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Nov 21, 2019

Putting the humanities in action to make positive change is what we do -- and what we hope to inspire others to do. So, we were excited to partner with the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) in launching the first ever Humanities in Action Award at their 2019 annual conference in Erie. The award was created to spotlight and honor library programs that use the humanities as a tool for positive youth development. We wanted to celebrate libraries that were co-creating with their youth on developing programs that encourage deep engagement and work to create positive change in their communities.  PHC helped develop the criteria for the award but had no part in the judging of applicants. Winning the award this year was York County Libraries for their powerful Youth Empowerment Summit (YES) -- a series of education and advocacy workshops under the theme “Save the World,” organized by youth and library staff. York County Libraries is a former Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) site, previously supported by PHC. Jennifer Johnson, Teen Forum Manager and Library Services Manager told us, “TRL definitely laid the groundwork for demonstrating that the youth-led approach to programming works.” For this Q&A, we reached out to Johnson to tell us more about YES, the Humanities in Action Award, and how the humanities have become a mighty force for positive youth development in York. Congratulations on receiving the Humanities in Action award! What does it mean that your youth put the humanities in action? For youth to put the humanities in action means to demonstrate curiosity about the world, collaborate to create change, and to demonstrate empathy. The humanities foster confidence. Teens are trying to figure out who they are, where they are going and what they want to do when they get there. Providing opportunities for teens to test boundaries, discover possibilities and follow their passions helps to build confidence in their skills and abilities and creates a foundation from which they are able to fashion a bright future. What is the Youth Empowerment Summit (YES) and why is it important? YES is a day-long annual event comprising of workshops designed to engage teens in a variety of activities to stimulate their interest in post-secondary education, personal learning interests and advocacy opportunities.  It is planned and implemented by the Teen Leadership Committee, consisting of York County teens and York County Libraries’ Teen Services staff. The planning includes author selection, arranging appearances by the selected author and workshop presenters, managing student registration for the event, ordering supplies and catering arrangements.  One of the best things about the Youth Empowerment Summit is the opportunity it gives teens from all around York County to meet and connect with each other.  Students sign up in advance for workshops and at YES, work on projects with students from other school districts, enabling them to put into action skills and competencies, such as problem-solving, creativity and empathy, all of which are regarded as essential for young people embarking on a college or career path. Why did the young people choose the theme of “Save the World”? The library is uniquely placed to provide a platform for teens to speak out and in the last couple of years, we have built on the theme of empowerment to include the development of advocacy skills. This reflects the passions and interests of the current Teen Leadership Committee.  During the planning for YES 2019, we became aware of teens advocating for action to address the climate crisis, starting with the student walk out in Australia. As the media attention grew around the walkouts, Teen Leadership Committee felt that this was a theme that would resonate with teen attendees. They began researching the possible workshop topics. In the course of our discussions, the teens realized that the theme encompassed not only the environment but spoke to a larger perspective that included self-reflection in addition to making an impact through words and actions to bring about change in the community. ~  “The Youth Empowerment Summit helped me hone my leadership skills and to see the power of literacy in creating youth advocacy."  Teen Leadership Committee member ~ Were there any workshops that especially resonated with the young people? York County Libraries ran a Capital Campaign to raise money for renovations and expansions to three of its libraries. Teens agreed that it would be a great Financial Literacy program for teen attendees to learn about library funding and find out more about libraries.  This was not one of the sessions that filled up first during preregistration, but it certainly transformed the understanding of those who attended. From informal feedback on the session, it became clear that teens were unaware of the library’s role in the community. This reaction generated conversation amongst the Teen Leadership group after the event: they found it hard to understand how people could not know about the library and all the opportunities available for teens. To me, it is interesting how this weaves into the wider narrative of how libraries don’t always do a good job of explaining what they have for teens to discover and what libraries have to offer to the community as a whole. Why was it important that the Youth Empowerment Summit was led by teens? One of the unique features of the Youth Empowerment Summit is that it gives the members of the Teen Leadership Committee the opportunity to implement the program that they have planned. Adult staff is there to assist but on the day of the Summit itself, teens are in leadership roles. Their t-shirts are a different color and they are identified as staff. It is not often that teens are permitted to be in prominent leadership positions, where the decision-making falls on them. With a teen-led programming model, any ‘failure’ is viewed as a chance to learn, inspiring teens to rethink their approach and build on their experience. Learning that it is okay to make mistakes builds resilience and grit, all of which are valuable 21st century skills employers are seeking. ~  “The Summit helps you to get ideas on what to do to get involved in York County.” 9th Grader, York Academy Regional Charter School ~ Were there any challenges as the adult assisting with a youth-led project? Letting go of control has been one of the biggest learning curves for me in co-creating teen programming. Traditional programming models put the adult in charge of fulfilling expectations and managing success. Taking a step back and letting teens lead was at first challenging because it forced me to become aware of my own expectations and preconceptions about programming with teens. Connecting teens with opportunities to pursue their interests and develop relationships with their peers and adults is empowering for teens and very liberating for me as a facilitator. Focusing on the process of connected learning rather than on the end product relieves some of the anxiety and pressure to succeed, thereby allowing space for creativity to develop and flourish. ~ “I loved how the writing workshop got us to interact with people we never met before.” 9th Grader, York Academy Regional Charter School ~ How do you think young people benefited from participating in the Summit? According to the post-surveys, for the odd one or two, it was a day out of school with great food, but for everyone else, it was a transformative experience, not only personally but also in the way that youth view libraries and how they see themselves in relation to libraries.  The biggest learning experience for the Teen Leadership Committee was time management, one of the 21st century soft skills that employers are looking for in high school and college graduates. Setting goals and deadlines for meeting the goals is a life skill. There is a timeline for managing the implementation of the Youth Empowerment Summit and the teens get to experience juggling the demands of planning a county wide event with school work, extra curricular activities and family life. The York County Libraries are a past Teen Reading Lounge site -- what impact did this experience have on the library’s future youth work, like the Summit? Teen Reading Lounge models the approach to teen programming where projects are developed based upon the interests of the group. Big ideas are discussed and community-based projects created to bring these ideas to life. In this way youth is able to build a better understanding of themselves, their peers and the community in which they live. TRL definitely laid the groundwork for demonstrating that the youth-led approach to programming works. TRL also provides a useful tool to advocate for the value of this model for teen programming in York County.  

