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Former York poet laureate is Teen Reading Lounge facilitator working to engage youth in the humanities Martin Memorial Library in York, Pennsylvania, is one of the fifteen public libraries that will be launching Teen Reading Lounge this spring. Carla Christopher, a champion of the humanities who has already made an impact on youth in York, will be the program facilitator. Besides being the York poet laureate from 2011-2013, Christopher is a publisher, event producer and educator. She has won multiple awards for her work in poetry and has been recognized by the National Federation of Poetry Societies and the Pennsylvania Poetry Society. Christopher’s passion for arts, culture, literature and education will definitely bring humanities to the front and center of Martin’s Teen Reading Lounge program. Martin’s teen program coordinator, Dawn States, and Christopher worked closely together to shape the program to focus on personal motivation, identity and resilience. Participating teens will read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper as well as other novels that address social biases, overcoming obstacles and encourage a journey toward self-understanding. They will also have the opportunity to visit Studio 117 (a production studio), York City Pretzel Co. and The Rooted Artist Collective during the six-session program. Christopher hopes that by participating in Teen Reading Lounge, teens will gain hope and possibility as they interact with their peers, professionals and artists. In mid-March, we had the opportunity to interview Christopher about her experiences and her involvement with developing diverse humanities programming for teens. How did you first become involved with Teen Reading Lounge? I am a cultural educator with Martin Library, which lets me go into York City Public Schools to teach students about Native American, Black American, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander culture and arts. I also help judge the library’s literary contests and facilitate cultural programming like a recent Black History Month Arts & Culture series. Martin’s director of children’s programming, Paula Gilbert, is one of the most proactive and dynamic idea-having women I have ever met. When she heard about Teen Reading Lounge, she knew it would be fantastic for the library, and she approached me to see if we could brainstorm interaction and engagement-filled ways to bring the program to Martin. This session of Teen Reading Lounge at Martin Library has an entrepreneurial focus. What influenced that decision? It wasn’t enough for Dawn, Paula, and myself to have our students read and discuss books in a vacuum. We wanted to create an environment where our readers could see themselves in the books, could see how understanding and adapting the skills characters used into real-life situations made reading a practical, beneficial and worthwhile endeavor. Reading isn’t just fun, it's fundamental. We couldn’t think of any better way to drive that point home than to have students read books about inspiring characters that achieve incredible things despite extraordinary challenges and then introduce students to individuals from their own communities who have done the same thing – but in real life. When designing the program, what was discussed and decided upon in order to ensure that the program accurately reflects the needs, interests and development for the teens involved in the program? The most fabulous part of our Teen Reading Lounge team is that Dawn States, the teen services coordinator at the library, does tons of one-on-one work with City teens on a daily basis. Since both she and I have been in the city, every single day, working with these students, we were able to talk about what we observed first-hand; where our students struggled or gave up, and what kept them engaged or excited. We also, and I can’t stress the importance of this enough, took the time to ASK students what they needed. Too often, well-meaning but ill-advised program developers or facilitators TELL participants what they will be given, without asking those involved what THEY want and need. Investment and a feeling of empowerment and autonomy has been key to continued engagement for all of my work with middle and high school students. How do you think this program will help to improve interpersonal/social skills? We are interested in providing students spaces to discuss, interact, and ask questions on all levels. Book discussions encourage peer-to-peer sharing, and the field trips give students a chance to interact with all different types of professionals and artists. We want these students ready for higher education, the workplace, a diverse world full of social connections waiting to happen. They need to be able to navigate all of those situations with confidence to be successful in 2016 America. In what ways will teens be able to express creativity? Students will be painting, cooking, writing poetry or short stories, recording their own pieces at a professional studio, evaluating performances, making business plans for their own businesses and more. Can you tell me about your experiences working with low-income youth in the York area? As Martin’s cultural educator, I visit schools throughout the city. These students are talented, resourceful and full