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News
Jul 07, 2020

Congratulations to Frank Sill (Upper Chichester) for receiving one of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council's first ever Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Awards! The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shutdown brought many challenges to cities and towns across the world as they adapted to social distancing and other health and safety requirements. Despite the difficulties, Pennsylvania’s residents showed their resilience and strength by working together to meet the needs of their neighbors.  To acknowledge some of the many people who supported their communities during this time, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) created the Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Award. The award honors local heroes in communities that PHC has partnered with through Community Heart & Soul, a humanities-based initiative that uses resident stories and community conversations to spark collective decision-making and action.    Frank Sill, nominated by the Upper Chichester Leadership Team, was among six recipients recognized as Heart & Soul Heroes for their outstanding community service. Each awardee receives a certificate, virtual award ceremony, and a spotlight article.  “The recipients of these awards displayed resilience, compassion, and action in time when their communities needed it most,” said Jen Danifo, PHC’s Senior Program Officer and host of the Heart & Soul Hero virtual award ceremonies. “This is what Community Heart & Soul is all about and PHC is honored to have the opportunity to uplift their work.” Frank Sill was selected to receive a Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Award for his exceptional service to the Upper Chichester community during the COVID-19 shutdown. As president of the Rotary Club and a leader in various organizations, including the Upper Chichester Historical Society, Chichester Business Association and Chichester School District Board of Education, Sill draws from a deep well of local knowledge and civic engagement experience. When the pandemic  hit, Sill took action, tapping his robust network of community connections to help collect and distribute masks to first responders. He also worked closely with senior citizens countywide to make sure they were getting the support and assistance they needed. Finally, under Sill's leadership, the Rotary Club was able to distribute six scholarships to graduating seniors this year, despite the loss of fundraising opportunities. “Frank is the person you go to if you need something to get done," said Barbara Kelley, assistant township manager. “He connects people.” Related Content Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart & Soul site (Orton is a statewide partner of PHC) Upper Chichester Heart & Soul Pennsylvania Community Heart & Soul

news
Jul 01, 2020

On June 25th, professionals from across Pennsylvania, representing non-profits, government, arts, culture, humanities, and library services, attended Reimagining Community Engagement, a virtual event presented by PHC in partnership with the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. This was the first event in a three-part series to create a statewide network to learn and build humanities-based and equitable practices for the future of community engagement in our changing world. The webinar was hosted by Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson, who highlighted the danger of single story and inspired the group to explore experiences of belonging and disbelonging through storytelling. After Mayson’s talk and poetry performance, participants joined story circles in breakout groups and shared their own personal stories. Returning to the main discussion, they debriefed about what our stories tell us about belonging, inclusion, and community engagement. The event closed with Mayson leading a sensory poem, prompting the group to imagine what belonging looks, feels, tastes and sounds like.  Here are the powerful and evocative words sourced from the group chat put into a word cloud: The Reimagining Community Engagement series will continue on July 9th from 10am-12pm and feature a cross-sector panel conversation moderated by Michael O’Bryan from the Village of Arts and Humanities and will feature PA practitioners and leaders, including:  Salina Almanzar, Lancaster-based Artist, Organizer, Scholar Mary Foltz, Director, Lehigh University South Side Initiative  Lindsay Varner, Community Outreach Director, Cumberland County Historical Society Marcus P. Yuille, Outreach Manager, Erie County Public Library The third and final event on July 30 will be hosted by popular academic and activist Marc Lamont Hill from Temple University and feature national leaders Carlton Turner from the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production, Tracie D. Hall from the American Library Association, and Ben Fink from Appalshop. There is still space available to join this learning community. People who have not registered for session one should register here to receive a zoom link for the upcoming event.