Nov 08, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA, November 8, 2019 - Six new members were added to the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s (PHC) Board of Directors, each beginning their term on November 1. A slate of five members were elected by the current Board: Bonita Allen (Pittsburgh), Ivy L. Barsky (Philadelphia),  Chanel Cook (Erie), Kimberly Koller-Jones (New Castle), and Dr. Leah Spangler (Johnstown). Governor Tom Wolf appointed the sixth, Gisele Barreto Fetterman (Braddock), Second Lady of Pennsylvania and wife to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. The five elected members are eligible to serve up to two consecutive three-year terms. The gubernatorial appointee serves consecutively with the governor, after which they are eligible to be elected for continued membership. Also new is the election of Sister Mary Persico, President of Marywood University, as chair of the Board. She joined in 2017 as an appointee of Governor Tom Wolf and succeeds Silas Chamberlin.  “The PA Humanities Council is energized to move vigorously forward at a time when the humanities speak to every part of the human person in addressing the need for beauty, truth, and purpose in the world,” said Persico. “The new Board members bring great enthusiasm and experience to an already accomplished and dedicated group of Directors.” PHC is governed by a 24-seat board of directors, which is made up of both elected individuals and governor appointees. Currently 23 members serve on the board with backgrounds in business, law, education, philanthropy, government, arts, and culture. Current board members Allen Dieterich-Ward, Gwen White, Christina Saler, and Sister Mary Persico were reappointed by Governor Tom Wolf. Their terms will expire in 2023. Biographies of newest members and new chair follow. Additional information about PHC’s Board of Directors is available at ***   Bonita Allen (Pittsburgh) is the immediate Past President of the Pennsylvania PTA and has chaired several statewide organizations and initiatives. She has her own consulting business working as an instructor of teachers, parents, and administrators. As a Parent Involvement in Education (PIE) consultant, she presents at conferences statewide and nationally, and serves as a mentor for the Pennsylvania Title I State Parent Advisory Council (SPAC). Allen graduated from Harvard University cum laude.   Ivy L. Barsky (Philadelphia) is a non-profit professional and independent consultant. She served as the CEO of the National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia (2011-2019); Deputy Director, Museum of Jewish Heritage--A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, New York; and has worked for art galleries and museums including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art. Barsky has an MA in the history of art from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA from New York University.   Chanel Cook (Erie) is the director of nonprofit and community investment at Idea Fund, Erie. She previously served in federal and local-level positions including in the County of Erie and the US House of Representatives. She is the Chair of the Erie Philharmonic Board of Governors and a member of both the United Way of Erie County Board of Directors and the WQLN – PBS 54 Community Advisory Board. Cook earned an MS in organizational leadership from Mercyhurst University and a BA in Political Science from Gannon University.   Gisele Barreto Fetterman (Braddock) is an access and equity advocate, a hugger and the Second Lady of Pennsylvania.  She is the founder of Freestore 15104, where surplus and donated goods are received and redistributed to neighbors in need. Gisele is the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, a community wide effort to end hunger and reduce food waste. She is co-founder of For Good PGH, a non-profit that works to advocate inclusion and inspire kindness. Gisele was born in Brazil and emigrated as a child to the US, living as an undocumented immigrant for over a decade. Gisele is a Forty under 40 honoree, a Tedx Speaker a Jefferson Awards recipient and a mother of three.   Kimberly Koller-Jones (New Castle) is the Executive Director of the Hoyt Center for the Arts in New Castle, PA. She is also the President of the New Castle Blueprint Communities Council, Secretary of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, Secretary of the Lawrence County Land Bank, and a board member of the Education Committee for Erie Arts & Culture. She received a BFA from Seton Hill University and an MA in arts administration from Goucher College.   Sister Mary Persico IHM, Ed.D. (Scranton) is currently serving as the twelfth president of Marywood University, Scranton, PA. Previously she was the Executive Vice-President of Mission Integration for Trinity Health, Livonia, MI, and the former Catholic Health East, Newtown Square, PA. She also served in Catholic secondary education as Principal and teacher for many years. She holds a bachelor’s in French and education from Marywood University, a master’s in French from Assumption College, Worcester, MA, and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Lehigh University.   Dr. Leah Spangler (Johnstown) is the founding CEO of The Learning Lamp and Ignite Education Solutions. She taught public relations, nonprofit management, social enterprise and fund development at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Saint Francis University, and Mount Aloysius College. She is also an instructor for the Pennsylvania Quality Assurance System. Dr. Spangler currently serves on the board of the Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce. A graduate of Temple and Northwestern universities, she completed her doctorate in Leadership and Administration at Point Park University.   About the Pennsylvania Humanities Council The Pennsylvania Humanities Council is an independent nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities and part of a network of 56 state humanities councils that spans the nation and U.S. jurisdictions. We put the humanities in action to create positive change. We are passionate advocates, innovative program designers and strategic grantmakers. We lead a movement to champion and redefine the role the humanities play in our lives. We use the humanities to generate avenues for civic involvement and community development, and for youth and adults to strengthen skills for school, work and every day. Learn more at Contact Dawn Frisby-Byers Senior Director of Content and Engagement 215.925.1005 ext. 124  