of energy…but not full of hope or a sense of possibility. What they see around them doesn’t inspire that. I had the same experience working with the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center to do a year-long creative writing workshop at William Penn Senior High School, York City’s local high school. The work these students created was insightful and mature, but often painful to read. I want to help them believe in more for themselves, and show them roadmaps, provide them with tools to get there. Why is it important to develop culturally relevant programming for youth? In America we still take a lot of pride in our communities or culture origin. From St. Patrick’s Day green to English and Welsh Christmas carols, we see the brighter side of European culture as part of our American life all the time. Most Black American students, because of the brutal cultural erasing of the slave trade, or my Native students, because of their tribe’s displacement and oppression, have no knowledge of their origins, and what history they do know is not a legacy of celebration but one of pain and subjugation. I am learning more and more how hard it is to have pride in yourself in 2016 when you don’t have pride in your past, in your heritage and your culture. I try to give that back to my students. By showing them the art, the music, the history of achievement, and the legacy of strength, I want to help students learn that they too have those abilities within them. They are more than the descendants of slaves, displaced immigrants and oppressed peoples – which is all they come to me knowing. Our Teen Reading Lounge program is using this same ideal, showing students the power of possibility, by providing examples of achievement through carefully selected stories and characters that we hope our readers will identify with. What is the arts and culture scene in York like? As a small city, there is a lot of overlap between different genres of art and different projects because artists often share venues or spaces and we hear about what other people are doing. We have a scene heavy with collaboration, improvisation and experimentation. I perform as a solo poet, as a spoken word artist, as part of a poetry ensemble that performs with a percussionist called Poetic Voices and as a singing blues/jazz poet with the ensemble Groove Ink. I have been the guest poet on a rock CD and a soul CD and written poems that have been turned into paintings for at least three different art shows. When did you first get involved in the humanities? [I’ve been] an avid reader and writer from as soon as I could hold a book. I entered and won my first poetry contest in the fifth grade and I was hooked from then on. Reading took me around the world, through history and showed me how things worked. I could make my own pace, determine my own focus…reading was very empowering for me as a young person. Tell me about your experience being poet laureate. Although being the laureate was a position of service, I learned so much from the position that it felt like a gift to me as well. I learned about York history in my research to write commissioned work, I met inspirationally talented students in my school visits, I traveled across the entire state doing performances as York’s representative, and I refined my teaching style and got lots of new ideas from the teen and adult participants in the workshops that I facilitated. It was a busy three years but ones I wouldn’t trade for anything! What skills do you believe one can build from writing, discussing and/or reading poetry and literature? To have insight, to be able to problem solve and envision solutions, to respond in a flexible way to disappointment or challenge. I believe it’s important to have examples to draw from; reading and discussing builds a mental bank of creativity currency for students who might have limited “real-life” experience and promotes comprehension and application. Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite poems? Tell me about your favorite book. I love Maya Angelou. I saw her once in Detroit as a high school student and her powerful presence, her slow and thoughtful voice and beautiful, accessibly worded poetry became a lifelong inspiration to me. I saw her again, as Poet Laureate, at York College, shortly before she passed away and I thought, if she could inspire this much in me, how many others did she have the same effect on? The power of one person following their dreams, working to perfect their craft and then being willing to share it, hit me then, in a way that continues to get me out of bed in the morning. One of my favorite phrases is “You will never know most of the good you do.” I love Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” as well as “Dance Me to the End of Love” by Leonard Cohen, almost anything by Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman, although my favorite is “Song of Myself.” I also am a huge fan of Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, Mary Oliver and lots of local poets. My favorite fiction books are The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1984 by George Orwell and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I love intense character studies that offer prophetic or deeply insightful social commentary and time/place analysis though a single personal story.