news
Jun 24, 2020

Congratulations to Gary and Tina Solak (Cameron County) for receiving one of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council's first ever Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Awards! The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shutdown brought many challenges to cities and towns across the world as they adapted to social distancing and other health and safety requirements. Despite the difficulties, Pennsylvania’s residents showed their resilience and strength by working together to meet the needs of their neighbors.  To acknowledge some of the many people who supported their communities during this time, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) created the Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Award. The award honors local heroes in communities that PHC has partnered with through Community Heart & Soul, a humanities-based initiative that uses resident stories and community conversations to spark collective decision-making and action.    Gary and Tina Solak, nominated as a team by Jessica Herzing, were among six recipients recognized as Heart & Soul Heroes for their outstanding community service. Each awardee receives a certificate, virtual award ceremony, and a spotlight article.  “The recipients of these awards displayed resilience, compassion, and action in time when their communities needed it most,” said Jen Danifo, PHC’s Senior Program Officer and host of the Heart & Soul Hero virtual award ceremonies. “This is what Community Heart & Soul is all about and PHC is honored to have the opportunity to uplift their work.” Gary and Tina Solak were selected to receive a Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Award for their exceptional service to Cameron County and the surrounding areas during the COVID-19 shutdown. The couple are radio hosts at WQKY (98.9 FM) based in Emporium and used their platform, including social media, to keep their listeners informed about the latest crisis information. Both are involved in their local community and felt it was their duty to provide timely and accurate information. In support of local businesses affected by the shutdown, the Solaks encouraged the public to purchase gift certificates and shared resources for grant and loan programs. Tina created an online forum for sharing information, providing a space for much needed conversations. “We immerse ourselves in our community and we're just looking out for our neighbors and giving them the information that they need," said Tina Solak. "We don't think of it as anything special, this is our job.”   Related Content Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart & Soul site (Orton is a statewide partner of PHC) Cameron County Project Pennsylvania Community Heart & Soul

News
Jun 16, 2020

Congratulations to Lee Scandinaro (Meadville) for receiving one of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council's first ever Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Awards! The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shutdown brought many challenges to cities and towns across the world as they adapted to social distancing and other health and safety requirements. Despite the difficulties, Pennsylvania’s residents showed their resilience and strength by working together to meet the needs of their neighbors.  To acknowledge some of the many people who supported their communities during this time, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) created the Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Award. The award honors local heroes in communities that PHC has partnered with through Community Heart & Soul, a humanities-based initiative that uses resident stories and community conversations to spark collective decision-making and action.    Lee Scandinaro, nominated by Amara Geffen, was among six recipients recognized as Heart & Soul Heroes for their outstanding community service. Each awardee receives a certificate, virtual award ceremony, and a spotlight article.  “The recipients of these awards displayed resilience, compassion, and action in time when their communities needed it most,” said Jen Danifo, PHC’s Senior Program Officer and host of the Heart & Soul Hero virtual award ceremonies. “This is what Community Heart & Soul is all about and PHC is honored to have the opportunity to uplift their work.” Lee Scandinaro was selected to receive a Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Award for his impressive service to Meadville during the COVID-19 shutdown. He took it upon himself to assess the needs of his community and determined that food accessibility was a major issue. He then worked to establish a vital school lunch program which will continue providing food to area children through the summer. Scandinaro is deeply rooted in his community and works collaboratively with residents and local organizations to assist those in need. He currently is employed by Arc of Crawford County, helping to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community. “That's always been what my MO is -- trying to fill what needs there are and serving the public as much as possible and in whatever way I can... not in a way that's about me but in a way that's about all of us just moving together,” said Scandinaro. Related Content Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart & Soul site (Orton is a statewide partner of PHC) My Meadville Pennsylvania Community Heart & Soul

News
Jun 08, 2020

We at the Pennsylvania Humanities Council cannot stay silent about the recent events that have once again highlighted the pernicious and systemic problems that Black people and all people of color face every day. We believe in justice for George Floyd and the countless other victims of police brutality and racism, but real justice will only come when we each do our part to build an equitable society. Our experience in communities across Pennsylvania has been that when people can see one another's humanity through stories, reflection, and relationship building, they are not only capable of doing this work but are often eager to challenge their biases and cross divides in order to shape a future where everyone is safe and free. We’ve witnessed how conversation and dialog can create avenues for civic involvement and community development once thought impossible. The process of confronting a society and national history replete with white supremacy and systemic inequities that impede justice can be difficult and uncomfortable. It takes real work but we can and must do this.  The Pennsylvania Humanities Council believes in the power of people from all walks of life to come together to make change. We stand with each and every person taking action for a more perfect union. All of us must join this struggle for justice.  But in the words of Maya Angelou, “Nothing will work unless you do.” There are many resources online to help us all become part of the change; one we recommend is "Talking About Race" from the National Museum of African American History & Culture. It provides tools and guidance to empower us on our journeys and inspire meaningful conversations and actions in our lives and in our communities.