Sep 19, 2019

“I’m not mad, I’m not sad, and I don’t expect you to apologize,” Aurora Sanchez, a youth mentor at Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library, coolly told two normally well-behaved young men who were now regretting clowning with her during a serious part of a book discussion. “But if you’ll do it to me, you’ll do it someone else and then this isn’t a safe place, this thing that we’re trying to work on and create where people can just come and be themselves.” After taking a couple walks around the building to think things over, the youth stayed late to talk about how they acted. In their written reflections for the week both said they wanted to work on learning when to stop. A safe, supportive environment That ‘safe place’ Sanchez has been cultivating for the last two years, where young people can build important life skills in a supportive environment, is Teen Reading Lounge (TRL), a civic engagement book club created by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC). Blackwell is one of nearly 100 sites statewide that have been supported by PHC since the program debuted in 2010.  Teen Reading Lounge at Blackwell has been attracting and engaging African American youth, including a large percentage of young men, in humanities discussions and projects in a culturally rich neighborhood experiencing the pressures of gentrification, crime, and poverty. At the request of the young people involved, the library plans to double their offerings of the program from once to twice a week starting this fall.  “This is it,” said Sanchez. “If you’re looking for a model, if you’re looking for a youth program, if you’re looking to create a book club that’s going to really have the elements that will make young people want to be there and stay engaged, this is it.” As a Teen Reading Lounge facilitator at the Free Library of Philadelphia with over 15 years of experience in youth development, Sanchez knows firsthand what works and what doesn’t. She started her career at Upward Bound through a Temple University work-study, then went on to EducationWorks in both North and South Philly. In 2004 she landed another work-study at the Free Library working with kids and teaching Spanish to adults. From 2006 to 2018 her role shifted to facilitating and supervising after school programs. Now she is the Free Library’s Healthy Communities Coordinator while concurrently being a YOUTHadelphia Program Advisor for the Philadelphia Foundation. ~ “If you’re looking for a model, if you’re looking for a youth program, if you’re looking to create a book club that’s going to really have the elements that will make young people want to be there and stay engaged, this is it.” ~ Serving youth of color and youth experiencing poverty “Openness of the model is what makes Teen Reading Lounge effective,” said Sanchez. “Young people come to meetings because they want to come to meetings.” In Teen Reading Lounge, participants select the books they will read, engage in deep discussions with the support of an adult facilitator, and work together on humanities-inspired creative and civic engagement projects. Through participant surveys and feedback from Teen Reading Lounge youth workers, Pennsylvania Humanities Council staff found that the program seemed most effective with youth experiencing poverty and youth of color. In 2018 they commissioned a study with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to dive into the data which not only confirmed their observations but discovered it was improving vital social emotional learning skills like self-awareness and responsible decision-making. A big part of the appeal at Blackwell is also Sanchez herself who radiates a buoyant, positive energy but is seasoned enough to know when to be serious and has no tolerance for bullying. “You set healthy boundaries and you model healthy behaviors,” she said. “It’s okay to be themselves and we can have fun but we can have boundaries.” Sanchez says she remembers what it’s like to be a teen and that makes her feel connected to young people. “I appreciate the space that teenagers are in,” she said. “I have very vivid memories of being a young person and how hypocritical adults were with me. Adults wanted me to be a child when it was convenient for them and they wanted me to be an adult when it was convenient for them. I didn’t always understand the rationale. Those experiences stuck with me.” Using the humanities to inspire Sanchez has brought her empathetic, youth-centered approach to the three cycles of Teen Reading Lounge she’s facilitated so far, each lasting about two months. The books selected are written by People of Color, focusing on themes of race, power, and sexuality. The literature never fails to spark powerful discussions and directly appeals to the concerns of neighborhood kids, whose personal experiences run deep. The most recent summer cycle started with a celebratory book giveaway. “They were so excited -- they lit up!” said Sanchez. One young man hauled a stack of ten books home to show his family and his mother and grandmother ended up reading them alongside him. “Not only does he have access but the adults in his family are taking an interest. You can’t ask for much more.” The teens’ readings, projects, and activities have been capturing their imaginations and connecting them to their community and world by exploring new ideas through the humanities. There are also some very special events.   When the young people at Blackwell read Dear Martin, Sanchez performed a small miracle and managed to get Nic Stone, the book’s popular author, to video chat with the group. The young people had a rare chance to speak to a high profile YA writer and ask Stone questions about her life and work and share their own experiences. “She was so flawless and incredible,” said one of the young men later. After discussing Dear Martin, which focuses on the themes of police brutality and code switching, the youth made three PSA videos with the help of Lil’ Filmmakers, a local production company. They wanted to encourage other young people to do the right thing and do their part to make the world a better place. In another cycle of the program, the group took a field trip to Eastern State Penitentiary to learn more about the criminal justice system after conversations about the purposes of punitive justice that arose from reading Children of Blood and Bone, a novel by the Nigerian-American novelist Tomi Adeyemi. Sanchez sees her group’s activities as showing the power of the humanities to inspire young people to engage deeper and make real change. “Stories that reflect the complexities of lived experience can affirm and build bridges of compassion,” she said. ~ “Stories that reflect the complexities of lived experience can affirm and build bridges of compassion." ~ Empowering future leaders Sanchez has also supported the group in guided meditations, an anti-violence social media campaign, and community improvement projects. But she’s careful to encourage youth to only contribute at the level they feel most comfortable -- and she never pressures them to read every book cover-to-cover. “We are really doing much more thinking about issues,” said Sanchez. “The book is just a part of that. We’re learning about the world around us and learning how we can make an impact.” She says she wants to create a safe place where young people can use the humanities to talk about what matters most to them, working together to undo any negative stereotypes they see as holding them back. “When you empower them to make decisions, you empower them to be the leaders,” said Sanchez. “It shows them that ‘no, no, no, I have a voice, and my voice matters.’” Sometimes it isn’t easy work but she says she is always learning, especially through ongoing professional development opportunities provided by PHC. As important as training is, she says the heart of youth work is being real, being honest about mistakes, and treating young people as equals, like she yearned for when she was a teen. “I try to bring my authentic self. I aspire to show them that I am human and flawed.” - 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.  

Sep 18, 2019

University of Pennsylvania’s Veterans Upward Bound (Penn VUB) program held its 40th commencement ceremony on August 29th at Houston Hall on the Penn campus in Philadelphia. The program prepares area veterans for college through a rigorous academic curriculum that includes cultural and arts experiences funded by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC). The evening in the Bodek Lounge began with a catered dinner and a warm welcome from Penn VUB’s newly appointed director, Col. Kenneth M. DeTreux, USMC. “As the new director, this is my first VUB graduation and I now see first-hand the incredible impact the program makes on our students,” said DeTreux. “Their demonstrated commitment and dedication to successfully completing the program speaks to their self-determination and resiliency in their pursuit of post-secondary education and bettering their lives overall.” Many of the veterans in the program are first generation college students who are currently experiencing poverty or other life challenges. The training provided by Penn VUB builds important skills necessary to succeed academically, delivered within a supportive community of fellow veterans. The 40th commencement ceremony included a processional, students reflections, and the awarding of certificates. “VUB’s staff and faculty don’t walk ahead of you, nor behind you, they simply walk right beside you, every step of the way,” said Frank Lopez, Jr., one of the graduating veterans, in his commencement speech. "I’ve had so many amazing experiences at VUB but one of my fondest memories is when we took a trip to see two plays by August Wilson -- that will always stay with me,” said Lopez. For many participants, the PHC-supported trips to theaters and other cultural experiences are a first and provide context and insight to their studies. Pennsylvania Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-03) attended the ceremony, helping to pass out certificates and taking photos with the graduates and their guests. The veterans will now be going on to colleges throughout the region, including Chestnut Hill College, Temple University, and Community College of Philadelphia.   For a full gallery of photos, visit University of Pennyslvania's web site.   Related Content Penn Professor Helps Veterans “Confront Their Demons” In The City Of Bones The “Saving Grace” Of Penn VUB: Spotlight On Andre Williams For Philadelphia-Area Veterans, the Humanities Build Academic Skills--and a Path to Positive Change Veterans Honored At Penn VUB Graduation Ceremony Humanities Inspire Academic And Personal Growth In Philadelphia-Area Veterans  