When it comes to engaging teens and advancing literacy, a partnership between the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) and the Free Library of Philadelphia seems like a natural choice. Through branch-based Teen Reading Lounge programs, Philadelphia teens are able to build relationships and learn to communicate their ideas and opinions while furthering the Free Library’s mission of advancing literacy, guiding learning and inspiring curiosity. To date PHC has introduced Teen Reading Lounge in seven Free Library branches: Andorra, Philadelphia City Institute, Greater Olney, Haverford Avenue, Kensington, Wadsworth and Parkway Central. Each branch designed a unique Teen Reading Lounge program to reflect the culture of its specific neighborhood and the interests and needs of the teens that live there. Across the Free Library system teens have read books such as Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by Gregory Neri, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano. These novels provided the opportunity for participants to discuss topics like social change, violence, poverty, alcohol abuse, bullying, self-love and self-discovery. Related activities have included field trips to museums, a “Steps for Success” workshop, a discussion with a World War II vet, a Skype session with author Neal Shusterman, and a visit to a cultural community garden. Philadelphia City Institute was an early adopter of Teen Reading Lounge among Free Library branches. In fact, this branch has led the way in Teen Reading Lounge programming and funding so much that Free Library Teen Services Coordinator Ann Pearson uses it as a model to train other libraries. Philadelphia City Institute’s first Teen Reading Lounge was held during the winter/spring of 2015 with funding and technical support from PHC. In the fall of 2015 PHC awarded the branch a continuation grant, and the following winter Philadelphia City Institute successfully secured outside funding to continue its Teen Reading Lounge program. During Spring 2016 teens at Philadelphia City Institute read Geography Club, a novel that explores sexual orientation, the dynamics of relationships, and acceptance. After completing the novel, program facilitator Erin Hoopes invited a group of young adults from The Attic Youth Center (an organization serving LGBTQ youth) to share their experiences with the teens. During an open discussion, teens and visitors from The Attic explored how to be advocates for the LGBTQ community, the significance of a support system and the importance of forgiveness. “We have so many quiet readers who come in to the library, but we don't always get the opportunity to engage with them on such a deep level,” said Hoopes. Teens at Philadelphia City Institute also tackled Renee Watson’s This Side of Home, which covers topics such as racism and gentrification. Following discussion of the novel, Hoopes invited a Philadelphia city planner to talk to the teens about conscious community building and institutionalized racism. The teens then broke into groups to complete an activity where they were responsible for allocating funds to municipal services such as energy and water supply, affordable subsidized housing, and parks and recreation centers. Through this hands-on activity teens quickly became aware of the difficulties of city planning and the inequalities in community funding. The Teen Reading Lounge program at the Greater Olney Branch had a slightly different focus; teens read three books that explored how suffering, empathy, personal heroism and perseverance shape our identities and history. “We hope they walk away from the program with a deeper understanding of themselves and their worlds,” said Christina Patton, the branch’s supervisor. Participants also enjoyed visits from Kenyon Parker, a World War II veteran who shared his experiences serving in a segregated army unit, and Cindy Little from the Philadelphia History Museum, who gave a lesson on the abolitionist movement in Philadelphia. The success of the PHC-Free Library partnership has led PHC to begin thinking through a more impactful Teen Reading Lounge model that would address inequality, ethnic identity and literacy needs of teens more squarely. Philadelphia ranks only 22nd out of the 25 largest U.S. cities in college degree attainment, and yet funding for schools and literacy programs in the city continue to decline. According to the Center for Literacy, 37% of adults in Philadelphia are “low literate,” causing them to have trouble with filling out job applications, reading doctors’ instructions, and helping their children with homework. PHC staff have seen how Teen Reading Lounge strengthens 21st century learning skills, and we are dedicated to doing more to bridge the gap of student achievement in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania.
Spring Teen Reading Lounge programs are taking shape at fifteen public libraries across the state. All program sites promoted their programs to teens within their communities, with a special emphasis on engaging teens from low-income backgrounds. Below is a sampling of themes, selected books, and special activities planned at five of the participating libraries. Allen F. Pierce Free Library, Troy (Bradford County) Participants at Allen F. Pierce Free Library will explore the theme of diversity through the lens of young adult science fiction books (including The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey) and hands-on activities that highlight differences in perspectives, lifestyles and cultures. Kay Barrett, the assistant librarian, says, “I worked with our program facilitator Pam Mihalik to select this theme because space itself is so diverse and the world of sci-fi raises wonderful questions about humanity. We hope to expose our participants to diverse characters in hopes of helping them become more open-minded and accepting individuals.” In addition to peer-to-peer discussion, local teacher and artist Andrew Wales will lead a workshop on graphic art and storytelling. The library aims to incorporate science activities into its Teen Reading Lounge program as well with a visit to the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh and a workshop with a Mansfield University astronomy professor. Activities like these will effectively demonstrate how the study of the humanities can deepen STEM learning by building critical-thinking, literacy, interpersonal and communication skills. To close out its program, the library will hold an “Across the Universe” workshop with a local Brownie Troop during which program participants will present what they learned about diversity throughout the course of the program. Allen F. Pierce Free Library’s program will run from February through May. Lansdowne Public Library, Lansdowne (Delaware County) During its Teen Reading Lounge program, the Lansdowne Public Library will explore the