AmeriCorps VISTA Training at Pine Mountain Settlement School 11/10/16

The VISTAs I support, along with another VISTA Leader and several Partners For Education staff, organized and led several workshops (trainings) at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Bledsoe, KY on November 11.  Couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place — or more passionate and dedicated VISTAs and supervisor to host our event. I also designed our new t-shirt!

Of course, we had to begin with art — a sign in sheet the length of several tables — and I had to work art into my presentation on end of service Reflection and Sustainability Plan!

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As part of our day the PMSS VISTAs led us on a hike of the beautiful, historic, extensive grounds. They also taught us two contra/folk dances — and I remembered how much I once loved dancing!

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Becoming Aware…

I attended my first suicide awareness event on 10/26/2016, at Eastern Kentucky University: Walk For Hope sponsored by the Richmond/EKU National Alliance for Mental Illness. I became aware of this event through a support group I joined after losing my beloved friend, close companion and artistic collaborator to suicide on August 22, 2016.  As anyone who has suffered such a shocking loss can tell you — Owen’s death has changed my life.

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I believe this was the first event of its kind at EKU, and it was very well organized. The speakers, one who lost a son to suicide, were wonderful, and passionate as they told stories and explained their mission to help those affected by suicide — including the bereaved. Here is a link to a unique organization represented at the Walk For Hope, Shelby’s Way. The music was moving too.

I wish I could include more photographs of the crowds that attended — but I can’t. They weren’t there.  In fact — and maybe because I am one of the bereaved — I felt the curious and anxious eyes of pedestrians that passed us upon us as small, tight groups of supporters and sufferers sat and listened to wistful tunes and powerful stories of love and loss.  I could actually feel the stigma associated with the taboo subject of suicide as if it was catching, like an easily communicable disease.

With numbers of suicides in the area rising, this has to change. I hope I can be part of initiating that awareness-building and empathy encouraging change.  I think the very first thing I will voluntarily do is facilitate the creation of a beautiful, eye catching banner to hang at next year’s event.

 

 

Mountain Day 2016, Berea College

On 10/10/16 I participated in my first Mountain Day at Berea College. See more about the history of Mountain Day here.

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My Mountain Day began before dawn with a traditional mile-long hike up to the East Pinnacle at Indian Fort, an historic and sacred Native American site. I would estimate that close to a hundred other individuals — including an entire choir — joined in. They broke into song at sunrise. It was quite a moment.

I took my time coming down in broad daylight, however — and needed to shower and change (because of the unusually warm for eastern Kentucky weather) before returning to help man our AmeriCorps VISTA and Partners For Education/PartnerCorps table. We enticed Mountain Day attendees to learn more about AmeriCorps and VISTA by offering a raffle for VISTA Jeffrey Carpenter’s artworks — and an art activity that involved making cards with rubbings of fallen leaves. I “trained” several AmeriCorps VISTAs in creating these rubbings, and they in turn instructed table visitors in making their take-away card.

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It was a beautiful, productive and instructional day. My most valuable lesson: what an amazing community Berea College is, evidenced by the enthusiastic participation of so many of its students (more than I ever witnessed at any other higher ed institution during my sixteen years of formally teaching art) — and its commitment to the arts, evidenced by the several musical performances — and a drum circle! — at Mountain Day 2016.

 

Visiting VISTAS, Cumberland, KY, October 1, 2016

Alexia  Ault showing me sorghum processing

Alexia Ault showing me sorghum processing

Many thanks to Partners For Education/Berea College Higher Ground VISTAS for inviting me to the Kingdom Come Swappin’ Meetin’/Black Bear Festival on October 1 to watch sorghum processing — and attend a lively and hilarious performance of Life Is A Vapor at The Godbey Appalachian Center at Southeast KY Community and Technical College.

