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Jul 06, 2017

The Meadville Heart & Soul team is hard at work, having recently relaunched their project under the name My Meadville. This relaunch, along with expanding their ranks and partnership development efforts, has enabled them to garner the community support and buy-in that is crucial to the success of Heart & Soul. My Meadville has successfully integrated their efforts into preexisting community development efforts and serves as a unifying force among them. “It’s all about having your finger at the pulse of the community, from the grassroots level to the top,” says Autumn Vogel, the Project Coordinator of My Meadville, “and about building relationships and having the time and effort to support that. There’s a particular energy and excitement here.” This excitement is why My Meadville has been able to forge a wide variety of partnerships with organizations and individuals across the town, including a notable partnership with the Meadville Medical Center Foundation. The Foundation is sponsoring a full-time Americorps VISTA position for the My Meadville team, who will work on further developing the team’s Community Network Analysis. This analysis will provide a crucial insight into who lives in the community and the connectors between them-- a vital resource not just for the Heart & Soul project, but for organizations like the Medical Center Foundation who want to better serve their community. Other partners include Meadville’s City Council, Crawford Area Transportation Authority, the Meadville Public Library, Allegheny College, Crawford County Systems of Care, Grow Meadville, a variety of local businesses that offer products in exchange for time residents spend on the project, and many others. While partnerships are a vital way to ensure community support during this process, Vogel’s team commits to the idea that the people involved in the Heart & Soul project are involved as unique individuals, and not just as representatives of other entities. This team brings a variety of skills and perspectives shaped by professional and personal experience. Data Team Leader Stephanie Martin, for instance, is an Economics professor at Allegheny College, and leadership team member Zach Norwood serves as Crawford County’s Deputy Planning Director. The team is also aided by City Council Member Nancy Mangilo-Bittner, who offers the team a key connection to local government. Many members of the leadership team are able to incorporate Heart & Soul work into their professional lives and have been indispensable in forging the partnerships that have given My Meadville community-wide credibility. The team holds a thoroughly non-competitive view towards other community efforts, focusing their time and energy on building relationships and earning trust so that they can build on  the momentum and drive that already exists in Meadville. “People recognized there were a lot of community efforts, but they needed to be aligned,” says Vogel. “We are joining conversations that are already happening.” The My Meadville team is working hard not only on developing multiple partnerships within the community, but on appearing at events to gather stories from a diverse array of participants and organizing story circles so that residents can hear each other’s stories face-to-face. With over two hundred interviews and eight hundred surveys completed, Vogel and her team have found consistently that the community values the community of Meadville and town life, as well as the natural resources in the area. Through their storytelling work, the team has also heard about the value of civic engagement, economic opportunity, and health and safety, and have been listening to the citizens’ concerns and possible solutions with regard to the change they want to see in Meadville. The team’s work has been bringing the community together through their shared values, a discovery that will lead to productive, citizen-centered change in the future. “You can’t argue that one group is driving the ship,” says Vogel. “And it’s not about being competitive with other community efforts, but about building relationships and earning trust, so you can utilize the momentum and the drive that is already happening.”  