hero’s journey and diversity through the story of Yasuke, who despite his lower social status became a powerful samurai in Japan. The group will explore Yasuke’s story and read several comics featuring black characters, including Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue. Ken Norquist, head of technologies and public services at the library, and Keville Bowen, program facilitator and local artist, saw the need to expand the minds and perspectives of local youth, particularly around the idea of cultural identity, history and possibility. The program is designed to get participants thinking about how media portrays heroes and challenges the idea that heroes fit a certain mold. Participants will relate this to their own lives as they work toward creating comic books based on their personal experiences. Norquist and Bowen hope to self-publish a compilation of those comics this summer. “By the end of the program, these young people will see their own stories in print,” says Ken Norquist. “We hope that participants see they are the writers of their own destinies and their stories should be celebrated.” A highlight will be a Skype interview with Thomas Lockey, assistant professor at Nihon University College of Law in Tokyo, Japan, who is an expert on Yasuke and will talk to the group about the samurai’s unique story. Other activities include a manga drawing workshop and a Mural Arts walking tour exploring the history of notable African-American Philadelphians. Lansdowne Public Library’s program will run from March through May. Free Library of Philadelphia – Greater Olney Branch (Philadelphia County) Youth at the Greater Olney Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia will read three books (Maus by Art Speiglmen, Bruiserby Neal Shusterman and Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson) that explore how suffering, empathy, personal heroism and perseverance shape our identities and histories. Over the course of eight weeks, participants will take part in book discussions led by Mercedes Walton-Mason, a teacher at Cedarbrook Middle School in the Cheltehham School District. The library has also planned a visit from a World War II vet and a field trip to the Philadelphia History Museum’s Quest for Freedom program, which focuses on the Philadelphia Abolitionist Movement. Christina Patton, the branch’s supervisor who also oversees adult and teen programming says, “We want to broaden the minds of participants and expose them to ideas and experiences that give more context to what they are reading. We hope they walk away from the program with a deeper understanding of themselves and their worlds.” Encouraging participants to dig into the program’s themes and reflect on them is central to the experience. The group will work together to define themes like perseverance by designing the “Survivor’s Award” which will be given to one character in the book that best exemplifies their definition of a survivor. Throughout the program, participants will synthesize what they are learning and document it by creating a Teen Reading Lounge timeline, which will be shared with the public at the program’s final session. Both activities aim to build trust and community among participants—a crucial component to creating an environment that welcomes different perspectives, ideas and experiences. Greater Olney’s program will run from February through June. Martin Memorial Library, York (York County) At the Martin Memorial Library in York, youth participating in Teen Reading Lounge will combine book discussions and hands-on learning to explore themes of personal motivation, identity and resilience. Using books focusing on these themes as a starting point for discussion (for example, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper), local youth will take part in peer-to-peer discussion facilitated by celebrated poet Carla Christopher. Christopher has been working with youth in the York area for years; helping them change the narrative of their lives is something that is especially important to her. Many of the youth she works with come from challenging backgrounds and they don’t often get the opportunity to participate in programs that allow them to discover their own history, culture and identity while building communication, literacy, critical-thinking and interpersonal skills. “Literacy is crucial,” Christopher said in an interview with the York Dispatch this past December, “You need to know how to research, read and process information.” When asked about the idea of building resilience, Christopher commented, “Our job is about giving students the strength to overcome (adversity) and the skills to get through it.” Dawn States, Martin Memorial Library’s teen program coordinator, hopes that connecting the program to the stories of young entrepreneurs will inspire participating youth to think about what they want from their lives and how to make their goals a reality. A series of visits to local businesses—like York City Pretzel so shop owner and York resident Phillip Given can speak to the group about his own success story—will highlight that determination, personal accountability and hard work can yield positive results. Martin Memorial Library’s program will run from April through May. Community Library of Shenango Valley, Sharon (Mercer County) At the Community Library of Shenango Valley in Sharon, participants will use three popular young adult novels (Reality Boyby A.S. King, Crank by Ellen Hopkins and In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang) to explore identity, decision-making and how choices shape our lives. In addition to book discussions led by Corri Hines, youth services librarian, participants will take part in a field trip to Gallery 29, an art studio in the Shenango Valley. Working side by side with artists, youth will create their own art that compares how they believe the world sees them and how they see themselves. Also planned is a poetry slam featuring participants’ writing, which they will record with the help of Mud-Hut Records, a local recording studio. The group will help produce the record while learning how to edit, mix and record as they work alongside Bill Dodd, the studio’s owner. According to the director of the library, Robin Pundzak, the library wants to attract more teens for similar programs. Robin says, “Our goal is to expand the number of teenagers that use our library for both education and entertainment. We hope to demonstrate to local teens that the library is a safe, fun, and enriching environment.” The program, which incorporates the humanities, arts and STEM activities to build communication, interpersonal, literacy and critical-thinking skills, will conclude with a public celebration acknowledging the young participants’ creative contributions to the experience. Community Library of Shenango Valley’s program will run from February through May.
