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The application period is now closed. Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) puts the humanities in action to create positive change in our lives and communities. We use everyday tools available to us all -- creativity and the power of stories, reflection, and relationships -- to grow our potential and shape an equitable society. The COVID-19 crisis is significantly impacting our cultural life through the closing of museums and libraries and the cancelation of in-person programs, historic tours, festivals, and other major events that bring people together to build community and support local economies, individuals, and organizations. We believe people have the creativity, know-how, and talent to make a difference right now in building culture, discussing books, and exploring history in our local communities while adhering to social distancing guidelines. We want to quickly give them the support and visibility they need to champion their big ideas. PHC Pop Up Grants for Cultural Producers was created to support organizations in Pennsylvania seeking to launch humanities events, programs, and projects during the COVID-19 shutdown through virtual or other forms of distance-based engagement with the public. Please note: Pop-up Grants for Cultural Producers are not part of the CARES Act, which allocated additional funding to state and territorial councils through the National Endowment for the Humanities. PHC will have more information that upcoming opportunity soon. Project Examples Humanities programs can take many forms. They delight us, inspire discovery and learning, and open our eyes and hearts to different points of view. They also help us connect, build community, and even heal. The following examples are only a short list meant to inspire: a live Instagram talk about the history of dance clubs followed set of music and storytelling by a DJ and club owner; behind-the-scenes tour of a museum exhibit on Civil Rights led by a local historian and residents who share their stories a Zoom dinner-time book discussion or coffee break journal-writing session or family recipe storytelling swap led by a librarian; Facebook live class exploring local history through family photographs followed by an online exhibit and blog by participants; curated collection of at-home activities for youth delivered directly to your door; podcast interviews delivered to your inbox by local mediamakers with creatives, cultural producers, and entrepreneurs on developing our communities. Award Amount PHC Pop Up Grants for Cultural Producers will be between $500-$2000. Deadline Rolling through April. Deadline may be extended as needed and additional funds are available. Eligibility This opportunity is open to small and medium sized non-profit organizations (budgets under $3 million). Interested individuals should work through local nonprofits to realize their pop-up projects. How to Apply? The application period is now closed. Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
On April 2nd the Pennsylvania Humanities Council Teen Reading Lounge network hosted an informative 90-minute conversation exploring how afterschool humanities programming for youth ages 12 - 18 is being impacted by the COVID-19/novel coronavirus outbreak. Libraries, K-12 schools and many community centers serving youth and their families have been ordered to close. This resulted in an abrupt disruption in the afterschool opportunities young people have come to rely on for connection, comfort and learning. So, where does that leave us? Are there opportunities to stay connected despite our mandate to maintain social distancing? What creative solutions are sites and staff coming up with across the state - and nationally - to stay connected? Hear what our panelists had to say. Guest speakers included: Laura Saccente, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network (PSAYDN) Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Virginia. Corri Hines, School Age Services Advisor, Bureau of Library Development, Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Pennsylvania Department of Education We spoke with Laura, Valerie and Corri about best practices for staying connected, guidelines for virtual and other forms of communications with youth and creative solutions for reaching youth and families that may not have robust technical resources. We also reviewed local and national examples of virtual youth programs and youth engagement strategies. Access the resources that were shared and the powerpoint presentation here. This webinar is supported 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. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
We are committed to supporting the public health and safety of all Pennsylvania residents. Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office, Pennsylvania Humanities Council has decided to cancel or postpone all upcoming events until further notice due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. We are also strongly encouraging all our program partners to do the same. In addition to event cancellations, our staff will be working remotely. Please get in touch with us at PHC@PAhumanities.org with any questions or feedback: we are here to help. Through its programs, events, and partnerships, PHC uses the humanities to bring Pennsylvanians together to shape the future through the power of stories, reflection, and relationships. We center our work on human connection and shared experiences that typically take place face-to-face at community gatherings. As a statewide organization we are experienced at bridging divides, but the new “social distancing” guidelines are an entirely new challenge. They are also an opportunity for us to better implement and understand different communications tools as avenues for civic involvement and community development. We have started exploring ideas and resources to help keep Pennsylvanians connected throughout this crisis and will share them soon. Please know that we are monitoring the situation closely and will keep you informed of future changes and updates. Be advised that Pennsylvania residents should observe the latest recommended health and safety precautions. Visit CDC.gov and the Pennsylvania Department of Health for up-to-date information. Thank you for your patience and cooperation during this difficult time. Our heart goes out to everyone who has been or will be impacted by COVID-19. We are all in this together.