Jun 08, 2017

Governor Tom Wolf has appointed Gwendolyn White (Erie), Allen Dieterich-Ward (Shippensburg), and Christina Donato Saler (Bala Cynwyd) to the Pennsylvania Humanities Council Board of Directors.  White, Dieterich-Ward, and Saler bring diverse sets of knowledge and experiences from across the state.  “All three of our newest Board members embody the spirit of community,” said Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC). “We are very fortunate to have them by our side as we continue to strengthen our work across the state. "Year after year I’m astounded at the level of talent, expertise, and energy we’re able to access with our board,” added Zierer. “We have a very strong leadership foundation in place, and we couldn’t be more pleased with these appointments. Each of these individuals’ deep professional backgrounds and passionate commitment to strengthening the humanities will bring insightful perspectives to our Board.” PHC is governed by a 24-seat board of directors, which is made up of both elected individuals and governor appointees. Currently there are 18 members serving on the board. Members are eligible to serve up to two successive three-year terms.   New Board Members:   Christina Donato Saler is Senior Counsel with the class action law firm Chimicles & Tikellis LLP.  Christina’s experience crosses several practice areas; she has prosecuted federal securities cases, shareholder rights cases, derivative actions, consumer class actions, and First Amendment cases involving individual plaintiffs against media defendants. Christina also takes an active role in managing the firm’s client relationships.  Christina began her professional career in advertising and was a senior account executive with the Tierney Agency in Philadelphia. She has a bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University and a juris doctorate with honors from Rutgers Law School. Allen Dieterich-Ward is an associate professor of history at Shippensburg University. An environmental and urban historian with a focus on political ecology and community development, Allen has earned acclaim for teaching, professional service and scholarship. He won the 2016 Arline Custer Memorial Award from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference for his book, Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Allen holds a PhD in history from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in history from Michigan, and a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster. Gwendolyn White is a Personal Lines Underwriting Manager for the Erie Insurance Group. She has been involved for nearly three decades with the United Way of Erie County, where she currently serves as chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, a member of three other committees: Community Building, Executive Compensation Review, and Governance. Gwendolyn is board chairperson of the Greater Erie Community Action Committee, an organization dedicated to helping break the cycle of poverty.

May 15, 2017

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and The Orton Family Foundation to support the City of Easton as it incorporates a humanities-based approach to community development. In this unique partnership among a government agency, a statewide nonprofit, and a national operating foundation, the city of Easton will receive a total of $47,000 in funding, with both PHC and DCED providing $23,500; in addition, PHC and the Orton Family Foundation will provide training and technical support worth $53,000. “We believe the humanities can provide a path to action and long-term positive change in Pennsylvania,” said Laurie Zierer, PHC’s executive director. “With story-gathering at the heart of planning and development, local voices become the foundation for building stronger communities and a better future.” In 2015, to achieve the greatest impact and broadest reach through humanities-based community development, PHC partnered with the Orton Family Foundation to bring Orton’s Community Heart & Soul® model to Pennsylvania communities. Community Heart & Soul actively seeks the collective wisdom of all residents, including those whose voices are often missing, and brings people together to build stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant communities. “Congratulations to the residents of Easton on winning support from PHC and DCED for a Community Heart & Soul project,” said David Leckey, executive director, Orton Family Foundation. “Community Heart & Soul is a catalyst for change that takes into account both the unique character of a town and the deep emotional connection of the people who live there – a town’s ‘Heart & Soul.’ These collective insights into what truly matters most to residents serve to guide a town in making the best decisions about its future and that leads to opportunities—including economic development—that residents might not have discovered prior to Heart & Soul. We are looking forward to what Community Heart & Soul can do for Easton.” Easton will be the fourth Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Community; the other three communities, Greater Carlisle, the City of Meadville and Williamsport, recently completed a full year of work using the Heart and Soul® model and received $87,200 in second-year funding from PHC, in addition to continued training and technical support from PHC and Orton. PHC hopes to expand the program to include additional cities and towns later this year. “DCED’s Governor’s Center for Local Government Services is excited to partner with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Orton Family Foundation, as we view it as a unique opportunity to build better communities for all of Pennsylvania,” said DCED secretary Dennis Davin. “By listening to, and including all residents, we can effectively collaborate for better and stronger results.”

Apr 11, 2017

For author Alex London, dystopias are not just a fun premise for a novel. In a recent visit to the teens of Huntingdon Valley Library’s Teen Reading Lounge program, London emphasized the extent to which dystopias should reflect and engage with real-world issues in a meaningful way. When he was 21, London had the opportunity to work with Refugees International, an organization which advocates for the rights of displaced people around the world. He wrote a “grown-up book” based on this experience, One Day The Soldiers Came, in which he interviewed children in war-torn areas. This gave him an interest in how children and teenagers are able to adapt to adverse circumstances, which over time gave him the impetus to begin writing science-fiction novels, the first of which was Proxy.  When a teen asked about his inspiration for writing Proxy, London said that he wrote the book that he needed when he was a teenager. Citing his love of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game while decrying the blatant homophobia espoused by the author himself, London set out to write a dystopian novel that engaged with societal problems through the eyes of a protagonist who is openly gay while not being solely defined by his sexuality. Proxy is set in a rigidly structured society in which the poor are constantly indebted and are forced to serve as proxies to the wealthy elite, taking punishment for their transgressions. The novel examines many issues, including class, consumerism, and climate change, and in his talk London discussed the importance of these issues by connecting the fictional dystopia to aspects of the real world. The teens at Huntingdon Valley were enthralled by London’s charismatic presentation, and they never ran out of questions to ask. We at PHC did have the opportunity to ask more questions, and we were interested in what London had to say more broadly about the importance of literature and the humanities in the lives of teenagers.    What motivated you to join and work with Refugees International in the first place? I wish I could say it was some noble drive; but I was 21 and really craved adventure. I was also terribly curious how, in the early days of the 21st century, wars were being fought by, for, and around children all over the world and no one was paying much attention to what they thought about it all. My curiosity got the better of me and I raised some funds, partnered with the amazing people at  Refugees International, a refugee advocacy organization, and began traveling to learn about the lives and perspectives of young people affected by armed conflict. They very quickly showed me that they were the protagonists of their own lives with stories as epic as anything in literature. I knew I had to do what I could to amplify their voices rather than my own. What makes you enjoy working specifically with youth as much as you do? How else will I find new music to listen to? Seriously though, I think literature is a relay race, passing the baton from one generation to the next. I like doing my part to keep that race going, to inspire a few young thinkers the way older teachers and writers inspired me. That's how progress happens.   Libraries often struggle to adequately serve the teen populations in their area, whether due to lack of funding or personnel who are passionate about working with teens. As someone who used to be a librarian, how do you think libraries can best serve and continue to be relevant to teens? Listen to teens; include their voices in the process of programming, organizing, and collection building. Keep them involved and value their perspectives as stakeholders. Show them they are valued and they will return the favor. You have mentioned before that you used to be a reluctant reader. What changed that for you? What do you think can be done to help more young people find their love of reading? It's no longer revolutionary to say the key is reading choice. Let readers read what they want and they will find what they want to read. Our job is to create access by building diverse collections that speak to a variety of levels, tastes, and experiences, and to help with the discovery process through book talks, displays, activities, programming, reviews, and encouraging peer to peer recommendations. The right book at the right time can unlock the parts of yourself you didn't know existed, but you have to access and that is where libraries do vital work.   In light of the debate of whether funding should be cut to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arts (something that obviously impacts us a lot), do you have any opinions about humanities-based programing like Teen Reading Lounge, or about the importance of valuing literature and all the humanities as a society? Obviously, as a producer of books, I'm biased, but I believe these things are essential. There is a reason that art and literature have endured even the darkest times in human history and that brave souls have risked their lives to smuggle books in and out of repressive regimes. Individuals can be destroyed. Ideas endure. Our laws are the form our society takes, but the humanities--our intellectual traditions, our literature, our cultural institutions, those are the content. Those are the things that create meaning we can pass through generations, expanding and refining what we mean when we say 'We.' Without the humanities, the fabric of our society starts to unravel and we become mere products of our geography. Art, literature, ideas--and the institutions that make them accessible to all--those are the threads that stitch society together. I shudder to think what would happen if they all unraveled. It's not easy to stitch together again. But it's a challenge the humanities are up for if necessary. Come what may, art endures.      