In a national report, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) highlight the many ways museums and libraries are collaborating with public-sector partners to address the needs of economically distressed communities. On February 17, 2016, IMLS and LISC, with local help from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC), Philadelphia LISC, the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP), and the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC), convened Pennsylvania library, museum, and community-development leaders to roll out the report findings, further discuss the topics at hand, and forge paths to greater collaboration in our Pennsylvania communities. The event, covered by news sources such as Generocity, included a presentation and in-depth discussion about the ways libraries and museums can collaborate to support troubled neighborhoods. The program kicked off with a welcome from the director of the IMLS, Kathryn K. Matthew, who has an extensive background in curation, educational program development, fundraising and communications management. In a follow-up blog post Matthew wrote, “There is a movement underway to look ‘outside-in’ with our communities to understand how the organizational assets of museums and libraries can best be used, and it’s truly exciting to watch.” The movement that Matthew mentioned was shared through inspiring stories by PHC executive director Laurie Zierer, Philadelphia LISC executive director Andrew Frishkoff, Warhol Museum director and PHC board member Eric Shiner, and other leaders from the library, museum, and community development sectors. While libraries and museums are spaces where community building can occur, it is important to remember that these cultural institutions provide more than a physical space. According to the IMLS-LISC report, “Culture –like other forms of community building –strengthens relationships among neighborhood members as well as their determination to be involved in community life.” As Zierer put it during the convening, “The humanities bring people together who don’t normally sit at the same table to think through issues that matter.” The rich humanities experience provided by libraries and museums can act as a support for the community, but this is a resource that often goes unused. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council has recently moved in a new direction that aims to use the humanities as a tool for civic engagement and education, which Zierer described for the audience. PHC’s award-winning Teen Reading Lounge program uses libraries as community anchors to bring youth together and engage them in a stimulating and enjoyable learning experience. Through a partnership with The Orton Family Foundation, communities supported by civic engagement grants from PHC use storytelling and visual arts at the heart of their community development projects. “Philanthropist should not simply come bearing gifts, but seek to exchange gifts with those they’re meeting with,” said Frishkoff. Philadelphia LISC is no stranger to giving gifts to communities. The non-profit organization has been working to support low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia by launching financial opportunity centers, training residents on digital literacy and creating a youth arts magazine. Frishkoff and his team work tirelessly to achieve transformation by recognizing local necessities and forming practical community-based solutions. Pam Bridgeforth, director of programs at PACDC, discussed the importance of neighborhood revitalization specifically in the form of third space initiatives. Third spaces are not where you live or work, but where life happens outside of those two places. As PACDC works to develop third spaces, they found that building field knowledge, creating a way for that knowledge to be sustained as well as sharing that knowledge are equally as important as establishing the new community hubs. Marion Parkinson of the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) took the stage to discuss how libraries are becoming more active in the community. North Philadelphia has the highest poverty and crime rates, as well as the lowest literacy rate in the city of Philadelphia. It was for that very reason that FLP took the initiative to make programs more accessible to residents of North Philly. These programs took shape as play parties, block parties, cooking classes for boys ages 12-14 years old, a meal program that feeds almost 100 youth daily, and the Stories Alive program (funded by IMLS), which is an initiative for incarcerated parents to be able to have story time with their children over Skype. “There is no amount of money that is ever going to solve all the problems that we’ve identified in poor neighborhoods, it’s just not there,” said Chris Walker, Research Director at LISC. “But if we change the way institutions function we can change the opportunity set available to people in poor communities, and that is part of our commitment.” Jane Werner of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh spoke about the Charm Bracelet Project, which was a culture and community development initiative that aimed to make the North Side of Pittsburgh a place for families. The project, which was initially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, began with the convening of four design firms that were hired to look at the North Side with new eyes and led to multiple community meetings. “We were trying to use the strengths of the cultural institutions to make real community change,” said Werner. In order to establish more “charms” within the community, the museum began to give out micro-grants to groups and organizations that would use the funds to host events and activities in the North Side. Some “charms” took form as arts projects, empowerment projects for girls, and collective recipe books and cooking sessions. “I view it as a great honor to run an activist museum that’s all about social justice and changing the world to make it a better place,” said director of the Warhol Museum and PHC board member Eric Shiner. The Warhol museum was the driving force behind the Homewood Artist Residency program, an initiative that aimed to grow arts and cultural opportunities for residents of the community. Homewood was a neighborhood that Pittsburgh forgot about; it is deeply poor, does not have a lot of infrastructure or a community development corporation. The Warhol team met and worked with activists in the community, churches and libraries and developed a plan to engage the community through visual arts. Shiner says that his biggest concern was how the museum could subtly enter the neighborhood and what would happen after the seed was planted. “[We are] dedicated to giving voice to those that might not have it and [trying to learn] how to take the anomalies of society and help to turn them into the paradigms, based on Warhol’s own life journey,” Shriner said. “Being queer, being poor, being sickly, being an immigrant from an immigrant family and overcoming those obstacles to go on to become one of the most famous people that the world has ever known – that becomes our core focus in all that we do.”