News
Jun 08, 2020

Congratulations to John Hartnett (Meadville) for receiving one of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council's first ever Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Awards! The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shutdown brought many challenges to cities and towns across the world as they adapted to social distancing and other health and safety requirements. Despite the difficulties, Pennsylvania’s residents showed their resilience and strength by working together to meet the needs of their neighbors.  To acknowledge some of the many people who supported their communities during this time, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) created the Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero Award. The award honors local heroes in communities that PHC has partnered with through Community Heart & Soul, a humanities-based initiative that uses resident stories and community conversations to spark collective decision-making and action.    John Hartnett, nominated by Lee Scandinaro and Autumn Vogel of My Meadville, was among six recipients recognized as Heart & Soul Heroes for their outstanding community service. Each awardee receives a certificate, virtual award ceremony, and a spotlight article.  “The recipients of these awards displayed resilience, compassion, and action in time when their communities needed it most,” said Jen Danifo, PHC’s Senior Program Officer and host of the Heart & Soul Hero virtual award ceremonies. “This is what Community Heart & Soul is all about and PHC is honored to have the opportunity to uplift their work.” John Hartnett was selected to receive a Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Hero award for selflessly supporting local residents with a substance use disorders during this especially difficult period of social distancing. He is president of the Meadville chapter of Not One More, an organization dedicated to providing resources and support to people in recovery. Not One More strives to end the stigma around addiction and to create healthier relationships within communities. John quickly transitioned Not One More's group meetings to an online platform at the start of the COVID-19 statewide shutdown, ensuring life-saving access to a virtual support network. The distance-based approach and flexible scheduling even strengthened connections with those previously unable to join in person due to transportation or scheduling restrictions. "One of our values is being a healthy community where people have access to healthcare and support services," said Autumn Vogel. “This community is a better place because John is in it. We’re grateful for him.” Related Content Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart & Soul site (Orton is a statewide partner of PHC) My Meadville Pennsylvania Community Heart & Soul

news
Jun 04, 2020

Congratulations to the Carlisle Community Action Network, including network organizers Margee Ensign and Jennifer Love, for receiving one of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council's first ever Heart & Soul Hero Awards! The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shutdown brought many challenges to cities and towns across the world as they adapted to social distancing and other health and safety requirements. Despite the difficulties, Pennsylvania’s residents showed their resilience and strength by working together to meet the needs of their neighbors.  To acknowledge some of the many people who supported their communities during this time, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) created the Heart & Soul Hero Award. The award honors local heroes in communities that PHC has partnered with through Community Heart & Soul, a humanities-based initiative that uses resident stories and community conversations to spark collective decision-making and action.    The Carlisle Community Action Network, nominated by Lindsay Varner (Community Outreach Director of the Cumberland County Historical Society), was among six recipients recognized as Heart & Soul Heroes for their outstanding community service. Each awardee receives a certificate, virtual award ceremony, and a spotlight article.  “The recipients of these awards displayed resilience, compassion, and action in time when their communities needed it most,” said Jen Danifo, PHC’s Senior Program Officer and host of the Heart & Soul Hero virtual award ceremonies. “This is what Community Heart & Soul is all about and PHC is honored to have the opportunity to uplift their work.” Carlisle Community Action Network (CAN) is a group of 70+ community members that meet weekly via Zoom to discuss actions and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking the lead in coordinating this group is the President of Dickinson College, Margee Ensign, with support from Dickinson’s Assistant Chief of Staff, Jennifer Love, and other participants. Ensign, Love, and all of CAN were selected as Heart & Soul Heroes for quickly jumping into action to meet the needs of Carlisle and reaching across cultural divides to ensure everyone had a voice in the process. CAN hosted weekly discussions, helped launch an online resource page to keep the community informed, connected local businesses with Dickinson College student helpers, supported a food bank, organized the bottling and provision of hand sanitizer to residents, and engaged in outreach to vulnerable populations in the community. “Whenever a new issue arose there was never the question of ‘could we do it?’ It was ‘how quickly can we move, and who wants to be involved in it?’” said Ensign.   Related Content Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart & Soul site (Orton is a statewide partner of PHC) Local and college leaders honored by Pennsylvania Humanities Council for effective, collaborative work (Dickinson College) Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul Pennsylvania Community Heart & Soul