Apr 10, 2017

Valerie Adams-Bass is a developmental psychologist who focuses on adolescent development. A partner in the creation of our Teen Reading Lounge program, Dr. Adams-Bass has helped PHC understand how the humanities and the higher-order thinking skills associated with the humanities can prepare youth to participate in a larger civic and political arena. She shares some thoughts on these topics in the following post. ______________________________________________________________________________________ When youth are involved in projects in which they have an expressed interest or identified as important, they are excited about the initiative and are willing to take the lead; they are invested in the vision and the final project or product. This is defined as a youth-driven initiative--a hallmark of PHC's Teen Reading Lounge program. Take a minute to imagine how you feel when you are working with a team of colleagues or classmates and your ideas are central to the project. How much effort do you put into the project? What if you are in charge of planning a family reunion, how would you describe your efforts?  Most likely, you were willing to work diligently towards a successful project or reunion. Youth often respond similarly when they are involved in youth-driven civic engagement, and with the support of adults, a dynamic project will emerge. As co-chair of this year’s annual Youth-Nex Center for Positive Youth Development at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education I am excited about researchers, practitioners and youth coming together for our theme of Youth Civic and Political Engagement. Civic engagement provides an opportunity for young people to become actively involved in their communities. Commonly referenced definitions of youth civic engagement focus on traditional activities that correlate with citizenship through political and community involvement. More comprehensive definitions of civic engagement for children and youth include a range of activities such as participation in food drives, an annual walk or run fundraiser, serving as a youth representative on community boards, involvement with local political organizations, participation in community preservation activities, or developing an agenda to address or bring attention to social inequities such as public education, gentrification-community displacement, police brutality or health disparities. For urban youth who are often racially/ethnically diverse, labeled at-risk, and silenced about issues that directly impact their lives, civic engagement projects allow them a platform to express their voice collectively and respond to challenges from a first-person perspective. Through their work, scholars such as Ginwright, Flanagan and Noguera provide examples of urban youth organizing using a Positive Youth Development framework. Positive Youth Development is an asset-based approach to supporting the healthy development of youth through the 6 “Cs”; Character, Competence, Confidence, Connection, Caring and Contribution (i). Youth who exhibit the first 5 Cs are more likely to be civically engaged, and providing them opportunities to contribute (civic participation) leads to further positive youth development (ii). Essential to supporting youth who are involved in, or developing youth civic engagement projects are caring adults who can help make connections to community resources. Public libraries are a rich resource for youth civic engagement. Connecting with youth who are involved with a project or providing an opportunity for youth to develop a civic engagement project is an ideal opportunity for librarians to introduce youth to the wealth of knowledge freely available to them and for libraries to gain new patrons who may become active supporters of the library. A few of the most valuable resources that libraries offer are caring adults, free safe space, free access to digital resources, free access to newer technologies, free access to a world-wide web connection, free access to thousands of books, videos, music, photographs, magazines, newspapers, maps, digital archives and in some cases microfiche--yes microfiche! Teenagers are at a stage in their lives where they are experiencing increased autonomy and decision making. Allowing them to take the lead is a perfect opportunity for them to practice and develop leadership skills and make decisions. Whether gathering support for involvement in an annual fundraiser of their choice or a social justice initiative, youth today are tuned into media more than any other generation and can likely put together a publicity campaign better than many adults, knowing where and how to target multiple audiences across the variety of social media platforms that are available today. Depending on the project, youth may develop a sustainability plan that includes recruiting additional youth and community partners as collaborators for the project and for the library. Youth civic engagement fosters the 6 Cs-Character, Competence, Confidence, Connection, Caring and Contribution. More and more practitioners and researchers are acknowledging the value of youth civic engagement. What are you waiting for? Make the connection!   Valerie Adams-Bass is a developmental psychologist who earned her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She focuses on adolescent development. Dr. Adams-Bass is an Assistant Professor of Youth and Social Innovations in the Department of Human Services at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. She is a faculty affiliate with the Youth-Nex Center to Promote Effective Youth Development in the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia and an affiliate faculty member of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Pennslyania.   (i) Sherrod, L.R., Torney-Purta, J., & Flanagan, C.A. (2010). Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons Publications. (ii) Lerner, R. (2004). Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among America’s youth. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.   