As part of the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires Initiative, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and Philadelphia Media Network have joined forces to encourage civic dialogue on the importance of journalism and humanities in public life. Highlights will include A website that will serve as a focal point for Pulitzer Prize–winning materials with ties to Pennsylvania; A social-media campaign to engage a broad audience and encourage virtual dialogue around the Pulitzer materials; and A panel discussion at the National Constitution Center led by Bill Marimow, Pulitzer Prize–winning editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, which will explore the relationship between groundbreaking news, the protections offered to the press under the First Amendment, and the ethical repercussions faced by journalists and editors. Stay tuned for a project timeline and updates!
In 2014 the Pennsylvania Humanities Council awarded its first civic engagement planning grant to the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative, a joint effort of seven local nonprofit organizations. Scranton, a city of about 75,000 in northeastern Pennsylvania, was settled by Welsh and other European immigrants and once known as an iron and steel hub. While the city has moved away from its industrial past, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative hopes to inspire its residents to embrace the humanities as one way of sparking a new spirit of pride and dynamism. This project focused on West Scranton, a diverse neighborhood with new immigrants settled alongside long-time residents, and it aimed to engage the community in improving and building neighborhood pocket parks. Project goals Through this project, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative aimed to advance an understanding of the humanities and civic engagement, while also serving as a mechanism to pull in key city, county, neighborhood, academic, and nonprofit leaders to advance mutual goals for the betterment of the community. Major goals included Using the humanities to refine civic engagement and foster community. Engaging residents in genuine dialogue on the future of their community. Restoring social capital among residents. Partners Led by the Scranton Area Community Foundation, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative represents the joined forces of the Lackawanna County Library System, Lackawanna Heritage Valley, Neighbor Works Northeastern Pennsylvania, United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania, United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, and the University of Scranton. Related Content Scranton Heritage Series Fellows Park Ribbon Cutting Turning Strangers into Neighbors
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council is pleased to announce that 15 libraries across Pennsylvania have been selected to host a spring 2016 Teen Reading Lounge program. This particular round of programming aims to better understand the needs of low-income youth and to explore how Teen Reading Lounge can help them build essential life skills. "More than 600 teenagers and 77 libraries have participated in Teen Reading Lounge since its launch in 2009," said Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director. "As we move forward with this program, we want to ensure that we reach teens across diverse socio-economic backgrounds." Teen Reading Lounge is a nontraditional book club for teens ages 12-18. Teens help to create the reading list for their program sites and, working with trained facilitators, to design creative projects that bring the books to life. Participants report stronger interpersonal, communication, literacy, and critical-thinking skills, and increased confidence. The program is built on the belief that encouragement to choose creative pursuits and interest-focused programs is crucial to teen development. The humanities naturally push teens to ask questions and share ideas, activities that are vital as teens begin to discover who they are, who they want to be, and how to relate to other people. "You can’t get confidence from a book, but connecting with other teenagers to share experiences and have discussions can make a big difference in the way kids feel about themselves and their ability to make wise choices," Zierer said. "Real confidence builds resiliency, so teens can bounce back from challenges and excel in life." According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 39% of Pennsylvania children lived in low-income families in 2013 (with low-income defined as $47,248 for a family of four with two children). The public policy blog Third and State reports that half of all school districts in Pennsylvania suffered from concentrated poverty in 2013-14, meaning the poverty rate equaled or exceeded 40%. (The federal poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $23,624 in 2013.) All libraries participating in the 2015-16 Teen Reading Lounge program currently provide services to low-income youth, with 57% of the selected sites reporting poverty rates for their community at 20% or higher. When it comes to producing programs for teens, the sites range from extensive experience to no prior experience, but