Sep 11, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, September 11, 2019 – The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has expanded its award-winning Teen Reading Lounge program to nine new library sites across the state for 2019-2020. Eleven existing sites, including last year’s Out-of-School-Time (OST) pilot sites in Philadelphia, will continue to receive support -- totaling $144,000 for all 20 locations. The primary goal is to continue to leverage the humanities as a tool for positive youth development, with an emphasis on engaging youth experiencing poverty and youth of color.  “Traditional programs for teens rely on a top-down approach,” said Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director. “Teen Reading Lounge is different because we start by asking young people what they think is important and then let them take the lead.” First launched in 2010, Teen Reading Lounge is an interactive book club for youth ages 12-18. Through youth-focused book discussions and creative civic engagement projects, teens come together to explore contemporary issues while building valuable social emotional learning skills. Since its inception, Teen Reading Lounge has run in nearly 100 communities and engaged more than 1,000 youth in rural, urban, and suburban areas across the Commonwealth. A recent independent analysis by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit found that the program improved skills in high-need areas like communication, social awareness, and collaboration. Teens also self-report improvements in how they feel about books and express an increased interest in reading. The funds PHC provides cover program expenses and an outside facilitator -- a local professional with expertise in working with youth who can help library staff develop and run the program. Library staff also receive training in working with facilitators and teens to design a program that’s meaningful for their communities -- an approximate $35,000 investment of PHC staff and resources. “Words cannot express how excited we are to have been selected for Teen Reading Lounge,” said Jean Kosha, program coordinator at Upper Darby Municipal Library. “We are all looking forward to this youth driven initiative where teens are driving the bus and making decisions about what social justice topics we explore, the literature we'll read, and the activities we'll do to deepen our understanding of our world.” New and returning sites hosting Teen Reading Lounge in the 2019-2020 program year are listed below by county:   Beaver Laughlin Memorial Library B.F. Jones Memorial Library Berks Kutztown Community Library Muhlenberg Community Library       Blair     Hollidaysburg Area Public Library   Bradford Sayre Public Library (NEW)   Cambria Cambria County Library (NEW)   Delaware Upper Darby Municipal Branch Library (NEW)   Erie Erie County Public Library      McKean Bradford Area Public Library (NEW)   Northumberland  Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library     Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia:  Lillian Marrero (NEW) Free Library of Philadelphia:  Lucien E. Blackwell Branch Free Library of Philadelphia:  Parkway Central (NEW) Sunrise of South Philadelphia, Inc. (South Philadelphia High School) The Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at The University of Pennsylvania (West Philadelphia High School)  Catholic Social Services (John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School)    Venango Franklin Public Library (NEW)   Warren Warren Library Association (NEW)   Westmoreland County Greensburg Hempfield Area Library (NEW)   Teen Reading Lounge is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a key part of its prevention focus, The Philadelphia Department of Human Services provides financial support to operate the Philadelphia out-of-school-time pilot sites.    ---    About the Pennsylvania Humanities Council The Pennsylvania Humanities Council is an independent nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities and part of a network of 56 state humanities councils that spans the nation and U.S. jurisdictions. We put the humanities in action to create positive change. We are passionate advocates, innovative program designers and strategic grantmakers. We lead a movement to champion and redefine the role the humanities play in our lives. We use the humanities to generate avenues for civic involvement and community development, and for youth and adults to strengthen skills for school, work and every day. Learn more at   Contact Dawn Frisby-Byers Senior Director of Content and Engagement 215.925.1005 ext. 124