Apr 03, 2017

Learn how libraries and youth organizations successfully conduct outreach to recruit young people through this conversation on best practices, challenges and concrete strategies.  This webinar on Outreach & Recruitment was produced by PHC and  moderated by Valerie Adams-Bass, Assistant Professor of Youth and Social Innovations in the Department of Human Services at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education.   Guest speakers include: Kelly Rottmund, Teen Services Coordinator for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Kelly manages CLP’s system of 38 Teen Specialists across the Library's 19 locations. She has been a Teen Librarian for eight years, and was previously the manager of the Teen Department at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Main Library and the Teen Librarian at the Sewickley Public Library, which is outside of Pittsburgh. Rachel Roberts, Program Director & Team Leader for Public Health Management Corporation’s Youth Educational Social Services. Rachel manages and trains PHMC’s extensive network of OST programs providers which includes more 250 programs in 70 locations across Philadelphia.  

Mar 20, 2017

PHC board members are working hard to ensure strong public support for humanities, arts, and libraries in Pennsylvania.  During the most recent "Focus on Education" program produced by the Education Policy and Leadership Center and Pennsylvania Cable Network, PHC board member Ron Cowell led a discussion on the implications of state and federal budgets for these areas. Featured guests included: Paula Gilbert, Director of Youth Services for York Co. Library System and PHC board member Rusty Baker, Executive Director of PA Museums Jenny Hershour, Managing Director, Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania   The discussion on what state and federal budgets mean for arts and humanities throughout the commonwealth begins at 29:48.

Mar 13, 2017

On Friday, March 10, 32 members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump in support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. The letter outlines crucial services provided by the cultural agencies, including programs for veterans, and ends with the following statement: “Eliminating these programs would be detrimental to our military, our students, and our economy. We strongly urge you to support full and robust funding for the NEA and NEH in the FY 2018 budget, as exposure to the arts and humanities benefits all Americans.” The letter was coordinated by Representative Robert Brady (D-PA-01) and signed by four other members of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation: Brendan Boyle (D-PA-13), Ryan Costello (R-PA-06), Michael Doyle (D-PA-14), and Dwight Evans (D-PA-02). Read the full letter. And please call your elected officials to thank them for taking action on behalf of the humanities and the arts--or thank them through Facebook or Twitter.

Mar 13, 2017

The new Chester Made Exploration Zone pop-up makerspace at 511 Avenue of the States is officially complete! A special thank you to Chester Made artistic director Devon Walls, Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop and Chester residents for participating in #TheBuild and helping to make this possible!  On March 10 we held a launch reception and tour of the pop-up makerspace program. The following day, Butcher Shop Rehab’s L. Ward and Kenya Abdul-Hadi shared the secrets behind making beautiful furniture using reclaimed wood through a Reclaim. Rebuild. Repurpose workshop in which they guided teams of community members through the process of creating designer-inspired tables. Take a look at the event photos below, and keep a look out for the finished tables that will be displayed throughout the City of Chester and the region.    Butcher Shop Rehab Reclaim . Rebuild . Repurpose Workshop     Chester Made Exploration Zone Launch Reception  Related Content About Chester Made Chester Made Humanities Camp Tactical Urbanism Community Conversation and Workshop The Building of a Block: Community Archival Workshop Chester Made Exploration Zone Launch--and Butcher Shop Rehab Reclaim . Rebuild . Repurpose Workshop Chester Made #TheBuild Chester Made Artist Exchange