all are committed to learning how to work with this age group. With Teen Reading Lounge, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council invests funds to improve achievement outcomes for youth, but it also helps position libraries to make changes in the way they serve youth. The 2015-16 Teen Reading Lounge sites will receive funding to cover program expenses as well as an honorarium to pay a program facilitator. They will also receive training in working with facilitators and local teens to design a program that’s meaningful for their communities. In December site coordinators and facilitators will attend a mandatory all-day orientation on topics including selecting books, designing activities, recruiting the target audience, and building relationships with teens. All Teen Reading Lounge programs will launch in 2016. Sites hosting a 2015-16 Teen Reading Lounge program are listed below by county: Beaver Baden Memorial Library, Baden, and Laughlin Memorial Library, Ambridge B.F. Jones Memorial Library, Aliquippa Bradford Allen F. Pierce Free Library, Troy Delaware Lansdowne Public Library, Lansdowne Franklin Coyle Free Library, Chambersburg Mercer Community Library of the Shenango Valley, Sharon Montgomery Pottstown Public Library, Pottstown Northumberland Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library, Northumberland Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia - Greater Olney Branch, Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia - Haverford Avenue Branch Library, Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia - Kensington Branch, Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia - Wadsworth Branch, Philadelphia York Guthrie Memorial Library, Hanover Martin Memorial Library, York 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.
On October 13, 2015, Penn State Reads author Russell Gold discussed his book The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World with a live community audience in State College. Gold gave brief opening remarks then engaged in lively discussion with Katie O’Toole, who is an instructor in Penn State’s College of Communications and a seasoned public broadcasting writer and producer. Audience members submitted questions to fuel the conversation throughout the evening, and they had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with Gold during a book-signing session. Gold was in State College for a series of events connected to the Penn State Reads program, which each year invites people across the university to read a single book. To bring the wider State College community into the conversation, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council produces an annual public event in partnership with the Penn State Reads Program, the Schlow Centre Region Library, and with Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Pennsylvania Center for the Book, and University Libraries. Gold lent his perspective as a veteran energy reporter to every part of the community conversation. "If we want to be serious about using fossil fuels and trying to find a way to do it in an environmentally responsible manner, then we all have a stake in it." - Russell Gold "You wouldn't build a nuclear power plant — you wouldn't build some sort of a smelter — lightly regulated,” he said in opening remarks. “But for some reason we feel that that's OK to do with fracking.” He added, “If we want to be serious about using fossil fuels and trying to find a way to do it in an environmentally responsible manner, then we all have a stake in it. The companies have a stake in it, the neighbors, the community has a stake in it, and, yes, the governmental regulators have a stake in it." In The Boom Gold tells the stories of scientists, engineers, business people, environmentalists, and community members in great detail, weaving together a series of widely varied perspectives on the domestic drilling boom. He acknowledges early in the book that “common ground is elusive. The forces arrayed in favor and against don’t speak the same language.” During the community conversation, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director Laurie Zierer pointed to the power of the humanities to help individuals and communities work together to solve complex problems. She noted that book people and passionate humanities advocates tend to be good at deliberation, at long and careful consideration and discussion. “Books and ideas—and our discussion of them —are best when they lead us to collaborate with others in our communities to solve problems that may seem insurmountable,” Zierer said. “To paraphrase the philosopher Peter Levine, in his recent book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, people—all of us sitting here tonight—are our best renewable source of energy and power.” Near the end of The Boom Gold writes, “It’s time to slow down… When it comes to fracking, getting it right is important. And if we blow it, we’re never going to forgive ourselves.” It is our hope that, with the knowledge and wisdom from books like The Boom and humanities programs like the Penn State Reads community event, we can make strong decisions about issues like fracking and work together to make a difference in our communities.
