and installed by former Allegheny College art professor Amara Geffen and other Meadville volunteers. Now, it stands as a shining example of community-led design and placemaking that will hopefully bring community members together for years to come. The title of the mural will be voted on by community members in 2021. “The Snodgrass mural project is part of an ongoing and more comprehensive project in downtown Meadville... The Arc’s primary goal is to create a community venue where Arc clients, and others with intellectual disabilities, can join the community-at-large in safe, inclusive, local arts and culture events.”   ~ Amara Geffen,  project coordinator   Williamsport With the support of PCA and PHC’s funding, a union between personal storytelling and intricate mosaic brought to life two stunning pillars that now permanently tower in Williamsport, PA. Heart of Williamsport, one of PHC’s first Heart & Soul communities, worked with FactoryWorks, a local creative nonprofit, to gather and share stories and memories of the Pajama Factory, a historic factory compound on the edge of Williamsport. Local residents participated in the design process and also contributed memorabilia incorporated into the finished piece. Local artist Dai En and a group of community volunteers used these stories and memories as inspiration to create the mosaic at the entrance to Pajama Factory. In summer 2020, the mosaic named “The Lady of Light'' was unveiled at an outdoor community celebration on the Pajama Factory’s grounds, serving as an opportunity to bring together the community during the isolating time of the pandemic.  “Story-sharing is a powerful tool for bringing people together and strengthening the ties within a community,” says Jeannette Carter, project coordinator.  “The six themes that grew out of our storygathering process - creativity, community, supportive environment, inclusion, growth, and gratitude - are widely shared in the creative community of Factory Works and the Pajama Factory. All of these were evident in the project and the final piece created by Dai En.” “Seeing something this beautiful coming from a collection of personal stories and experiences connects people, evokes pride, and instills a sense of belonging.”  ~ Alice Trowbridge, Heart of Williamsport Coordinator    In the News... Art Project Honoring the Dead Buried in Carlisle's Lincoln Cemetery Nears Completion - The Sentinel - 10/27/2020 Lincoln Cemetery Ribbons - The Carlisle Sentinel - 06/20/2020 Installation of Snodgrass Mural - Meadville, PA Lady of Light - PA Humanities Council - 09/16/2020 Share Your Heart Stories - Gallery Factory Works - 02/2020

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