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), the Beaver County Planning Commission, and the Orton Family Foundation to support the towns of Ambridge, Beaver Falls, and Rochester along their path to becoming stronger, more vibrant communities using Community Heart & Soul®, a humanities-based approach to community and economic development. Through this unique partnership among government agencies, a statewide nonprofit, and a national foundation, PHC and Orton will provide training and technical support worth an estimated $50,000 per year to each community. In addition, the communities expect to receive $25,000 per year in combined funding over two years from PHC and DCED, for a total investment valued at $150,000 per community. Since 2015, PHC has been working to bring Community Heart & Soul®, a model originally pioneered by Orton, to communities across Pennsylvania. Ambridge, Beaver Falls, and Rochester join Upper Chichester, Cameron County, Greater Carlisle, Meadville, and Williamsport, which currently have Community Heart & Soul® projects underway. “The humanities have proven a powerful tool for community and economic development in Pennsylvania,” said Laurie Zierer, PHC’s executive director. “We are seeing significant positive change because residents are building relationships, honoring their homegrown talents and assets, and reclaiming and reshaping their communities.” Each town is paired with an official Community Heart & Soul® coach, a trained professional tasked with guiding the community through the program, including gathering residents’ stories, carefully discerning a town’s values through community events and activities, and developing an action plan. "With its rich history, beautiful natural setting, and charming, family-friendly towns, Beaver County is primed for growth," said Lance Grable, Director of the Beaver County Office of Planning and Redevelopment. "Community Heart & Soul® will put Beaver County residents first, relying on their stories and feedback to steward future planning efforts. I could not be more proud of my County Commissioners for allowing us to embark on this monumental effort and teaming with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council." Beaver County is located in southwestern Pennsylvania, near the city of Pittsburgh and other amenities and attractions. Walkable towns dot the Ohio River which runs through the county's picturesque landscape. Beaver County’s transition away from the steel industry has brought new challenges and opportunities to the region. Community Heart & Soul® will start in all three towns in February 2020. Related Content Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Uncommon Strategic Partnership Advances Applied Humanities Work In PA Community Heart & Soul
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) have partnered to co-sponsor arts and culture projects in Williamsport, Meadville, Carlisle, and Upper Chichester. The grants provide $2,000 in matched funds to towns currently implementing Community Heart & Soul®, a humanities-based community and economic development program supported by PHC. The goal is to support resident engagement and uplift local creative assets. The four projects are as follows: Williamsport residents will share their stories and collaborate with Factory Works to create a two pillar public art mosaic at the entrance to Pajama Factory, an iconic local building recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Inspired by community ideas and drawings, the Art & Environment Initiative (A&EI) will work with the people of Meadville to create a vibrant relief mural on the Snodgrass Building, which provides housing for residents experiencing poverty. Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul will implement a community-led, outdoor art installation to recognize the over 600 people buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Carlisle, raising awareness about the history of the site. The Upper Chichester Heart & Soul team will host a series of creative intergenerational rock painting workshops for residents at township parks with the intent to engage a diversity of residents. “We are excited that the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts has partnered with us to champion local creative assets through collaborative public art,” said Dawn Frisby Byers, PHC’s Senior Director of Content and Engagement. “These projects are so wonderfully attuned to the ideas and aspirations of residents because our Community Heart & Soul® towns have worked hard over the past few years to bring together a diversity of voices to unearth shared values.” Projects are already underway and set to be completed in 2020. Related Content Watch Williamsport residents share their stories of The Pajama Factory and Factory Works Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Uncommon Strategic Partnership Advances Applied Humanities Work In PA
In July 2019, the Chester Made team welcomed a group of 25 young leaders from Sub Saharan Africa visiting the US under the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Although past exchanges involved groups from Chicago, IL, Gary, IN and Detroit, MI, this was the first peer exchange that I was a part of where our visiting participants were from outside of the US, though you would never have guessed after seeing the immediate connection between everyone in attendance. The Mandela Washington Fellowship provides outstanding persons from Sub Saharan Africa a trip to US higher education institutions with the goal of honing their skills in one of three fields: Business, Civic Engagement, or Public Management. Chester, PA was chosen as a site visit for the 2019 Mandela Fellows because of the city’s history and assets, Chester Made’s deep rooted community engagement projects, and the thriving business and arts district. Chester is a city that has seen decline, and residents, artists and activists