News
May 28, 2020

Jean Kosha's remarkable life journey has taken her from working with the teachers of child refugees in Liberia and Sierra Leone while with the International Rescue Committee, all the way to serving youth at the Municipal Branch of the Upper Darby Township Library in Pennsylvania. She cares passionately about meeting the needs of young people and recently received support from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) to bring Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) to the library in order to further deepen their engagement with the humanities and social justice issues. The PHC-created program combines immersive conversations around the humanities with real world civic engagement and cultural activities. "It seemed to be the perfect fit," said Kosha. "Teen Reading Lounge provides a space where we can talk about these issues that our teens face every day." The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of schools and libraries, along with the cancellation of many youth development opportunities. The Upper Darby Township Library had just launched Teen Reading Lounge when the statewide shutdown orders went into effect. Rather than cancel the program, they decided to move it online and keep their teens engaged at a time when it seemed they needed it most. We reached out to Kosha for a Q&A to check-in on how she's navigating this new virtual terrain and to learn more about how the humanities are impacting the lives of young people in Upper Darby. First, how are you doing with all this? You okay? The short answer is yes! There’s a lot packed into that question. From a personal view, I feel like the virus is always hovering just out of view. I worry about my husband, who drives for Uber and Lyft, being exposed to it. I worry when I go out to shop. I wonder how long it will last, whether my son and daughter will be able to go to their college campuses in Fall, and when the library will be open. I believe there’s always a silver lining to every cloud and I’ve found with the pandemic, being apart physically has allowed me to connect more frequently with my family and colleagues.   Tell us a little about why you moved to Upper Darby and how you became involved with Teen Reading Lounge. My husband, who is Liberian, and I wanted to live in a diverse community where our children could grow up surrounded by people with different ethnicities, religious beliefs, and cultural practices. We wanted them to feel part of the world community. Since they are biracial, we didn’t want them to live in a place where they would feel isolated. In Upper Darby the community is so diverse and they have made friends with people from all corners of the world. It is a great place to live! When I first moved here I worked at the library helping at the children’s desk. I gradually began doing programs for children and teens. I decided to start a Teen Advisory Board (TAB) because our young people were eager to create their own programs at the library. Last spring I learned about Teen Reading Lounge and it seemed to be the perfect fit for our library. It was a chance to read and discuss great books with our teens, but it was so much more. We could focus on the humanities and most importantly incorporate social justice issues.  What was your Teen Reading Group working on before the shutdown? The teens chose the theme of “Representation Matters” for our first cycle and we focused on the book Black Enough. It led to discussions about identity, privilege, and representation. Right before the pandemic hit, we started a project where the teens had their photo taken and cut out the silhouette. They were in the process of cutting out words and images that they considered part of their identity. The resulting work of art was going to be hung in the library in a display.  Unfortunately, we only got half way through before we had to close the library.   