Category Archives: Humanities

Listen Deeply, Move Boldly: How The Care Center Builds Community

The following piece originally appeared in Mass Cultural Council’s Power of Culture blog, and was written by Mina Kim, Käthe Swaback, and Timothea Pham.

Student-made artwork exhibited at The Care Center

Inside an unassuming Victorian-era building, just west of downtown Holyoke, is one of the nation’s most distinctive creative community development initiatives: The Care Center. It is an example of what can happen when culture and creativity form the foundation to dismantle systemic barriers for individuals, as well as communities.

Enter The Care Center, and on every wall, there is art by the students. Poems that probe the multiplicity of humanity’s realities fill the hallways. Drawings, photographs, and paintings are thoughtfully arranged and reflect various facets of each individual’s personality, journey, or a moment in time. Reminders of upcoming deadlines with the Department of Transitional Services, illustrated alphabet posters for toddlers, and notices of upcoming events hang all around. Young women’s voices, sighs, exclamations, and laughter float through the building, as each is a part of a transformative effort that seeks to break the cycle of poverty.

The Care Center opened in 1986 with the mission to provide resources for teen mothers and their families. 100% of the women are from low-income households, and 94% are women of color. In a culture that stigmatizes teen pregnancy and condemns young mothers, in particular, young mothers of color, The Care Center offers a different model of working with these youth. “20 years ago, we made an intentional shift,” said Anne Teschner, Director of The Care Center, while describing the evolution of the Center’s program development. Over time it moved from a more traditional social service organization, toward one that embraces the power of arts, education, and culture to build a different support system that offers greater socioeconomic mobility.

Challenging Assumptions

“We meet the young woman where they’re at,” explained Jenna Sellers, Director of Support Services. Rather than merely trying to level the playing field, The Care Center understands each individual requires specialized care respective of varying personalities and experiences. Being aware of the multi-layered context young mothers face is important as well, as the labyrinth of obtaining public resources for teen mothers can be long and arduous. Teschner described the many conversations over the years she had with the Department of Transitional Assistance as she lobbied to allow young mothers on assistance to have access to higher education through the completion of the Associate Degree.

“There’s an assumption that if you live in poverty, you don’t need intellectual stimulation or cultural access and, at the worst, don’t deserve it,” Teschner said as she and Ana Rodriguez, Director of Education, discussed the stereotypes society holds with regard to who is worthy, and who is not. “It’s important that these girls are celebrated…that they feel they’re as good as anyone else,” Rodriguez added.

Young women rowing
“Rowing is like my second family; the first is The Care Center,” shares Crystal who serves as coxswain for the rowing team that is a part of Rowing Strong, Rowing Together, a partnership between The Care Center, Mount Holyoke College, and Holyoke Rows. “It’s a stress reliever that helps us let go of everything we’re holding onto as we work together and help each other,” adds fellow rower AJ. Teschner introduced rowing and a robust academic curriculum to The Care Center’s programming after reviewing the types of activities, classroom setting, and programming offered at many private schools across the U.S. (Image: The Care Center.)

Teschner is not afraid to blaze trails and carries the advice of, “allow yourself as an organization to be bold and on the edge of discovery. This is what really brings in the oxygen.” Back in 1993, Teschner took a deep breath and launched the YouthReach Initiative at the Mass Cultural Council, a first of its kind state grant program that supported creative youth development through a social justice lens. YouthReach recognizes youth as agents of change, understanding them as a resource and partner in creating healthy communities. This acknowledgment of youth as assets within their communities has carried on in Teschner’s work, as she has consistently pushed the boundaries of perceptions around underserved youth.

In 2016, the Center, together with Bard College, launched the first college for women whose studies have been cut short due to pregnancy or parenthood. Known as the Bard Microcollege Holyoke, women who graduate from this program receive an Associate of Arts degree. Students often enter the Microcollege after completing The Clemente Course in the Humanities, an award-winning program, developed by Bard College and supported by Mass Humanities, that enables underserved and marginalized individuals to receive college credits while being introduced to works of literature, moral philosophy, art history, and critical thinking and writing. Both programs act as a gateway toward the pursuit of higher education, as is evident in The Care Center’s statistics.

On average, 95% of Care Center graduates are first in their families to attend college. 75% of Care Center graduates enroll in college, which is more than the 43% of students who graduate from high school nationally. The Microcollege, which during its 2016 inaugural session enrolled 10 students, now has 45. 100% of the College’s first cohort have graduated with an Associate’s Degree and have also gone on to pursue further studies at 4-year colleges including Smith, Mount Holyoke, Trinity, and The Elms College.

“We had a culture where young moms were being pushed out of public education…The Care Center filled a real void in the community in terms of making sure all of Holyoke’s young people have access to a good quality education,” said Mayor of Holyoke Alex Morse while speaking of The Care Center’s unique model.