are taking remarkable steps to rebuild its reputation through civic engagement and art, two things the Mandela Fellows are also responsible for in their work. To me, this demonstrates why exchanges are so important for Chester Made and other projects, businesses and organizations. The exchange kicked off with a delicious, thoughtfully planned lunch at Brothers Restaurant which is owned by Chester Made Artistic Director, Devon Walls. This meal was the talk of the exchange! We enjoyed jasmine rice, tikka marsala chicken, pepper steak, and maple candied carrots that were to die for! Created by Executive Chef Aaliyah Alamin, she spoke about her passion for making deep-rooted connections through the culinary arts. The meal and words of wisdom fueled our conversations about the ways we communicate about our love for the work we do, the leadership positions we hold in our community, and the legacy we want to leave behind. Chester representatives who live, work, study and play in Chester were also invited to the restaurant to come share about their role in the revitalization of the city. It was exciting to see this group of energized civic leaders talk about their work with pride and relate to each others journeys through struggle, determination and growing success. A panel discussion--complete with an impromptu “switch-up” of panelists--was facilitated by Chester Made Project Manager Ulysses ‘Butch’ Slaughter. African and American panelists alike learned that they faced similar challenges working in communities where many are struggling with poverty, health and safety issues. When asked how this exchange will influence their work going forward, Fellows agreed that leadership, legacy, and love are indispensable factors no matter where or who you are working with. “I’ve been really emotional since I’ve been here because I’m in a house of art. And when I’m somewhere where I have paintings on the walls, musical instruments, and artists talking with their hearts, I feel kind of emotional. I do believe that art is the best way to educate people, to develop our creativity and different ways of thinking. I do believe that education is the way to change people--to help them find the best version of themselves...And I do believe that when someone changes to the best version [of themselves], they are able to change the world.” --Janice Soraia Fortes da Graca of Cabo Verde The one thing that rang true throughout the day was that together, anything is possible. “The African American experience here and the Africa experience back home is like the bridge that we need to connect with. I want to learn from this experience, I want to build that bridge because I’ve been connected to this experience since my early days. I understand the challenges that people face in Africa and the challenges that people face here that are almost similar, and what we have to do is learn from our experiences--take the positive experiences from here and replicate them back home. This is something that Africa can do.” --Desta Mekonen Abreha of Ethiopia We left Brothers Restaurant to participate in a group painting activity organized by Chester Made Artistic Director Devon Walls, Kenny Hunt, and Damien Parson. Everyone headed to the Chester Made Makerspace, getting a tour of the Avenue of the States and its lively businesses along the way. Once filled, the Makerspace resonated with groovy tunes like Drogba (Joanna) by Afro B, dancing painters, and singing voices. We worked together to create three beautiful murals of African stilt-walkers, chosen to compliment a stilt-making and walking workshop we had scheduled the following month. It was an energetic afternoon that uplifted the Avenue of the States in Chester as a truly international city. To wrap up the Mandela Washington Fellows visit, everyone sat in a circle in MJ Freed Theater, surrounded by vibrant local art. The visiting leaders asked questions about Chester’s history, development, and vision for the future. We responded with hopes of more exchanges like this one, in addition to a sustained connection to this group of humanitarians. The atmosphere was that of a friendly and open community made more rich by the diverse backgrounds of everyone present. Opinions were shared on socioeconomic growth and local business, embellished with moving personal stories. The Fellows learned about the core values of Chester Made: how arts and culture drives economic and community development. We learned our visitors shared similar values. The event not only felt educational, but thoroughly enjoyable, like the bus dropped off a group of close friends. In a thank you letter to Chester Made partners after the exchange, Trisha Alexy, Administrative Director, Mandela Washington Fellowship, Lehigh University Business Institute, wrote, “While their experience over the six weeks is filled with seminars, business trips and cultural experiences, the lessons they will take with them because of people like you are amazing life lessons. And, the opportunity the Fellows have to interact with someone with your experience is, by far, the most valuable aspect of the program.” By the end of this experience everyone who was involved--from Chester artist to African entrepreneurs--were speaking the same language through art. View more photos from the exchange here. Past exchanges: October 2016 Chester Made peer exchange in Gary, IN and Chicago, IL November 2017 Gary, IN peer exchange in Chester, PA March 2018 Chicago, IL and Detroit, MI peer exchange in Chester, PA
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.
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 pahumanities.org/board. *** 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 pahumanities.org. Contact Dawn Frisby-Byers Senior Director of Content and Engagement 215.925.1005 ext. 124 email@example.com
“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.
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