How has the coronavirus situation impacted Teen Reading Lounge and the young people you serve? Of course, initially all of our efforts just stopped cold and we had to reassess how we could continue to meet with the teens and continue our program. The first time we met online it was a chance to check in with our youth community. A lot of our discussion was about how they are dealing with the pandemic, being stuck at home, trying to do school work, and listening to the sometimes frightening news reports. We spoke about self-care and some strategies they could use to deal with the stress that they may be facing. Just before closing we had received two more books, American Born Chinese and Free Lunch that are related to our “Representation Matters” theme. We had the funds through PHC’s grant to mail participants their copies. This past week we met online and played games through Zoom that we learned about at one of PHC webinars I attended a few weeks ago. The teens loved it and we plan to play them again at our next meeting. I’m happy to say, we are moving forward. We’ll be wrapping up this cycle soon and then in June we’ll start our second one. The teens have decided on the theme “Finding our place in this world.” I think we will have some very engaging discussions!   You managed to get a Zoom conference with the mayor of Upper Darby and your youth. Why was that important and how did your group respond? Our recently elected mayor, Barbarann Keffer, was interested in meeting our library’s youth community as a part of her townhall tour that she planned for the spring. Fortunately, we were able to shift that meeting online. She met on Zoom with the participants of Teen Reading Lounge and our Teen Advisory Board and listened to their ideas about the needs of young people in Upper Darby. They were able to share their thoughts, including how important it was to have a safe place for teens to gather and hang out with friends.  One teen mentioned how Upper Darby was part of the Underground Railroad, but that this fact was not highlighted in the community. They felt it was important for the township to celebrate that. It was an amazing chance for the teens to voice their ideas and influence the direction of their own community. The mayor even invited them to nominate four young people to serve on the historical and recreation committees. How great is that? She wants to meet again in June to continue the conversation! After the mayor left the Zoom meeting the teens continued to talk because they were so energized by the conversation. They thought it was one of the best meetings they’ve had. When I asked who would be interested in being on the committees everyone raised their hand!   What is working remotely teaching you about engaging with the library’s youth community? The teens are still there! They still want to meet, engage and discuss. They want to be involved and they want to participate in building our community.  During one of the first online meetings I held with teens, one member who was particularly quiet in the “in person” meetings was much more vocal through the chat box online. Through text she shared her ideas and cracked jokes. Everyone in the group noticed and we all got to know more about her and her personality. While we may think of having to meet online as a hindrance, it can actually open doors for some teens in ways that we hadn’t realized.   Finally, why are the humanities important for young people during times of crisis? Many teens are stressed about what is happening with the pandemic. They are concerned for themselves and their family. Having access to good literature and peer conversations, where they can immerse themselves in stories and ideas, is so important. Through the humanities we are able to constructively contribute to the shape of our communities and become leaders. The humanities are essential to all of us.  One of the things I keep repeating to the teens is that they are living through an incredible time in history. I have encouraged them to keep a diary, record their thoughts, capture this moment. While it seems surreal now, in 50 years their grandkids will be asking them, “What was the 2020 pandemic like?” and they will have many incredible stories to tell.   Related Content Youth Engagement in the Time of Social Distancing: An Introductory Conversation Teen Reading Lounge