Aug 21, 2019

Yep, it’s hard to draw young people to a book club or other program structured around the humanities -- and these programs can be hard to find despite a growing body of research suggesting that an environment where teens can feel safe to open up and have meaningful dialogue is vital to their social emotional learning.  But how do you create a program that is actually active, engaging, and sustainable?  In 2009, we worked with a team of education and humanities leaders to create Teen Reading Lounge as a way to answer that question. We’ve learned a lot since then, having expanded to almost 100 sites across Pennsylvania and winning an award or two along the way. We found that even in our distraction-filled world, young people are yearning for a deeper way to connect with each other through the humanities. Last year we released our Teen Reading Lounge Program Development Guide which sums up our approach and has useful advice for any youth program -- particularly those that engage with the humanities and youth of color. Our Teen Reading Lounge partners in libraries and schools are amazing and throughout the years have helped us to continually revise and update the program based on their experiences and feedback. This summer we did a short survey asking them for advice on how they’ve managed the enormous stumbling block of attracting, retaining , and engaging youth. Here’s what they told us... #1 - LET THEM LEAD (NO, REALLY.)  Teens not only desire to be heard, they want to be empowered to do something personally meaningful.  Research is finding that youth-led programs encourage a sense of personal ownership while building leadership and planning skills. “Let them lead, let them cocreate with you,” says Rosie Jacobson, youth facilitator at West Philadelphia High School. “Make the youth feel cool and part of the process.” “You need to make things real world applicable and involve community members,” advises Jamie Orth, youth worker at Laughlin Memorial  Library, Ambridge. Youth-led service projects are the perfect way to pass the reins and let young people make a difference and connect with their community. That’s why we hardwired civic engagement into our Teen Reading Lounge program.  Some examples: At Erie County Public Library, a group of teens, inspired by their book discussions, created “blessing bags” in the winter to help those in the area experiencing homelessness. At the Philadelphia City Institute (PCI) branch of the Free Library the teens created videos about gun violence and “fake news,” leading them to bravely interview the public in Rittenhouse Square about their opinions. Young women of color at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School created a survival guide for new immigrants.   If you step back and let teens take the lead, you’ll be surprised at what they can do. We are! #2 - PROVIDE GOOD FOOD One thing we hear over and over again is that having high quality snacks and meals is the secret to keeping teens coming back.  “I cannot emphasize the importance of food -- eating it, making it -- in the process of comfort, socialization, discussion, distraction, friendship,” says Melanie Ramsey, Director of Children’s and Youth Services at Hollidaysburg Area Public Library. (Hollidaysburg happens to receive support from Benzel’s Bretzel Bakery, so they know good snacks.) That plastic bowl topped with dusty hard candy probably isn’t going to cut it. Ask your teens what they like to eat and see what you can do (with a careful eye to any allergy issues.) “They need to feed their bodies to feed their minds,” says Melissa Adams, Library Director at Muhlenberg Community Library. Adams notes that some young people are experiencing food scarcity issues, making those library snacks an important resource.  Food insecurity is linked to negative health, social-emotional, and behavioral issues -- something to think about next time you’re crunching numbers for your food budget. #3 - PROMOTE AND PARTNER Library staff and other youth workers are blackbelts at crafting catchy flyers and witty social media posts to promote their programs. But making sure your content gets seen by teens can be tricky. If young people don’t often visit your building or follow you on social media, all that work isn’t going to do much good -- and neither will an ad in the local print newspaper that few people under 40 are reading. You have to think outside your immediate location, going to where the teens are -- online or offline -- says Janet Yost, Director of Kutztown Community Library. “We have great success in promoting our youth programs through the school district,” she said. “One high school teacher had a display of our Teen Reading Lounge books which really helped boost our attendance.” Also important is reaching out to parents, guardians, teachers, education leaders, community organizations, business leaders, and elected officials. BF Jones Memorial Library in Aliquippa took their popular Teen Reading Lounge program to a neighboring organization that supports youth experiencing poverty. That partnership built relationships with young people from areas that weren’t previously being served and created a more diverse teen presence. Make sure your promotional materials are culturally inclusive and never forget rule #2:  “always, always promote snacks,” advises Tina Cunningham, youth facilitator for Hollidaysburg Area Public Library. #4 - JUDGE NOT Adults have been frustrated with young people since forever. “They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it,” groaned Aristotle about those darn kids back in the 4th century BCE.  A quick way to make your youth program unpopular is to criticize, nag, cast judgment, and implement heavy handed rules. “Encourage them to be loud, to express their ideas, to be messy, and to be teens,” says Renee Roberts, Project Manager at Abington Community Library. Many young people also struggle with issues around identity and need freedom and support to discover who they are.  “Be open and welcoming,” says Kim King, Assistant to Director/Youth Services Coordinator at Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library. “Don't judge young people based on their looks or habits. They are learning their place in society.” Renee Albertson, a youth worker also at Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library, agrees. “Allow the teens to unapologetically be themselves without judgement!” #5 - GIVE THEM (THEIR OWN) SPACE If teen activities are relegated to an old conference room and they are shooed out after an hour for a meeting of the local Rotary club, their investment in that space will be minimal. They don’t just need space -- they need their own space. “You need to create a real space for the teens,” says Jacki Clark, Youth Services Coordinator, at Muhlenberg Community Library. “Ask them for help, let them know the library is theirs.” In 2019, the Erie County Public Library debuted a new $200,000 teen area at their Blasco branch. The space includes a laptop bar overlooking the bay, a performance stage, collaboration spaces, a teen book collection, and an Idea Lab Makerspace equipped with state of the art design hardware like 3D printers, sewing machines, and a vinyl cutter. The Teen Advisory Board was brought in as part of the design process, informing the adults about their needs. If you don’t have a couple hundred thousand dollars to build a new facility you can keep it simple. “Just provide a safe place, and be willing to meet their immediate needs,” says Jennifer Honess, Teen Reading Lounge facilitator at BF Jones Memorial Library. Not sure what those needs are? Ask them. Always make sure they are part of the process. #6 - FIND RELATABLE TEEN MENTORS A common movie plot is for someone to blow into town like Mary Poppins and mentor a local group of unruly youth. The teens resist at first but eventually respect is earned and they all go on to win some kind of championship. That’s Hollywood and not real life. A more likely hero for your teen program is going to come from your own community.  Molly Krichten, former youth coordinator at Bridgeville Public Library, says finding the right staff is key to successfully engaging youth and it needs to be “people they see out in the community… people who treat kids with dignity and respect.” This is especially important for youth of color who are building their ethnic-racial identity, a key component in their developmental growth. Researchers like Shawn Ginwright have written extensively on why mentors that understand, reflect, and respect the experiences of youth of color can have a more positive impact on their development. Teens will value mentors who are invested in their local community and care about their well-being -- people they can trust and have quality time to spend with them. #7 - MAKE IT FUN If you’re striking out pulling out the same tired board games week after week, it could be time to rethink things. Teens have access to endless entertainment options and a host of competing after-school programs. If you’re not offering something that can go toe-to-toe against Fortnite and Snapchat, it is going to be a challenge to attract new people. “Go places, do things, engage, talk, and be open,” says Renee Albertson, youth worker at Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library.  Try to make creative connections to their interests: Have a group of die-hard gamers? Incorporate video games.  Reading The Hunger Games series? Head out to an archery range.  Are they into music? Visit a recording studio and hold a poetry slam.   Take field trips, invite speakers, go out to eat, and find new experiences. There are endless ways to apply the humanities in a fun and engaging way that are only limited by your group’s imagination (and your budget.) #8 - BE PATIENT So, you did your homework and promoted the heck out of your new youth program. You’ve got a dedicated teen space all ready with some great snacks and a decent budget ready for some exciting activities. And on your big opening day… two teens show up, one walks out. Ugh. First, know that bigger isn’t always better. We’ve found that smaller discussion groups can sometimes be the most rewarding for both young people and the adults working with them. If you still think your group isn’t up to size and your promotional game is strong, sometimes the best advice is to be patient. “Allow for slow growth,” suggests Jo Bradley, site director at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School. She says that even with a smaller group, there will be an abundance of activity options.  Authentic community doesn’t spring up overnight and if you’ve created an engaging and fun environment with some good snacks (remember rule #2?), word will get out. #9 - TRUST THE HUMANITIES At the Pennsylvania Humanities Council we know the humanities and have witnessed their incomparable power to transform people and places -- not only from our work with Teen Reading Lounge but through our other programs and initiatives. Through Chester Made and Community Heart & Soul we've leveraged arts, culture, and the stories of everyday people to make meaningful change and challenge old narratives. Our support of Veterans Upward Bound provides college-bound Pennsylvania veterans opportunities for exciting cultural experiences and deep dialogue that are helping them deal with the injuries of war. Trust that the humanities can work for you and the youth you serve too.  “The humanities make teens better equipped to understand each other and themselves,” says Trenton Bankert, youth facilitator at Guthrie Memorial Library. “Through the humanities, they connect to other people’s stories, feelings, and experiences.” “When we feel broken or angry or sad, the humanities remind us that we’re not alone in those feelings, and that we can work through them. It gives us hope that the way things are now isn’t the way they always have to be, and encourages us to explore the boundaries of who we are. And when growing up, sometimes that is the best lesson you can ever learn.”   ***   If you’re a youth worker and have a good suggestion on building an active, engaging humanities-based youth program, we want to hear it! Share this story on social media, tag us, and include #TRL. Want to learn more about engaging youth? You can download our Teen Reading Lounge Program Development Guide, check out out PSAYDN's resource page, and read the YALSA/ALA Teen Programming Guidelines. Do you recommend any other resources? Let us know in the comments!   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.  