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I missed the milling part, but no big deal…it was done by machine instead of the usual mule! Alexia, our Higher Ground VISTA showed me how the sorghum is cooked and reduced, and the green gunk and foam at the top of the boiling/simmering vat skimmed off. Eventually a smoky/sweet tasting molasses is produced — which I got to taste with a “dipper”, a piece of cane hacked off with a knife by Applachian Center Director Robert Gipe.

I also got a tour of the festival as well as of the fine arts building — which is graced by this beautiful text based and storytelling themed mural. The second, figurative mural was created by many hands, each taking charge of a tile, which gives the overall piece an authenticity and energy not found in more “technically perfect” murals. I loved them both.

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Then, at 6:30 p.m., I attended a Higher Ground performance of “Life Is A Vapor”. According to VISTAS Alexia Ault and Cassidy Wright, Higher Ground productions are written by the performers themselves, and based on real people known by the cast and community — so they are really about life stories. And by the way, I didn’t think I was up to seeing a play about a funeral — but it was hilarious and touching.

 

Higher Ground about to perform Life Is A Vapor

Higher Ground about to perform Life Is A Vapor

Life Is A Vapor poster designed by Cassidy Wright

Life Is A Vapor poster designed by Cassidy Wright

9/11 Day of Service at Sustainable Berea Urban Farm

Partners For Education/PartnerCorps AmeriCorps VISTAs efforts came together on 9/10/16 at Sustainable Berea’s Urban Farm as teams of volunteers worked on creatively painting rain barrels, to be sold to benefit the organization.  The event was Celebrate the Harvest, the day was hot but beautiful and the volunteers, many of them children, were enthusiastic and amazing.  Thanks to all who helped!

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Richmond Register photograph

Richmond Register photograph

Front page of Berea Citizen

Front page of Berea Citizen

9/11 Day of Service, Part 2

Here are AmeriCorps/PartnerCorps VISTAS I support, gathering together to prepare rain barrels for community painting at the Celebrate The Harvest Festival in Berea, KY.

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We prepared several barrels for painting, added base coats to several more that had already been primed and applied line art to them so the community can have a fun, easy time finishing them with us on 9/10/16 at Sustainable Berea.

Day of Service #1, PartnerCorps VISTA

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Had a great artistic time at Sustainable Berea on Saturday 8/27/16. Thanks to the PartnerCorps VISTAS from Partners For Education for lending a hand, prepping barrels to be creatively designed for the upcoming Celebrate The Harvest Festival in and around the Artisan Village in Berea, Kentucky on 9/10/16 when these barrels will be painted by the community, with the assistance of additional artistic VISTAS, and then offered for sale at Sustainable Berea.

The Art Bag Lady In Appalachia

Where I work now. Beautiful.

Where I work now. Beautiful.

This is an aerial view of the place in which I now work.  It is as different as you could possibly imagine from the landscape, as well as the path my life has taken over the past six years. I still can’t believe I’m here.

Berea College, at the edge of Appalachia.

In early spring, I journeyed to this beautiful place. It was not my first visit to Berea, Kentucky, but it felt like I was seeing it for the first time. And myself in it, after a swift interview for an AmeriCorps VISTA position, and, back at the Boone Tavern, a brief read of a book about the mission and history of Berea College. Reading it made me feel at home for the first time in a long time.  Maybe forever.

Shortly afterward, I accepted a VISTA Leader position at Partners For Education. Then, in quick succession, a series of serious changes transformed my life. Some of them were politically driven — like the drying up of funding for teaching artists in after school and art enrichment programs in my (former) area. Some were personal.  And some of were physical — like discovering, purely by accident, that my heart was literally broken in a very small yet significant spot. And my knees are simply not as strong, or as flexible, as they used to be.

 

In any event after these and other travails, I am here, being of service and rebuilding my life again at my advanced age. And loving it.

Luna Moth captured on the screen @Middletown School, Berea College.

Luna Moth captured on the screen @Middletown School, Berea College.

More coming soon.