news
May 07, 2020

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) is pleased to announce the recipients of their Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers, a new rapid relief program created in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The recipients represent arts groups, museums, historical societies, libraries, and cultural institutions from across Pennsylvania.  Social distancing measures have caused the closure of museums and libraries and the cancelation of in-person programs, historical tours, festivals, and other major events that bring people together and support local economies. Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers provide up to $2,000 to help arts and cultural organizations adapt by supporting events, programs, and projects delivered through virtual or other forms of distance-based engagement with the public. “These are challenging times but Pennsylvania’s cultural sector is creative and resilient,” said Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. “These pop-up grants will directly support cultural programming that builds community and inspires hope and humanity at a time when we need it most.” PHC received applications from hundreds of affected nonprofit organizations and secured funding to support 47 of them. Among the projects are: Ogun & the People Project, a series of facilitated online discussions centered on the Afro-Cuban pataki, or sacred parable, Ogun & the People, facilitated by the Kule Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble (Philadelphia); Our Food, Ourselves, a virtual exploration of how food writing and nonfiction storytelling open windows into larger aspects of the human experiences, hosted by the Creative Nonfiction Foundation and featuring scholars and food writers (Pittsburgh); Going Viral, a series of conversations and creative workshops for young people at the Lower Macungie Library that includes “Pandemic Packs” with history books and supplies (Macungie); Revival! (Social Distancing Edition), a virtual dance party and live performance, hosted by the BlackStar Film Festival, celebrating the visual and sonic frequencies contained within Black spiritual and ecstatic experience (Philadelphia); Talking Portraits, an interactive website from the Lackawanna Historical Society where visitors can meet animated, Harry Potter style portraits to learn about local history and participate in discussions with historians (Scranton). All of PHC's grants and programs generate avenues for civic involvement and community development. These creative pop-up projects build on this work while also addressing the immediate relief needs of cultural organizations and those they serve. The full list of Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers recipients is as follows: 3 Dots Downtown African American Museum in Philadelphia Ars Nova Workshop Arts without Boundaries Barrio Alegria Belle Vernon Public Library Beyond the Bars Black Lily, Inc dba BlackStar Film Festival  Bosler Memorial Library Boyertown Community Library Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center Cliveden of the National Trust Creative Nonfiction Foundation Delaware County Historical Society Elkland Area Community Library Erie Center for Arts & Technology Fairmount Park Conservancy First Person Arts, Inc. Friends of Hershey Public Library Harmony Image Productions & S.I.F.T.Media (Sisters in Film and Television) Higher Grounds Music Highland Community Library Hill Dance Academy Theatre Jamaaladeen Tacuma Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia Johnstown Area Heritage Association Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble Lackawanna HIstorical Society Lehigh University Lower Macungie Library Meadowcroft Rockshelter & Historic Village Nichole Canuso Dance Company Nueva Esperanza, Inc. Office of Public Art, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac Painted Bride Art Center Performing Artists Collective Alliance Philadelphia Folksong Society South Philly Acoustic Jam Taller Puertorriqueno The Colored Girls Museum The Rosenbach The Soapbox Community Print Shop & Zine Library Tiny Farm Wagon of CultureTrust of Greater Philadelphia Ujamaa Collective World Cafe Live York County History Center The Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers program is made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, individual donors to PHC, and an anonymous donor who offered additional funds for Philadelphia-based projects serving artists and small arts organizations. This grant program is not part of the CARES Act, which allocated federal funding to be distributed by state and territorial councils through the National Endowment for the Humanities. PHC will provide more information about its CARES Act opportunity soon.

