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Serving Children Living in Poverty

A Report from Penland Community Collaborations

By Shannon Moon

Penland Community Collaborations Stacey Lane
Penland Community Collaborations' Stacey Lane interprets the emotion 'surprise,' in an exercise demonstrating that certain expressions are hard-wired and easy to communicate, while others, like 'compassion' and 'gratitude,' are more subtle. The workshop explored potential pitfalls in communicating with families living in poverty.

A 2011 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau ranked North Carolina the 10th poorest state in the Nation. That same year, a Huffington Post article identified North Carolina as having “one of the lowest median incomes in the country.” Also in 2011, as in previous years, the North Carolina Department of Commerce designated Mitchell County, where Penland is located, as Tier 1, meaning it is among the 40 most distressed counties in North Carolina.

With our Community Open House, Teaching Artist Initiative, and other projects, Penland’s Community Collaborations program reaches out to over 1500 local children and families. As part of our effort to better serve Mitchell County, Community Collaborations Staff recently attended the workshop “Serving Children Living in Poverty,” hosted by Communities in Schools North Carolina and Mayland Community College. With over 40 participants including educators, social service providers, members of the justice system, and more, the seminar brought together a broad range of perspectives and a wide reach into our local community.

The seminar shared important truths, some obvious, some inconspicuous, about poverty, because we can only begin to effectively engage with families living in poverty if we first understand what that means.

Poverty does not only create issues of hunger and shelter, but also shifts the way a person thinks, interacts with the world, and communicates. Living in poverty fosters a survival mentality, diverting attention from planning for future opportunities to addressing the immediate crises at hand, like ‘how am I going to fill the gas tank to drive to work?’ or ‘where am I going to get the money to feed my children?’ This can make it challenging for even the best-intentioned of neighbors to offer assistance in respectful and effective ways.

Walking away from the workshop, we all agreed that better understanding our neighbors is the first step to helping in our community. The second step, then, is building positive relationships with them.

Penland’s Community Collaborations Program and Teaching Artist Meg Peterson have worked with Mitchell County Schools, incorporating art into the classroom, for over 10 years. This summer we are excited to work with the Mitchell County organizations Communities in Schools and Service Center for Latinos to provide mentorship  opportunities for students with English as a second language. We will also be working with Communities in Schools to partner with a local school where Penland staff and community members can mentor students living in challenging situations.

Here are a few things we learned that anyone can do to help:

– You can be a consistent and stable role model. Investigate local opportunities to volunteer as a mentor in schools or after-school programs. Students who’ve had limited opportunities can have their perspective broadened by conversations with a mentor.

– Pay attention and try to be aware of what is going on with the people around you. Someone you know may be living in poverty, and there may be a simple way for you to reach out to them, like offering to share a ride to work.

– Seek and share knowledge. A good starting place is with books like A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, Bridges Out of Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, Philip E. DeVol, and Terie Dreussi Smith, and the PBS project People Like Us: Social Class in America. Share information with friends and neighbors about local services and resources.

– Be patient and persistent. While free resources might seem like a golden opportunity to those used to having them offered, people living in poverty are often forced to live in survival mode and don’t always have the luxury of planning for and seeking out opportunities for advancement. Offering someone a hand multiple times gives them the choice to take action when they are ready.

– If you’re local and want to get involved, contact communityeducation@penland.org for more information.

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Fire on the Mountain: Nol Putnam Blacksmithing Lecture Saturday Night

Blacksmith Nol Putnam
Photograph by Roger Foley.

Please join us for a lecture by master blacksmith Nol Putnam in Northlight Auditorium at Penland School, at 8:15pm on Saturday, April 28th.

Nol Putnam opened his first forge in 1973. He taught himself the craft with the help of books, stubbornness, and a mentor. Starting in the early 1980s he undertook large architectural commissions – gates, balconies, and curved handrails. While he still does a few commissions, his work since 2001 has largely been sculptural, ranging in size from the palm of the hand to architectural scale.

Nol is the featured master blacksmith at Fire on the Mountain Blacksmithing Festival, which will take place in downtown Spruce Pine from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, April 28th. Featured demonstrators at this year’s festival also include April Franklin and Mike Chmielewski.

To see more of Nol’s work, you can visit picasaweb.google.com/nolputnam

Hope to see you at the festival and Nol’s lecture!

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Community Open House Slide Show

Every year, on the first Saturday in March—about a week before classes begin—Penland opens our studios to the public for an afternoon of free hands-on activities. Assisted by our fabulous studio coordinators and over 100 volunteers, visitors can try their hands at blacksmithing, glassblowing, throwing clay, paste paper painting, and many other crafts. This year the weather was a little cold; nonetheless, the event attracted over 500 enthusiastic participants.