Jul 30, 2019

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council invites communities in Beaver County to apply to become a PA Heart & Soul™ Community.  Selected communities will receive up to $50,000 over a two year period from PHC and funding partners like the PA Department of Community and Economic Development.  In addition, selected communities will be matched with a Heart & Soul Coach who will deliver trainings and provide technical assistance valued at over $50,000 per year.   Applications will be due September 30.  Selected communities will get underway in early 2020.    Upcoming Beaver County Heart & Soul workshop: August 15, 2019 9:00-11:30 am New Brighton Borough Building, Council Chambers 610 3rd Ave, New Brighton, PA  15066   How does Community Heart & Soul work? Community Heart & Soul is a four phase, step-by-step process developed and field-tested by Orton Family Foundation in partnership with small cities and towns across the country. In the spirit of the humanities, Community Heart & Soul focuses residents on the power of stories, reflection, and relationships.  The principles for success are:  Involve Everyone: Hearing stories from all residents, especially those whose voices are often missing or overlooked in community conversations, is a priority.  Focus on What Matters: When residents share what they love about where they live and identify their hopes for the future, common themes emerge. These are the things that matter most to residents and become the foundation for sound decision-making.  Play the Long Game: Community Heart & Soul is just the beginning. Residents finish with action plans to move forward and get things done. They are equipped with the skills and tools to continue working together to shape their community’s future.   What are Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities? Pennsylvania Humanities Council believes people can shape the future of their communities through the power of stories and strong relationships. In 2015, PHC joined forces with the Orton Family Foundation because they share an approach of putting people first and investing in resident-driven actions that honor the unique character and vision of each community. To date PHC has created and funded Heart & Soul Communities with residents in Carlisle, Meadville, Williamsport, and more recently in Cameron County and Upper Chichester. At the core of the approach is story gathering and community engagement in many forms, from notes on a chalkboard to in-depth interviews. It all comes together to paint a picture of what matters most to residents. Carrying out these activities builds relationships and encourages leadership and volunteerism.    Why do this in Beaver County? Beaver County is the proud home of many communities eager to celebrate their unique histories and futures.  Heart & Soul communities in Pennsylvania and nationally have seen the process build leadership, boost volunteerism, bridge divides, create partnerships, preserve historical sites, and strengthen economies. Because this work is organized and carried out by the people who live, work and invest in the community—the people with an emotional attachment to the place they call home—it leads to actions that bring about change.    How can I learn more? Pennsylvania Humanities Council is organizing mandatory information sessions in collaboration with Beaver County Office of Planning and Development  in August to provide details about the opportunity and the application.  Please notify Lance Grable if you are interested in attending an information session. For more information, please contact: Lance Grable Director, Beaver County Office of Planning and Redevelopment Executive Director, Redevelopment Authority of Beaver County E-mail: Telephone: 724-770-4422 Explore the Pennsylvania Humanities Council website to learn about current Heart & Soul Communities across the state:

Jul 16, 2019

With the relaxed bustle of a weekend barbeque, teens bottlenecked the first floor of a West Philly rowhome once owned by the late Paul Robeson, famed African American athlete, performer, and civil rights advocate. His face beamed at the crowd from photos and exhibits as enthused students held up poster board presentations and chatted with peers and adults about ideas for start-ups and their recent internship experiences. Steaming plates of tacos, beans and rice made the perilous journey from chafing dishes on the front porch through the happy melee to seats in the rear of the house.  This “Internship Finale” brought together those hardy youth who completed Teen Reading Lounge at West Philadelphia High School. The out-of-school time (OST) program held regular meetings on campus but also had a four-hour weekly internship component -- a challenge to balance with all the demands of school and life. The capstone celebration at the Paul Robeson House was a day for project presentations, sharing work experiences, and some well-deserved recognition. The students were part of a new twist on Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s Teen Reading Lounge program. At over 80 sites across the state, the program’s model has focused on young people deeply discussing both traditional and contemporary literature, inspiring creative and civic engagement projects. Youth experiencing poverty in both rural and urban communities have had a particularly strong connection to the experience. The Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to take that approach and try something a little different at West Philadelphia High School.   Instead of focusing on Young Adult novels, comic books, and other literature, the teens dug into the New York Times business section, debated the ethics of soda tax regulations, and watched inspiring TED Talks. Deep, engaging discussions were still there but the creative projects were focused on business or social entrepreneurship plans and there was an added internship experience at a local business. "I have been working in nonprofit education in Philadelphia for about 10 years and haven't seen this type of partnership," said Joseph Brand, Sayre University-Assisted Community School Site Director for the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. "It gives students an opportunity to not only create projects that build 21st century soft and hard skills through humanities, but also connects those skills to the real world -- I think that is amazing." With the support and guidance of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the core humanities spirit of Teen Reading Lounge remained in place: reflective conversations and engagement with ideas and stories were still key to the experience. Best practices for effective youth development were also in place. This wasn’t the first time Teen Reading Lounge has been used as a platform to develop workforce skills. Carla Christopher, former York City poet laureate, worked with Martin Memorial Library in 2015 to develop a program that built entrepreneurial skills. But the incorporation of an internship experience was new. “This was a fresh approach to Teen Reading Lounge,” said Jen Danifo, senior program officer at the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. “Not only did it allow participants to build skills employers cite as essential to a well-rounded job force, it allowed the young people to unpack their own experiences on the job and explore possible next steps for future careers.”  A recent independent analysis of Teen Reading Lounge by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit found that nearly 75% of youth participating in the program reported improvement with communication, social awareness, and collaboration -- skills identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as needed by young people in order to be successful in the new economy. Because of Teen Reading Lounge’s knack for building high-demand “soft skills,” executive director Laurie Zierer says the Pennsylvania Humanities Council is interested in continuing to explore the possibilities of future workforce development applications.  “We are excited by the potential,” Zierer said. Alexandra Garney, an Americorps VISTA volunteer, was part of the group selected by the Netter Center to facilitate the program, along with Rosie Jacobson, Netter Center Facilitator and Education Specialist and Lucas Vanarthos, Netter Center Facilitator. Margaret Zhang assisted with curriculum creation as a Netter Center Silverman Fellow. Garney says that she wasn’t much of a fan of the humanities back when she was in school but this experience has put things in a new light. “If there had been programs like this I would have been a lot more excited about it,” said Garney. “The students had an opportunity to have a real world application of the humanities.” Brandon Sampson-Brown, a 10th grader at West Philadelphia High School, is one of those students. Teen Reading Lounge helped him land a dream internship at Toyota, an experience that supports his career goal of becoming a mechanical engineer. He says he learned a lot about airbag safety and got hands-on with the inner workings of the office.  Sampson-Brown credits the program for providing a supportive environment to build skills he says he will need when he heads into the workforce. “It helped me with speaking and helped me with my writing,” he said. “I appreciate Teen Reading Lounge because everyone is so positive -- Miss Alexandra talked to us like a peer.” The weekly Teen Reading Lounge meet-ups had included fun ice-breakers, discussions about justice in the workplace, writing and reading assignments, internship reflections, and some traditional humanities fare. The group read Robert Frost and Malala, an Afghan novelist and Nobel Laureate. They listened to music from John Cage and the French pianist Christophe Chassol.   This approach provided opportunities to think about the working world in new ways, providing a greater appreciation for context and the range of human experience. “Students were able to think deeply about the concepts that we were learning about through a variety of different mediums,” said facilitator Garney. “Sometimes the practical experience of an internship is too practical and doesn’t allow for the in-depth learning and reflection of the humanities.” Site Director Brand says it was the engaging conversations and hands-on experiences that helped keep the teens interested and coming back week after week -- not an easy task for some OST programs. “We were able to maintain a consistent group,” said Brand. “The ability to apply what they are learning to real world experiences has really helped bridge some challenges that we would have had with retention in some of our other programs.” There were no signs of retention challenges at the packed Internship Finale. The smells of Latin American food on the porch of the Paul Robeson House beckoned students and guests inside to hear about the final projects and talk about internship experiences.  There were some understandable jitters about presenting the projects. “At first I was really, really nervous because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Sampson-Brown. “After people started talking to me I felt pretty good.” His final project was called “Nothing But Net,” a 3x3 basketball program designed to provide an outlet for kids in his neighborhood. “Where I’m from, the teens smoke, they do bad stuff, but I know a lot of them like to play basketball,” said Sampson-Brown. “If they play basketball and do positive things, they probably won’t do that bad stuff.” The projects aren’t just imaginative. Sampson-Brown has obtained funding for the idea from Rebel Ventures, a youth-driven healthy food business supported by the Netter Center, along with another donor who was inspired by his presentation, to do the tournament at a YMCA this summer. Other projects included business startups, like a chic cupcake bakery, as well as creative nonprofit ventures. Indya Fields came up with The N2KO, or The Need to Know Organization. She wants to build bridges to people who feel isolated or trapped in their lives. “The N2KO was created to give people in the shadows a voice,” she said. Presentation time came to an end when Garney and Brand invited everyone to the rear of the Paul Robeson House for the final ceremony. The faces of young people lit up as Garney called each student up to the front and detailed their accomplishments while Brand handed them an oversized envelope with a certificate of completion from the Netter Center. The farewell address was delivered by Vernoca Michael, Director of the Paul Robeson House, member of the Netter Center Community Advisory Board, and niece of Paul Robeson. "My counselor told me that the only thing I could do was work with my hands, on the floor scrubbing someone's floors. But then I was accepted into Harvard and MIT and went on to do my grad work after that,” she said to a big applause from the teens. “You can do it.” --- Thank you to the Netter Center, who helped with the creation of this article. Learn more about the Netter Center’s comprehensive University-Assisted Community Schools (UACS) program, which brings academic, human, and material resources from Penn to schools during the school day, after school, and in the summer:   