news
May 07, 2020

by Jeff Siegler* Beaver County Community Heart & Soul Volunteer and founder of Revitalize, or Die The timing was not ideal. Just as we were getting the go ahead from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to embark upon the Community Heart & Soul program, we got notice from Governor Wolf’s office that getting together would be impossible. Needless to say, this put a substantial wrench in the works. At the heart of what we are trying to do is build community, and not getting together in person makes that quite a bit difficult. As I have endlessly shouted on my own platform, we will not be able to build community online, and in fact, it is our over dependence on the internet that has helped to degrade our sense of community. So this is awkward. Nevertheless, social distancing restrictions were put place, but the problems the community was facing were not going away. I am new to both the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Community Heart and Soul program, but community struggles are my speciality. I have worked in community development and revitalization going back to 2003 and became particularly interested in issues of civic pride and apathy while overseeing the Ohio Main Street Program. I took some time to think about how we might move forward considering the fact that we could no longer actually meet up to get this thing started. While this was not an ideal situation, it did provide us with a rare opportunity to do something we nearly never do, take our time. I am fortunate enough to be working with two communities in Beaver County, Beaver Falls and Rochester. I grew up in a Rustbelt town in Northwest Ohio that reminds me a great deal of both cities. These communities had once been prosperous and vibrant, but fell on hard times when the nature of the economy changed and are now looking at themselves from the view that their best days are behind them. This is a painful and damaging situation to get into, but it is one that thousands upon thousands of communities are currently in. The psyche of most smaller communities in the Rustbelt is complicated, and has been shaped by decades of bad news. So many of these cities have been knocked down so many times that they stopped trying to get up. They have learned not to trust what people tell them, they have learned that it is too painful to have hope, they have learned that this may be as good as it gets. What people on the outside don’t understand about these places is that they have every reason to feel the way they do. They may be easy to pick apart and deride their disfunction, but their behavior is the only reasonable response to a situation in which they have suffered. We get so much wrong when we think about community revitalization because we overlook that fact that cities are made up of people. Cities take on the characteristics of the people that populate it. We would do far better to think about how people feel and function if we want to tackle some of these community problems. Because in the end, if we want to help a city lift itself up, we have to figure out how to help its residents lift themselves up. I don’t mean to sound so negative about any community, particular not the two communities I am extremely excited to be working with, but I have also come to realize, that there is no use trying to gloss over reality. If we really hope to start making some headway on these issues, we can’t pretend that everything is fine. We can’t just keep hoping that tomorrow will be better if we don't behave different today. There is no sense going to the doctor and pretending that everything is great only to not get treated for what is bothering you. The whole point of embarking on this process is to attempt to address the issues that are holding us back. There are problems, there is no sense in denying it. There are issues, there are struggles. A community is complicated and things happen. Apathy takes hold, disfunction can set it, trust erodes. This isn’t an indictment on all the people that live there. It’s simply recognizing that things needs to change and that brighter days are ahead. "Instead of just sitting back and waiting until things cleared up to get started, we could instead seize on an opportunity to take our time and have some deeper discussions." So it comes back to this, if we want to revitalize a city, we have to revitalize its people. As with anything then, we first must understand what is wrong. This is the reason I feel like there is not nearly enough progress made in the fields of community development and revitalization. We look at the city as a whole and then consider how do we fix this singular entity. We throw planning at it, we throw infrastructure at it, sometimes we throw money at it. These are all solutions to a very different problem and not the problem that needs addressed. These are physical problems, problems we can see with our eyes, but just as it is with people, often times, the most challenging problems are the ones we can’t see. The ones that exist inside. So with this in mind, we decided to hit pause and consider that maybe this break was giving us a chance to start to explore some of these ideas. Instead of just sitting back and waiting until things cleared up to get started, we could instead seize on an opportunity to take our time and have some deeper discussions. As one does during a pandemic, we logged onto a Zoom call and we just talked. We talked about what it feels like to live in a community that doesn’t believe in itself. We discussed the impacts of not knowing fellow community members. Someone mentioned that one of their biggest issues was a lack of trust, and we spent a long time talking about how that affects a community and its residents. This lead to a deep discussion of how trust is lost and what can be done to restore it. We kicked around the subject of apathy and how it seems people just don’t care as much as they used to. Then we talked about how pride can combat apathy and steps we might take to start down a new path. With both communities, we were afforded a really fortunate opportunity to talk about some things we rarely get to talk about. We got deep and dirty in the subjects that really affect a community and not the superficial stuff we typically spend so much time on. "We got deep and dirty in the subjects that really affect a community and not the superficial stuff we typically spend so much time on." We didn’t solve any of the world’s problems in our discussions, but I believe we went deeper than we usually go. We at least had a chance to consider some of the root issues we need to address when it comes to community revitalization. We may not know all the solutions to these issues, but it is so rare that we even discuss the real problems. I love having a chance to work with passionate community members and be a part of these discussions. It is not ever for a lack of love or concern that a community struggles, but often a lack of not knowing what to do. There is a lot of bad advice out there and many towns don’t ever take the time to address some of the root issues they are struggling with. I believe the Community Heart & Soul program will give us that chance. We have a long way to go and plenty of issues to deal with, but we there is no shortage of passionate people willing to do whatever it takes to make their community stronger. It is hard to say where this process will end up, but at least we were afforded the time to have the conversation about what issues we really want to address.   * The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Jeff Siegler is a community revitalization specialist partnering with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council on Community Heart & Soul in Beaver County.   Related Content Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Uncommon Strategic Partnership Advances Applied Humanities Work In PA Community Heart & Soul

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