Painting of a woman's torso covered in flowers, her arms holding an infant lying on her belly.
Student-made artwork exhibited at The Care Center

At the Care Center, high expectations around academic excellence go together with providing systems of support tailored for young mothers. Day care is offered for newborns and toddlers, along with early childhood education that promotes early literacy from a young age. Door-to-door transportation is provided to teen mothers to ensure every student has a ride to classes, medical appointments, and area services. An on-site nurse practitioner provides care five mornings a week, in addition to the support and transition counselors that guide the young women through personal and academic hurdles, including challenges endured by first-generation college students.

Creativity as a Gateway to Connection

Photos in the Care Center’s art studio depicting different masks for an art project exploring archetypes.

Arts, culture, and creativity play an integral role in the development of these young women, as art teacher Julie Lichtenberg noted, “The arts allow you to think inward and reflect…to be bigger than this moment.” Exploring archetypes in art studio, youth explore concepts of universal humanity and identity by creating masks that incorporate various patterns and materials reflective of select archetypes. Poetry has a deep and expansive presence at The Care Center, too. Students comprise the Editorial Board of Nautilus, an anthology of poems published by Care Center young women who draw inspiration from themselves, as well as renowned writers and poets who hold workshops and readings at The Care Center, such as Nikky Finney, Lesléa Newman, Junot Díaz, and Robert Pinsky. Remarking on the accessibility of poetry as an art form with the capacity to shift perspectives, Teschner said, “Poetry allows students access into the power of words and their own untapped capacity as writers. They’re able to take on a new role and become a part of the long public dialogue on the human experience.”

Being able to be a part of the “long public dialogue” is perhaps one of the most important takeaways of The Care Center and is key to the mothers being able to connect to oneself, each other, and to their broader community. Rodriguez shared, “The students serve as translators for each other while they’re at The Care Center.” AJ, Crystal, and fellow Care Center classmate, Tessa, emphasized the familial bonds shared among the young women, where youth feel safe to be themselves and are supported by staff who genuinely care. The girls belong to text groups with other Care Center women who offer each other words of encouragement and advice through various stages of their Care Center experience, whether they just started taking a computer class, or have graduated from the Microcollege. Care Center alumni who are at nearby colleges return to offer guidance or tutoring assistance, or to receive support and help themselves, both of which they know are always available to them.

The Roots of a Community

“Art and creativity is at the center of a lot of what we do, and that means not just thinking about visual arts, photography, or things that people can see…It starts with a focus on public education, and integrating arts into public education so that the extent of our success isn’t defined by our ability to attract artists from out of town [but developing] a pipeline of artists of local people that are representative of our constituencies of people, and making sure our current students are our future artists, creatives, and makers in the community.”

— Alex Morse, Mayor of Holyoke

The reach of The Care Center extends to spaces and people beyond the immediate building, as the Center is an active, creative hub in Holyoke and part of a larger network of teachers and artists from all over the Northeast, but especially those from Western Massachusetts. Instructors and faculty from area colleges run math and science programs through the Hypatia Institute. Students attend Humanities 108 sponsored by Greenfield Community College in a program developed to introduce a college-level course for youth preparing for the High School Equivalency exam. The Smith College Poetry Center works with The Care Center to build its robust visiting poets program, while Hampshire College offers access to its photography and film facility. And even though it may seem the bulk of The Care Center’s attention is focused on expecting and teen mothers, the organization shares its education, health, and cultural resources with other underserved women in Holyoke, as well as with area youth. For example, The Care Center (now in partnership with the Performance Project) has run the Teen Resource Project, an after-school creative youth development program for at-risk teens in partnership with the Holyoke Public Schools for over 30 years.

More recently, Way Finders, an affordable housing developer based in Springfield, broke ground on a new project, the Library Commons, a mixed-use development featuring 38 residential units for households at 60% or higher of the area median income, along with retail and cultural spaces. The Library Commons sits a few blocks south of The Care Center, near the Holyoke Public Library, and will include space dedicated to arts and culture programs at Roqué House. Named after Puerto Rican educator and suffragist Ana Roqué de Duprey, Roqué House hopes to further change ideas around who has a right to affordable and safe housing, as well as the pursuit of education, creativity, and self-fulfillment. Ten of the two- to three-bedroom units within the Library Commons will house teen parents who are enrolled in post-secondary education programs, while The Care Center will manage educational and cultural offerings, counseling, an artist-in-residence program, and additional ancillary support services to residents of the Commons.