Penland Community Open House

Some Fun Numbers
500+ visitors,
9 studio coordinators, and
160 volunteers produced:

45 paperweights and drinking glasses,
250 glass beads,
Hundreds of paper hats, letterpress cards, and monoprints,
180 cloth pendants with photo imagery,
175 pounds of ceramic pottery and sculpture,
180 enameled copper brooches,
25 hand-decorated postcards,
75 sheets of painted paste paper, and
$150 in donations to the Mitchell County Animal Shelter

Special thanks to the studio coordinators and volunteers who always make it such a fantastic day!

Click here or on the picture to see a slideshow.

Or you can click here to see our Community Open House photo album on Facebook.

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January/February Moon Journals

“Close your eyes and imagine the night sky. Are you camping by a river, snug in your bed with the sheets pulled high, drinking hot cocoa by the wood burning stove? The howl of a barn owl is in the background, or is it a coyote under a full moon? Are the rhododendrons blooming, or is it snowing,” asks Meg Peterson, teaching artist for the Penland School of Crafts Community Collaboration program. This is one of many exercises Meg uses to help third grade students in Mitchell County, North Carolina, connect art and imagination with science in their community.

Penland Teaching Artist
Penland teaching artist Meg Peterson and students

Penland School of Crafts’s Community Collaboration program works in close coordination with Mitchell County Public School teachers and principals to provide curriculum-integrated arts opportunities to over 500 rurally-based, under-served students in the Appalachian region each year. The experiential arts program teaches new artistic skills and means of expression and supports students and their teachers and principals by engaging multiple learning styles, helping fulfill the NC Standard Course of Study, and enriching school culture by promoting confidence and self-esteem among students of all backgrounds. “Studies are finding… using art as a teaching tool helps students learn, makes them more creative and improves their overall success in school,” writes T.S. Donahoe of Artsee magazine.

Currently, third grade students are completing their Moon Journal projects with the close of the January/February moon cycle. The Moon Journals help third graders learn astronomy by making meaningful connections through art with the world around them. Not only do students paint, fold, bind, illustrate, and write in journals handmade from scratch, but they persistently record scientific observations about the moon each night for an entire lunar period. “It was hard to learn so many facts about the moon – before this project I never really paid attention,” commented a 3rdgrade student about the Moon Journal project.

Penland Community Collaboration Moon Journal
Students draw and write in their journal about what they experience each night of the moon’s cycle. Along the way, students notice weather, colors, constellations, sounds, animals, and special events each day.

One goal of the project is to develop a supportive community of discovery. Within the classroom students help other students overcome difficult steps in the bookmaking process. They also share their ideas and observations about the moon with the class. Even the teachers get involved working side by side with students to make their own Moon Journal project. One 3rd grade teacher commented, “I was surprised by how healing doing the collage was. I started out really stressed out and calmed down while working on my collage. I was okay for the rest of the day.” Outside the classroom assignments bring the whole family together in observation and connection with the moon and the outdoors.

Penland School of Crafts is incredibly thankful for local support and involvement over the years and hopes that this and other Community Collaboration programs will serve to give back to the community.

Click here for more information about Penland’s Community Collaboration programs.

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Fire on the Mountain: Blacksmithing Demonstration Workshop with Nol Putnam

As part of the 2012 Fire on the Mountain Blacksmithing Festival, Penland School of Crafts and Spruce Pine Main Street present a master demonstration workshop with Nol Putnam, Friday, April 27, 2012, from 9:30am – 4:00pm in the Penland iron studio. There’s $50 fee and advance registration is required; space is limited.

Blacksmith Nol Putnam
Nol Putnam (photo: Megan S. Smith)

“I imagine there will be leaves and vines, perhaps something with pipe, assorted peculiar movements with iron, and illustrating questions from the floor. In between there will be philosophy, stories, anecdotes, encouragement and laughs. It should be a great time, a convivial group dance around the anvil. We will also discuss how to handle big work in a one-man shop; drawing; surviving large commissions; design elements; and whatever else may come up.” – Nol Putnam

Nol Putnam opened his first forge in 1973. He taught himself the craft with the help of books, stubbornness and a mentor. Starting in the early 1980s he undertook large architectural commissions – gates, balconies, curved handrails. While he still does a few commissions, his work since 2001 has largely been sculptural, ranging in size from the palm of the hand to architectural scale.

Click here for more information and a downloadable registration form (PDF).

If you would like to ask questions about the workshop, please call Stacey Lane at 828.765.8060 or e-mail staceylane@penland.org.