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Upper Chichester Heart & Soul supercharged their outreach and civic engagement this summer with two successful community summits. People from all corners of the township gathered to vote on action ideas centered on each of their seven value statements: sense of community, location and accessibility, education, safety, economic opportunity, community resources, and recreation and open spaces. These values were developed through volunteer-led conversations and story-gathering work with residents, nonprofits, government agencies, educational institutions, and business leaders. The effort is centered in the PA Community Heart & Soul model which creatively engages residents in planning and decision-making processes as a way to strengthen a town’s social, cultural and economic vibrancy. "We needed to have Heart & Soul at this time in the history of our township,” said Diane Simon, part of the Upper Chichester Heart & Soul leadership team. “We, as residents, are being able to give our input as to what we'd like to see." The action items voted most important during this third phase of the program will soon be incorporated into a community action plan, a practical roadmap to making meaningful change in the future. "I think there's a lot of opportunity here for change,” said Joe Neary, 4th Ward Commissioner for Upper Chichester Township. In addition to the summits, the leadership team implemented a final “7-day blitz” of outreach activities through mass mail, email, and social media campaigns in their effort to give as many people a seat at the table as possible. Once all the feedback is received they will begin the process of data analysis to determine what actions residents find most important. Fortunately, interest in attending events is picking up steam again after having to move operations online during the height of the pandemic, said Barbara Kelley, Assistant Township Manager. “We’re excited by the energy and momentum we’re now seeing. Community Heart & Soul is helping us chart a course for a bright and prosperous future that involves everyone.” Related Content Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Community Heart & Soul (Orton Family Foundation) Upper Chichester Heart & Soul volunteers gather for intensive storytelling training
Nearly 20 young people from Upper Darby Free Library Municipal Branch's Teen Reading Lounge and the Upper Darby mayor's youth advisory committee gathered safely outdoors for a special virtual meeting with Representative Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05). With phones and tablets in hand, the teens engaged Scanlon in an hour-long conversation about issues they were concerned about: education, gun violence, the environment, and mental health issues. Scanlon gave thoughtful answers and offered some of her personal political journey, including her early concern for environmental issues based on experiences growing up as a teenager in Watertown, New York near the Canadian border. Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) is PHC’s award-winning, nontraditional book club for youth with sites across the state. Participants work together to co-create the reading list and, with support from trained facilitators, design creative projects and organize events, like the Scanlon meeting, that connect themes in their books to tangible action in their communities. "Through TRL, our teens have been participating in local governance by having six teens serve on three different Upper Darby township committees." said Jean Kosha, Teen Reading Lounge coordinator and library assistant at Upper Darby Free Library Municipal Branch. "Meeting with Representative Scanlon gave them a chance to ask her about national and world issues important to them." Scanlon concluded her virtual visit by inviting the young people to join her Congressional Youth Cabinet (CYC), a nonpartisan initiative to provide high school students in Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District with an opportunity to learn more about Congress and the policymaking process. Members of the CYC get to share their ideas about solving pressing issues facing young Americans and have the opportunity to connect with other elected officials, peers, and community leaders. "Through reading and discussing different perspectives and social issues, Teen Reading Lounge ultimately aims to nurture empathic young leaders and engaged citizens," said Julia Terry, PHC's education officer. "These young peoples' concern for their community, humanity at large, and the environment was clear in the depth and maturity of their questions and the agency and commitment they bring to their work." Related Content Humanities help Upper Darby youth navigate COVID-19 and stay connected Teen Reading Lounge
Lights, camera, action! Young people at B.F. Jones Memorial Library in Aliquippa got a chance to sit in the director's seat and help produce a video about their recent environmental civic engagement work. The project was inspired by their talks with Eliza Griswold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New Yorker. It was led by participants in the library’s Teen Reading Lounge program in partnership with Ya Momz House, with support from PHC and a Democracy and the Informed Citizen grant. Through discussions and community conversations, the group determined that litter was a major problem so they teamed up with The Big Beaver Litter Gitters to help clean up their neighborhood. “That’s one of the key things with TRL ... showing them how to use their talents to actually make a difference." - Kristen Janci, Youth & Outreach Coordinator at BF Jones Memorial Library Using what they learned about environmental journalism from Griswold, they created an inspiring video that shows the power of young people to make meaningful change through dialogue about issues important to them. Watch their final video below and read more about this powerful story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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.
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:
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
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.
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 communityheartandsoul.org/seed-grants for more information about the program. Questions about this opportunity can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: pahumanities.org 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: communityheartandsoul.org
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.
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.