First Lady Michelle Obama awarding the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities to representatives from The Care Center.
The Care Center is a recipient of the 2011 National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor recognizing community-based arts and humanities youth programs in the United States, presented by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. (Image: The Care Center)

“We joke that we cracked the code. A combination of high expectations, a matter-of-fact attitude toward success, and support works. We see the shift in the young women who come to The Care Center. It’s a posture change, a look in the eyes, an honest change in the way they look at the world,” Teschner said. Indeed, this ethos around high expectations and thinking beyond what exists is palpable within The Care Center, as well as city government, both entities which have examined what it means to integrate creativity and community.

This through-line between The Care Center and the city is evident in the close relationship shared between Care Center staff and numerous city departments, as well as in the sentiments expressed by youth.

“Holyoke is a city that cares about its people,” Tessa shared as she spoke of the rarity in finding a place like The Care Center that helps “make everything possible.” It’s also reflective of what can happen when organizations listen deeply, identify obstacles, and both courageously and creatively find solutions in partnership with other entities that share a common goal: a goal of developing a supportive city that truly invests in its community.

When asked to try and sum up all they had gained from being at The Care Center, Tessa (age 16), AJ (age 22), and Crystal (age 19) responded, with the following three statements:

“I have understanding.”

“I know I am capable.”

“I am successful.”

These outcomes reflect Teschner’s vision that includes the advice of, “Don’t be afraid to articulate your needs and vision. Be bold.” Following this advice has allowed so many young women to bring their dreams to fruition. These strengthened lives have also resulted in collective changes in our communities and inspire us all to take those next steps forward with passion and purpose in building brave futures together.

Through the Eyes of Photographer James E. Reed

Apprentices at Reeds show
High School apprentices and Christina Turner (Director of Apprentices & Interns) pose with James E. Reed’s great-granddaughter, Carol at the opening of the exhibition.

High school apprentices at the New Bedford Whaling Museum created an exhibition focusing on New Bedford’s first black photographer, James E. Reed.

Reed, a prominent African-American photographer born and raised in the New Bedford area, captured the city’s landscape and influential citizens over the course of his 34-year photography career.

Studying the history of New Bedford and photography as well as the business of the discipline, apprentices gained insight into Reed’s aesthetic and artistic style.

New Bedford Superior Courthouse Past New Bedford Superior Courthouse Present

New Bedford Superior Courthouse: Past and Present (recreated by Joshua).

Reed’s Grace Episcopal Church Destiny’s modern day recreation of Reeds Grace Episcopal Church

Reed’s Grace Episcopal Church and Destiny’s modern day recreation.

They explored the history of New Bedford through the eyes of the photographer, gaining inspiration for their project; honoring Reed’s legacy by recreating his work with modern-day influential community members (selected by the group) and local landmarks depicted in his pieces. Through this project, youth also showcased the shift in photography over the years.

Hanging Reeds show Apprentices develop photos

Recipients of Mass Cultural Council’s 2018 Amplify grant, Reed’s Modern Studio exhibition was on display in the museum’s San Francisco room in the Summer of 2018.

Podcast: Museum Apprenticeships Transform Lives of New Bedford Youth

Sarah Rose (left) and Christina Turner (right)On the Mass Cultural Council’s podcast, Creative Minds Out Loud, we spoke with New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Christina Turner and Sarah Rose.

The City of New Bedford wanted to increase its high school graduation rates. As their response, New Bedford Whaling Museum launched the High School Apprenticeship Program, which provides resources and support to students that deepen community engagement and cultivate college and career readiness. Director of Apprentices and Interns Christina Turner and then Vice President of Education and Programs Sarah Rose share how the apprenticeship program has grown into a nationally-recognized model for creative youth development – with a 100% graduation rate for its participants.

Listen to the episode.

Read the transcript.

Check out other episodes featuring Creative Youth Development leaders.

Hamilton Happening

Young women walking to Boston Opera House to see Hamilton

This fall Hamilton, the musical and cultural phenomenon, drew standing-room-only crowds from adults and children of all ages during its run at the Boston Opera House. Along with the show came the Hamilton Education Program — a partnership between The Gilder Lehrman Institute, the producers of Hamilton, and the Lin-Manuel Miranda family — in which students from high schools with high percentages of low-income families are invited to see the show and integrate Alexander Hamilton and the founding era into their classroom studies.

2,500 students from schools across Massachusetts attended two stirring special events in Boston, where young people performed their own Hamilton-inspired dance, music, and spoken word on the very stage where the play had been performed. These impassioned readings and performances were accompanied by thundering applause and cheers from an audience that owned each line being recited. By presenting an original work on the founding era, each young person had earned their way to this stage, using their creativity to bring history to life through monologues, rhymes, songs, and poems.

Before the show, teachers guided students through a unique, hands-on class project using Gilder Lehrman Institute resources to introduce the people, events, and documents of the founding era. Students also learned how Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, incorporated primary sources into the songs he wrote for the show and used that knowledge to produce their own performance pieces.

Mass Cultural Council proudly supported this unique learning opportunity, as schools took advantage of our Big Yellow School Bus grants to give students a chance be part of the cultural movement sparked by Miranda’s genius. Many of our Creative Youth Development programs participated actively, bringing their vision and voice onto the stage:

Hamilton inspired me to take a chance. Like Alexander Hamilton, don’t wait for things come to you. Like Aaron Burr; you’ve got to go for it.” – Luis Gonzalez, Margarita Muñiz Academy student

“I think Hamilton‘s deeper meaning shows us that there are many perspectives to see something and we should always keep an open mind.” – Francely Rosario, Margarita Muñiz Academy student

Hamilton showed me that in life, there is nothing that can give you what you want. You need to work hard to get what you want.” – Adonis Jimenez, Margarita Muñiz Academy student

Hamilton made me think of more ways one can be creative with art.” – Edwin Padilla, Margarita Muñiz Academy student

New Bedford Whaling Museum Named 2017 NAHYP Awardee

L_R Yamilex Ramus Peguero, Maria Cardoso, Christina Turner (Dir. Apprentices & Interns) with the NAHYP Award in Washington, D.C.Mass Cultural Council extends hearty congratulations to New Bedford Whaling Museum for receiving the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program (NAHYP) Award for their High School Apprenticeship Program. The High School Apprenticeship Program immerses students in skill-based humanities and interpretive sciences projects, mentorship, and valuable life skills instruction such as financial literacy, college preparation, public speaking, and audience engagement.

For almost two decades, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities has presented the NAHYP Awards, the nation’s highest honor for out of school arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of America’s young people, particularly those from underserved communities. Presented annually in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts , National Endowment for the Humanities  and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the award recognizes outstanding Creative Youth Development (CYD) programs from all over the country from a range of urban and rural settings. (See all 2017 Awardees.)

The NAHYP Award showcases and supports excellence in programs that open new pathways to learning, self-discovery, and achievement. Programs are also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.

To date, 51 students have graduated from the Museum’s High School Apprenticeship Program, 100% have graduated from high school and 94% pursued some form of post-secondary education. About 40% of alumni have returned to the museum as part-time employees, interns, volunteers, and guest speakers.

Out of a pool of over 350 NAHYP nominations nationwide, three Massachusetts programs were also recognized as finalists this year:

The achievements of these programs speak to the exemplary work in the field of CYD happening across the Commonwealth and a strong testament to all of those committed to working with youth to achieve social change through the arts, humanities, and sciences.

Apprentices Build Boats & Life Skills

Boat building by New Bedford Whaling Museum’s High School Apprenticeship Program participantsOn a Thursday afternoon in March, students at New Bedford Whaling Museum’s High School Apprenticeship Program are  diligently at work. Decked out in goggles and gloves, they use a blueprint to construct a boat – a life-size replica of a small, paper model. From assembling to smoothing, gluing and prepping, students take care of the entire operation.

Open to low-income New Bedford high school students, the Apprenticeship Program is designed to immerse students in skill-based projects in the humanities and interpretive sciences, intensive mentorship, and life skills instruction, including college preparation and financial literacy. They also receive training in public speaking, personal comportment, and audience engagement. Students meet four days a week after school in the Museum’s Apprentice Lab.

Apprentices exemplify the mission of the program with clear professionalism, goal-oriented motivation and resourcefulness. As students directed a tour through the diverse galleries describing the exhibits with a comfortable familiarity, it was clear that the museum is a second home.

“I have learned about some of the components that are used to make boats and actually how to build a boat. I have also learned how to handle my personal finances.” – Kelton, youth participant

“This program has challenged me because it’s made me more open and more comfortable talking to people.” – Darlene, youth participant

“[The Apprenticeship Program] has challenged me to practice my English” – Suely, youth participant

“The program has really challenged me to find a balance between school and work.”  – Ryland, youth participant

“Traveling to Iceland [with the program] was honestly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been given. It really changed my outlook on people and I’d really love to go back and explore more.” – Alexandra, youth participant

Boat building by New Bedford Whaling Museum’s High School Apprenticeship Program participants

To date, there have been 47 graduates from the Apprenticeship Program. 100% have graduated from high school and 93% have pursued post-secondary education. This year, an apprentice will attend an Ivy League school in the fall, the first of the program’s graduates to do so. A second program graduate is also scheduled to receive their Master’s in 2018. The program boasts a strong alumni base with past apprentices returning to the museum as part-time employees, interns, volunteers, and guest speakers.

The group’s boat is set to float at the Boat Launching Party on May 20 at the Community Boating Center of New Bedford.