May 22, 2019

In 2010, a 7-inch long LEGO® space shuttle rocketed out of Earth’s atmosphere aboard the Discovery, a tiny plastic symbol of the big, new partnership between The LEGO Group and NASA and their shared effort to bring science education to a new generation of young people. Uncommon alliances between expressly different organizations, like a space agency and a toy manufacturer, can happen at those curious places where missions dovetail. Think: Burger King and Mental Health America, Hyundai and Prada, and UNICEF and Target. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s (PHC’s) partnership with the Vermont-based Orton Family Foundation looks similarly implausible at first glance. The latter was founded in 1995 by Lyman Orton of the Vermont Country Store, and is best known for creating the Community Heart & Soul model of community development. State humanities councils are traditionally focused on giving grants for cultural events and to historical societies, art centers, libraries, and other local groups. “At first we thought it was a bit of a head-scratcher,” said David Leckey, executive director of the Orton Family Foundation. “Why would a humanities council want to work with a nonprofit focused on community development, like comprehensive plans and downtown plans?” The path to the unusual relationship was paved by PHC’s strategic shift towards civic engagement and education initiatives in 2013. “We decided to take the humanities back to their classical roots, connecting the pursuit of knowledge to action,” said Laurie Zierer, PHC’s executive director.  “We wanted to change the conversation about the humanities, demonstrating that they are relevant to everyday people for making change in their communities and building up assets and relationships.”  Since joining forces, PHC and the Orton Family Foundation have brought the Community Heart & Soul model to small towns and cities across Pennsylvania -- with more on the way. Everyday people are coming together to participate in the life of their community at local events.  They are sharing their stories and hopes, helping to steer planning and development efforts towards more inclusivity. In Carlisle, Heart & Soul volunteers re-discovered an historic African American church, leading to a preservation effort that has rallied the community together. In Williamsport, city officials are relying on the shared values developed during storytelling workshops to guide planning efforts. Pennsylvanians are starting to feel their voice actually matters and that they are empowered to make a real difference. The two organizations found common ground in the model’s emphasis on involving everyone, especially those who are often missing or overlooked in community conversations, to shape their community’s future. “Our missions were similar,” said Zierer. “We both wanted stronger, healthier, more vibrant towns. Community Heart & Soul has a large story-gathering component and that aligned with our humanities work.” After its initial strategic shift, PHC began branching out into applied humanities work, most visibly with its successful Chester Made arts and culture based community revitalization program in the city of Chester. At the time, one of PHC’s consultants for its Civic Engagement grant program suggested contacting the Orton Family Foundation to learn more about their storytelling-based community development approach. The recommendation was prescient. Fast forward to 2015 and the board of the Orton Family Foundation were on a plane en route to Pennsylvania to develop a strategic plan and a vision for how to work with PHC. It was a rare moment for both sides.  “I was amazed how quickly they bonded, how quickly they spoke the same language,” said Leckey. “From then on, when we speak about the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, my board intimately knows the people, the effort to structure the missions that we both share together.” Staff from PHC later journeyed to Vermont and have since joined together for regular meetings, trainings, and site visits. Zierer and Leckey have a monthly scheduled phone call and program staff are in almost daily communication. “As I was putting budgets together for my board, I called Laurie and said, ‘You know, as I’m looking at our travel budgets I’m thinking about just opening up an office in Pennsylvania because it will be cheaper for me,’” joked Leckey. “The benefit of working with Laurie is how well-connected she is.” "Together we leveraged each other’s strengths and collective talents,” said Zierer. “We were able to cross sectors and form new partnerships and new funding collaborations -- it opened doors for us.” The remarkable synergy has piqued the interest of humanities organizations in other states and at the national level. Zierer and Leckey were asked to share insights about their partnership in a highly attended Humanities Council Master Class webinar organized by the National Endowment for the Humanities,  PA: Forging Strategic Partnerships. But there were challenges too. Boards needed to be convinced. The case for the partnership needed to be made to funders and communities. Co-branding had to be ironed out. All are issues that both organizations look at as learning opportunities.  “We’ve learned to let go of some of the control we thought we needed,” said Leckey. “Our program and our approach is even better by making sure that we’re conscious of how much we think it has got to be done our way instead of the way best for communities in Pennsylvania.” For Zierer, it is all about the bigger picture of changing the conversation around the humanities, positioning them as something relevant to everyday people to make meaningful changes in their communities. “As a state humanities council we are the voice for the humanities in Pennsylvania,” said Zierer. “We see our programs, particularly Heart & Soul, as a way to demonstrate the difference they can make. With our work with Orton, people are seeing themselves -- and their stories -- as the very fabric of their communities, and they are building the humanities skills, ability, and motivation to make a difference.”  The curious partnership between Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Orton Family Foundation may not have resulted in anything so dramatic as rocketing a LEGO shuttle into space (yet). But by helping communities tell their stories, uncover lost history, and articulate new visions for the future, they are showing Pennsylvania residents how to reach for the stars. Related Content Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Orton Family Foundation Chester Made

May 14, 2019

Ogden, Twin Oaks, Boothwyn -- these Pennsylvania neighborhoods are distinctive enough that some of their residents are not even aware that they are all part of Upper Chichester township (Delaware County.) Judy Stang, an Upper Chichester Heart & Soul volunteer, recently found herself having to explain to skeptical students at a Chichester High School job fair that they were indeed part of the community. “We educated those students,” said Stang, shaking her head. “That’s why we need Heart and Soul, to get people in the community to understand that they belong.” Upper Chichester Heart & Soul is a local organization supported by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council using the Orton Family Foundation’s Community Heart & Soul method of civic engagement. It has a grassroots, humanities-based approach, looking to residents to identify their own needs and values rather than receiving something prescriptive from others. Carefully listening to the stories and ideas of residents is key to the process. Across the country, Heart & Soul communities are bringing people together, building connections and partnerships, with needed investment and growth in tow.  Sometimes, the stories themselves yield surprises. In Mt. Holly Springs, near Carlisle, an historic African American church was discovered by Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul volunteers during the story-gathering process, leading to a headline-grabbing preservation effort that has rallied the community together. Uncovering that lost history was made possible through deliberate efforts to bring all voices to the table, something especially important in diverse communities like Upper Chichester. “I think there could be some surprises because we’re going to be interviewing so many people,” said David Schreiber, a 14 year resident and Heart & Soul volunteer. “Every group has something to contribute, its own unique culture and heritage.” So far Upper Chichester Heart & Soul has held community forums, a career fair, and workshops. As it moves into the next phase of the process a team of trained volunteers will begin to collect stories. Although the groundwork is just being laid, volunteers are already seeing momentum. “I’ve seen people that have participated in the program thus far get excited by what they’re seeing,” said Reverend William M. Irons Jr. of St. Matthew CME Church. “They tell another person about what’s going on and another.” Hannah Hinkle, a library assistant at the Upper Chichester Library, is also optimistic. “It’s going to revitalize the town,” she said. “We’re on the right path with that –- it’s exciting.”  Residents are stepping up to help from all areas the township, drawn together by their shared love of their community. Agnes Tillery and Diane Henson are volunteers living in the neighborhood of Twin Oaks and have been friends for 74 years. They were together 1st through 12th grade, graduating in the first class of the Chichester Senior High School in 1963.  “We love Upper Chi, that’s why we joined Heart and Soul,” said Tillery. “We want to make sure that our community is involved.” “And what we can do to help,” added Henson.  Having taken on the role as chairman of Upper Chichester Heart & Soul, Judy Stang is not shy about admitting that the process is a lot of work, especially in a world with so many competing distractions -- but she sees change. “We have become such a society of go in, shut the door, get on your cell phone… but not get out and start to talk to neighbors,” said Stang. “Now people are starting to talk to each other.” A recent Heart & Soul event called “A Real Conversation About the Future of Upper Chichester” put an exclamation point on community networking. A facilitator mixed the residents up into small groups and tasked them with answering questions on poster papers affixed to the walls of the municipal building conference room. “What would you miss in Upper Chi if it wasn’t here?” one poster asked. “If you could have one wish for this community, what would it be?” asked another. As they moved from poster to poster, residents in the small, diverse groups opened up and shared their hopes and dreams for Upper Chichester with those they might not normally speak to -- and they listened to each other. Reverend Irons says the members of his mostly African American church are starting to feel as though community leaders are finally hearing their concerns and that’s inspiring them to get more involved.  “I love that people want to participate and have a voice,” said Irons. “It’s really about empowering people -- when people are empowered then they really will pick the ball up, so to speak, and run with it.” To learn more about Upper Chichester Heart & Soul visit their website and Facebook page. Related Content Upper Chichester Heart & Soul Volunteers Gather For Intensive Storytelling Training Upper Chichester Heart & Soul Community Profile Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities  

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