Nov 12, 2016

Through our award-winning Teen Reading Lounge program, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) invests funds to help youth build 21st century learning skills. Preliminary data suggest that 84% of teens who participated in Teen Reading Lounge across Pennsylvania in 2015-2016 learned to recognize and respect differences and perspectives of others, 72% are better able to analyze and evaluate different points of view, and 64% have improved upon their ability to build on their own and others’ ideas. Beyond improving learning outcomes for teens, PHC also aims with Teen Reading Lounge to build the capacity of public libraries in Pennsylvania to offer quality humanities-based teen programming into the future, well beyond the initial period of PHC funding, training and technical support. In Lackawanna County’s system of seven libraries in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Teen Reading Lounge has become a mainstay of teen programming and the system itself is funding it. Teen Reading Lounge first launched in the county in 2015 as part of a project that aimed to reach the Northeast region’s 12-18 year olds. Albright Memorial Library, Carbondale Public Library and Valley Community Library kicked off programs that spring and, over the span of eight weeks, saw such great interest from young people that they applied to PHC for funding to run a second round. Early hosts sites were enthusiastic about the flexible, teen-centered approach to the humanities. They saw Teen Reading Lounge as unique in inviting young people to express their opinions and learn about the world around them.  “Traditionally, a book discussion series is a hard sell for teens,” one site reported. “Incorporating the humanities aspect allows you to offer a variety of options related to the chosen book that will attract teens and keep their interests as well as appeal to the different learning styles.” This enthusiasm was central to Lackawanna County’s ability to follow through on a plan to make the program available to more libraries in the system. The capacity to channel the passion of all of Teen Reading Lounge’s site coordinators, facilitators, and participants was essential for creating interest for this program across the county. Mary Garm, the library systems administrator for Lackawanna County, says that she worked with the system’s board of directors to budget funds to support one system-wide Teen Reading Lounge coordinator, as well as funds for each library to hire a program facilitator and purchase books and supplies. Sandy Longo, the assistant director of the Abington Community Library, was tapped to serve as the system’s official coordinator. Longo was the original contact for the original Northeast PA project and knew the impact of the program well, which enabled her to become a leader for Teen Reading Lounge among Lackawanna libraries. “The teen librarians throughout the library system work tremendously together,” says Longo. “Most, if not all, experienced firsthand the benefits of including TRL in their core programming, so no convincing was needed on my part.” Working together, Longo and Garm established a timeline of participation for all member libraries, so that marketing could be coordinated for the most impact. This served to create a “county-wide TRL buzz” that, as Longo says, gave them a defined period of time to find artists and speakers to serve as co-facilitators. Libraries worked closely with these individuals and young people to plan their programs. In late 2015, Lackawanna-funded Teen Reading Lounge programs launched at the original three libraries and at five additional sites in the system: Abington Community Library, Nancy K. Holmes Branch Library, Dalton Community Library, North Pocono Public Library and Taylor Community Library. Outcomes for the Lackawanna expansion program tracked very closely to other cohorts across the state. For example, 88% of participants said they’d participate in Teen Reading Lounge again. One young person commented, “I mostly enjoyed talking to others about my thoughts about the book. I also enjoyed making new friends.”                   As librarians reflected on why this expansion worked, they reported that, “Teens liked having something that was ‘just for them.’ They cited the program’s flexibility, focus on open communication, and teen-centered content as reasons why Teen Reading Lounge was a success. One librarian said that she hopes to make Teen Reading Lounge a part of her core programming for teens. Longo and Garm insist that Teen Reading Lounge can be adopted by other library systems across the Commonwealth. “Libraries can do a lot with little money,” says Garm. “TRL can work, even without a dedicated budget, if librarians are able to assemble volunteer facilitators and borrow copies of popular books.” Not only does Teen Reading Lounge have proven outcomes that benefit communities on their own, but the documentation of this impact also makes it a program that could be, as Garm says, of great interest to local grantmakers. The Lackawanna libraries’ path to continuing Teen Reading Lounge beyond start-up funding from PHC can serve as inspiration to other libraries looking to provide quality teen programming into the future. “Our teen librarians were enthusiastic about continuing a program that encouraged teens to read, create, and interact with one another,” says Garm. “It is the enthusiasm of the participants and the doors they open for themselves that makes Teen Reading Lounge such a valuable program.”

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