Over the last two years the Pennsylvania Humanities Council has led the Chester Made initiative in partnership with the City of Chester, Just Act (formerly Gas & Electric Arts), Chester Arts Alive!, Widener University, and The Artist Warehouse. This bold project is grounded in the belief “that democracy is animated by imaginative humanities programming—by people creatively engaged in history, storytelling, and dialogue about issues affecting their communities.” A report from Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, found that Chester Made delivered on its discovery and demonstration intents in many ways: "Chester Made set out to recognize and promote arts and culture in the City of Chester and to harness its power as a force for community revitalization. The project did this and more. ... As a result of this dynamic initiative, there is hope and excitement in the promise of new artist and cultural leadership in the downtown and in elevating new as well as longstanding cultural assets that are 'Chester Made through and through.' ” Findings According to the report, the Chester Made initiative Expanded who participates in public process. Revealed a spectrum of cultural assets that had not been fully known or acknowledged. Revealed that the impact of arts and culture on Chester and its people is profound and multidimensional. Generated a palpable sense of hope and pride among participants. Made important connections, improving existing relationships and building new relationships within and across sectors, catalyzing new collaborations, and developing leadership in the community for future efforts. Generated much learning about what it takes to plan and implement an arts-based and humanities-informed approach to civic planning and community building. Read the Executive Summary We invite you to read the executive summary based on the full report by Pam Korza and Barbara Schaffer Bacon of Animating Democracy. The summary focuses on the efficacy and value of a humanities-informed and arts-based approach for community research and planning and specific community outcomes of the Chester Made project. Funders This report was made possible with support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Chester Made partners have been invited to make presentations on the initiative and its impact both locally and nationally, from the 15th annual Imagining America conference in Baltimore to the National Humanities Conference of the Federation of State Humanities Councils in St. Louis. A selection of presentation summaries appears below. Philanthropy Network's Sparking Solutions Conference Theme--Learning and Leading Together in a Diverse Landscape Session--The Art of Community Engagement: Utilizing the Arts, Culture, and Humanities as Tools to Connect, Collaborate, and Transform November 12, 2015, Philadelphia Effective community engagement is a critical piece of any significant change initiative, but it is also one of the most challenging to accomplish in a meaningful and authentic way. Creative tools and approaches to engagement can play a critical role in overcoming these challenges, helping to increase understanding of community values, foster engagement across diverse stakeholder groups, and ultimately produce more satisfying, equitable, and rewarding outcomes for all involved. This session explored the opportunities presented by the arts, culture, and humanities to foster engagement and collaboration around critical community issues. Community leaders and regional funders shared insights from a number of outstanding community engagement initiatives taking place in our region that have utilized visual and performing arts to help drive community change and growth. These examples demonstrated the powerful impacts that can be had when funders, nonprofits, government, and most importantly, community members, use creative tools to achieve a common goal. Drawing from the experiences shared by our presenters, session participants engaged in a meaningful dialogue on how these lessons can be applied and expanded upon in their own work and throughout our region. Presenters Moderator Maud Lyon, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance Artists working with community members to give them voice--and ownership of change Andrew Frishkoff, LISC Philadelphia Aviva Kapust, The Village of Arts and Humanities Using the arts to talk about difficult, deep issues, and blending old Germantown with new Germantown Trapeta Mayson, Historic Germantown Changing the narrative of the community Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council Devon Walls, The Artist Warehouse Imagining America Conference Theme--America Will Be! The Art and Power of "Weaving Our We" Session--What Makes Chester, Chester: How Community Narratives Are Informing City Planning Saturday, October 3, 2015, Baltimore Chester Made created a dynamic public space for city residents to articulate personal stories and identify cultural assets toward re-imagining a positive community narrative and informing future revitalization efforts. In this session, participants experienced theatre- and story-based strategies used to engage a wide cross-section of Chester residents while building the arts-based engagement capacity of local artists. The Chester Made Ensemble gave a repeat performance of its presentation to Chester City Council, Bob Leonard hosted a talk show–style conversation, and the audience had multiple opportunities to ask questions and exchange with the presenters. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council situated the Chester Made project within its new Civic Engagement Initiative, which applies the humanities as a tool for creating knowledge, social capital, and policy change. Chester city planners discussed mapmaking and arts-based practices as new ways to inform planning for a cultural corridor. Widener University described its role and approach in assessing community outcomes, and reflected on how Chester Made served its own learning regarding community engagement strategies grounded in democratic values. Participants Bob Leonard, Professor of Theatre, Virginia Tech (moderator) Laurie Zierer, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Humanities Council Lisa Jo Epstein, Executive Director, Just Act Don W. Newton, Founding Board Member, Chester Arts Alive! Chester Made Ensemble members Sister Mafalda Thomas-Bouzy, Stefan Matthews, Tanina Harris Devon Walls, The Artist Warehouse James Turner, Director of Business Development, Chester Water Authority Sharon Meagher, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Widener University Mary Beth Semerod, Graduate Student, Widener University Pam Korza, Co-director, Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts