Archives for November 2014

A Day in Court

I enter the new county court house, a shiny downtown number that has been open for less than a year; floor-to-ceiling glass windows line the hallways, and the floor gleams like it’s just been waxed. A motley assortment of stoic and grinning police officers greet me as I shuffle through the metal detectors and make my way to the second floor where I will be observing domestic violence court proceedings for the day.

At the top of the stairs there is a waiting room set aside for those who have been victims of domestic violence. Here they can request emergency restraining orders and wait with their families before their cases are heard in court. I tap on the waiting room’s thick glass windowpane, and my host Susan buzzes me in. Susan is a Presbyterian minister and courtroom advocate for Helpmate, Asheville’s domestic violence agency, and today she is my host. Susan ushers me into the office with a welcome and a reminder that I should not open the door for anyone.

The room is filled with women, mostly, though a few men dot the walls, too. Some are alone, others with a mother, father, or friend close by.  A few start conversations with me, asking me to look up an address on my phone or comparing jobs (one is a nursing tech. at the hospital just a few blocks from my office). Some wear graphic tees and sweatpants; others expensive slacks and freshly pressed blouses. One speaks Spanish, another Thai, many more with the sweet twang that marks them as long-time residents of Western North Carolina. They have names that rhyme. Marla. Carla. And names that don’t. Tanya. Janet. Maria.

I am awkward, wanting to help but unsure what my role here is supposed to be. Do people want someone to talk with, or do they want privacy? Am I intruding in what is already for many victims a harrowing experience? My face feels rubbery, my arms artificially stiff as I grasp my responsible-young-professional notebook and pen.

Domestic Violence Court cases are heard en masse every Thursday with forty to sixty cases on the docket. Today, however, there are seventy-one.  Increasing national awareness and a new comprehensive plan developed by Buncombe County to address domestic violence has increased the number of people seeking services and judicial recourse. The paradox of this situation is obvious but true: It’s a good thing that so many people are here; it’s a horrific thing that so many people are here.

The actual courtroom experience is a bizarre combination of wrenching and utterly boring. One woman shakes visibly as Susan rubs her back.  Several men file in handcuffed, brought directly from their jail cells to face charges. One defendant yells an impassioned speech that no one understands, and the judge orders a psych evaluation. Still, it’s hard to hear: judges and lawyers rarely raise their voices, and people are constantly shuffling in and out of the courtroom slamming a heavy latched door as they do. Most of the conversation is about procedure, not Atticus Finch-esque orations on the nature of justice.

Two things stand out:

1)     The courtroom is confusing, and

2)     Most of us need legal representation to navigate it.

People can be appointed free lawyers in criminal cases, but not in civil cases, which all these cases were.  Multiples times, the judge had to re-explain the process to the plaintiff or defendant. For example, the judge would tell the plaintiff, “You can request a continuance if you are not ready to proceed at this time,” and the plaintiff would respond, “Yes your honor, I would like to continue and resolve the case now,” not realizing that requesting a stay would mean the opposite of resolving now. Both used the same word, but they were not speaking the same language.

It’s confusing for anybody, but this system is particularly trying for those who are experiencing abuse. A victim often experiences symptoms of trauma such as difficulty concentrating and memory loss that make accessing any services difficult in addition to any coercion leveraged by their perpetrator (threats if the victim presses charges etc.). Add to this a system as complex and intimidating as the one I saw, and the need for legal aid becomes obvious.

Here in Western North Carolina, an organization called Pisgah Legal Services provides free legal help to low-income people on issues of housing, immigration, and domestic violence among others.  Those who have their help look noticeably relieved. In 2013, Pisgah closed 1,305 domestic violence cases.

I know six hours in a courthouse paint an incomplete picture, but they do paint a powerful one. That Thursday I felt the fear victims knew in facing their abusers; I saw their resolution and reliance in the same moments.  I sensed the comfort given by court advocates’ presence and the importance of legal representation for people when they are most vulnerable.

Again, all I can think of is obvious and contradictory. It’s a good thing that so many people are here; it’s a horrific thing that so many people are here.

If you think you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, help is available. Please call the national domestic violence at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Get tips on how to help a friend or family member here.

 

Studio 345 Students Celebrate Park Journeys Trip

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On November 18, 2014, Studio 345 students, parents and staff convened to celebrate the Studio’s partnership with Park Journeys, Inc. Park Journeys, Inc. is a youth development organization which seeks to educate, energize and empower urban and rural youth. Last summer, ten Studio 345 youth were selected to participate in a 16-week program which integrated exploration, wellness and civic engagement into a transformative journey. The three-piece journey began locally in Charlotte, when participants were charged with addressing a community-based need – youth homelessness. Participants made three trips to The Relatives – the only local organization focused on providing homeless youth with shelter and support services. The Studio 345 students worked together with Relatives’ clients to plant shrubbery and trees, and paint a “Safe Place” mural. As the culmination of this civic engagement component, the group selected Justin Ratchford to travel to Washington, DC to advocate for the issue at a higher level. As the group’s delegate, he sought to find national support and solutions for youth homelessness in his local community. The final component of the program was the

1966773_10152486135066027_7005002464604114988_ngroup’s trip to Yellowstone National Park. The students were challenged physically and socially throughout the trip, as they embarked on strenuous hikes and participated in many team-building activities. Chaperone Emily Pfahl reflected, “The students worked together, worked through their differences and grew throughout the trip – they emerged more confident and ready to take on foreign places.” Tuesday’s celebration included reflections from students, a rap performance inspired by the trip, a video slideshow and gallery exhibit of student photography. The festivities ended on an exciting note with a grant announcement that will make this trip possible for m ore Studio 345 scholars.

 

Farming with Casey

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Hi everyone!

Though a big part of me still feels like I just started working at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, another part can’t figure out how everything has fit into the past 5 months.  I feel like I could spend a lifetime learning about all of the work Casey does, and still have barely scratched the surface!  Casey is dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families in the United States.  The breadth of this mission is not lost on the foundation, and Casey does not seem to leave a stone unturned.  There are entire units dedicated to transforming the Child Welfare system, the Juvenile Justice system, building evidence based practices, policy reform and advocacy, economic opportunity, community change, research and evaluation, and developing leadership in these fields.  And for anyone who likes data and is interested in child well-being, you should definitely check out the KIDS COUNT data center at – http://datacenter.kidscount.org/.

When I started in July, the foundation was trying its first ever “Midsummer Convening.”  Basically, for three days, everybody at Casey had to put down their work and come together to participate in a variety of activities.  Everyone has such passion and drive in what they do, with work ethics rivaling those of Davidson students around finals time, that I’m sure you can imagine some of the reactions when people were asked to step away from their day-to-day for so long.  By the end of the three days, however, everyone was raving about the experience.  We watched documentaries, had round table discussions, debates, and brainstorming sessions.  The opportunity to step back, reflect, and connect with people across the foundation was incredibly valuable.  Most excitingly, however, one of the days was dedicated to community service.  I got spend an entire day on a farm building a greenhouse, picking tomatoes, and shoveling compost with a medley of VP’s, directors, interns, and everyone in between across almost every unit.  Everyone had a blast getting their hands dirty and connecting with colleagues that they may have never come across in the office.

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Farming was just one of the options – some people decorated pots for planting (picture below), conducted mock interviews for young adults, spent time in a local homeless shelter, worked in classrooms, or created a mosaic for the newly built middle school in east Baltimore.  Though everyone at Casey is working tirelessly so that children have brighter futures, and approaching that work in a billion and one ways, the opportunity to do direct service seemed to have an energizing effect.  IMG_9142In reflecting upon our take-aways from the day, one person eloquently stated “every small thing we do for another human being matters, sometimes more than we know.”  And I think everyone was that much more excited about the idea that one more kid might wake up and think “today is full of possibility.”

 

Ecuador: Ama La Vida (Ecuador: Love Life)

At the beginning of August I moved to Quito, Ecuador to begin my fellowship with Timmy Global Health. Before I talk about my fellowship, here is some background information on the organization I am working with and how I became their fellow.

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About the organization: Timmy Global Health is a non-profit organization that expands access to healthcare and empowers volunteers to confront today’s most pressing global health challenges. Medical service teams travel to support 7 project sites in 5 countries by providing financial, medical, and human resources to the communities within each site. If you would like to know more about the organization visit www.timmyglobalhealth.org

How I became involved: My first year at Davidson I joined the college’s chapter of Timmy Global Health and it quickly became an integral part of my collegiate experience. Throughout my four years at Davidson I became more involved and dedicated to the organization’s mission to expand access to healthcare, including being the Davidson chapter President my senior year. Over winter break my last year I traveled to Quito, Ecuador on our chapter’s annual medical brigade. During the trip I was able to learn about TimmyCare (an electronic medical record system created specifically for Timmy Global Health) through using it in clinics and talking to the director of TimmyCare, Muz Ahmed. I left Ecuador knowing I wanted to go back to help expand TimmyCare; I just did not know how it could happen.

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How I became the TimmyCare Fellow: When I was looking for jobs senior year all I could think about doing was returning to Ecuador to work with Timmy Global Health to improve TimmyCare. However, I would have had to go as a volunteer and did not have the means to do so for a long period of time. The new “Build Your Own” fellowship through the Davidson Impact Fellows program provided me the perfect opportunity to pursue my dream job for the year after graduation. By receiving this fellowship through Davidson I was awarded the opportunity to give back to an organization that is important to me, to develop my skills as a computer programmer, to learn about another culture through living in Ecuador, and so much more.

What I do: As the TimmyCare Fellow I work with the director of TimmyCare, Muz Ahmed, to help update and improve the system based on its functionality during clinics and feedback from the clinic volunteers. Most days involve researching ways to improve the system as well as changing the code to update TimmyCare. My background in computer science is a basic foundation through two courses I took at Davidson. Thus, a majority of my time is learning how to make the changes in the system – either through research or with the guidance of Muz.

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Although my fellowship focuses on my work with TimmyCare, it also entails getting to know a new environment. The move from a small town in North Carolina to a big city in Ecuador has been the hardest obstacle for me to overcome so far in the fellowship. For example, before I moved I had never taken any form of public transportation. Now I use the public buses, the trolley, or taxi services almost daily. I still get lost on occasion, but I have learned that being lost is not always a bad thing. The other day I got to explore a part of the city I would have never seen otherwise because I went the wrong way to a co-worker’s house. Another big adjustment is the language barrier. I am conversational in Spanish, but did not realize how nervous I get when I speak it until I arrived here and in most situations, speaking Spanish is my only option. I have become more comfortable in Spanish conversations and have improved since I have been here. I still have a lot to learn during my time here – both through my work with TimmyCare and culturally. I had a slow start adjusting to living in Quito, but as I get accustomed to living here I am looking forward to the rest of my time as the TimmyCare Fellow.

Interdisciplinary Studies in Museums

This month, the Mint Museum will be hosting ArtFusion: NaNoWriMo Write-In. ArtFusions are monthly events geared toward young artfusion adults in the Charlotte area that unite art, culture, and community. These events serve as a fun way for adults to experience the museum and connect with the art.

This ArtFusion corresponds with the Mint’s new special exhibition, Connecting the World: The Panama Canal at 100. The exhibition celebrates the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal. It shows the building of the canal from all angles: the heroic, the harmful, and the scientific. What’s great about this show is not only its masterful design and the multimedia resources available, but the diverse number of interests that it can support: art, history, engineering,
environmentalism, travel—the list goes on. Further, this exhibition has been organized as a bilingual exhibition, meaning that all text panels have been duplicated in Spanish, so that its impact might reach even more people. Finally, in the curating of this exhibition, the Mint Museum commissioned a novella by New York Times Bestseller author Anthony Doerr, uniting the value of art and
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literature as one cultural importance.

The idea of celebrating National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) with our November ArtFusion is an exciting thing for us at the Museum. This gives us the chance to continue in the tradition of our commissioned novella and further the connection of art and writing. We will guide our visitors through the galleries and encourage them to take the meaningful documentation of the building of the Panama Canal as inspiration for their own stories.

On a slightly different note, I was able to attend last week’s Davidson Alumni event in Charlotte where Drs. Dave Wessner and Anne Fox presented on the art exhibition, Re/Presenting HIV/AIDS, a co-curated show with the Van Every and Smith Galleries at Davidson College. In their presentation Dr. Wessner and Dr. Fox touched on the value they saw and experienced in teaching their cross-discipline designed class: the ability to think “outside of the box” and push boundaries, the challenge in learning something outside of one’s comfort zone and being able to talk about it, and, of course, the connection that students can then make with the surrounding community. Hearing this brief talk reminded me the importance of interdisciplinary learning and made me value, even more, my education.

Dr. Fox and Dr. Wessner’s presentation also got me thinking about interdisciplinary interactions in the real world. With the opening of Connecting the World: The Panama Canal at 100, I realized that this is what the Mint Museum is doing. It is uniting many disciplines in this one exhibition and furthers the unity as it works with National Novel Writing Month to host a Write-In.

The importance of uniting such interests and using interdisciplinary methods is not only to cater to different individuals, but it encourages two groups of people (or more!) to come together and have meaningful conversation in the community. It is exciting to be a part of such a wonderful example of such efforts at the Mint.

 

Part of OC

Let me tell you the first few months at OrthoCarolina passed by in a blur. On one hand I was focused on adapting to the lifestyle of working from 8 to 5 and on the other I was trying to keep up with my med-school goals. It was harder than I expected to graduate from college and enter the real world even though I was lucky that Charlotte was partly familiar to me and I was living with a friend.  The first few days on the job consisted of learning and remembering different passwords, protocols, benefits and a lot of terms I was unfamiliar with: Vanguard? What’s that? At home, I would research anything I didn’t know or, you know, asked my mother what they were talking about.  Every opportunity is a learning opportunity!

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The first few weeks, I was sharing the office with my supervisor Carole, the VP of Clinical Operations.  Carole was amazing and would answer any questions I had and directed me to the people I needed to talk to in order to further along my project. She also took her time to get to know me and told me jaw-dropping stories of when she was training to be a nurse.  I have a feeling I will be looking back to her anecdotal stories when I am a medical student. Throughout the week, Carole kept sending emails left and right “introducing” me to people, which was a strange concept to me at first since I never actually met them until later. Finally, I got to meet someone new face-to-face: Susan from the OrthoCarolina Research Institute came to talk about helping me with the research component of my project. That same day, we all met with Dr. Murrey to talk about my purpose at OrthoCarolina.  I was a little nervous at first, but once the discussion started flowing I forgot all about it. I left Dr. Murrey’s office energized and ready to jump into developing this tool, but had to stop myself because that first required a lot of reading to get comfortable with the topic.

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OrthoCarolina is committed to providing excellent care and service. They are constantly working on ways to make healthcare more affordable, understandable and tailored around the patient needs.  My project has to do with the latter. When a patient walks through the doors, they carry a certain set of expectations and needs. Satisfaction surveys give us more information on the service provided, but sometimes does not reflect the subjective needs of the patients that were not met. For example, a patient is glad the wait long to see the doctor was short, but felt they did not get enough information on how to minimize pain. When a patient is dissatisfied they might not comply with treatment or turn to alternative medicine and other providers to try and satisfy their unmet needs. Either way, a patients’ health could be compromised and lead to increased costs of care for patients. The purpose of my project is to develop a tool that will help identify the needs of patients and what they are expecting to receive from an appointment. Using this tool we hope to not only improve the patient experience and tailor the appointment to the individual, but hopefully make an encounter more effective and efficient. In other words, we are tackling that burning question in healthcare, what makes a patient feel healed?

Engaging ALL Audiences

In the art world, education not only means understanding the historical value of art, but also skills like critical thought, discussion, and even imagination and creativity. In my internship experiences that have led me to this position today, I have learned a lot about arts education and the value that is has in establishing well-rounded individuals who are engaged in their community. Art Education ties my two interests together: art and engaging the community. We typically think of young children and school-aged groups when considering both general and arts education – but I’m sure that we are all aware that learning happens throughout one’s life and that it is important to maintain it.

Here, I will briefly discuss different age groups and the value of their education in the arts while also touching on some challenges that each demographic presents.

 

Early Childhood (ages 0-5): This age group is very important to connect with and not often recognized. Working with young children is a tough task and requires much manpower, but the benefits of exposing this age group to new settings, artistic representations (color, shapes, three dimensionality), and social interaction prepare children for learning in school. Not to mention such activities make a museum a place of familiarity, comfort, and security – things necessary for later involvement with the museum!

Youth (6-12): Youth involvement in the arts is probably the most common among education programming at museums, as it is made easier with partnerships with schools. And it is a very very valuable time in a child’s life to make connections to culture and creativity. The activities that engage students with art help develop skills necessary in the 21st century include critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, and communication and collaboration, among others. The challenge presented here is the decreased funding for the arts in schools: schools no longer have the money to send students to museums. Museums, therefore, are making the efforts to reach out to schools and train teachers on how to incorporate arts into the classroom.

Families: Working with families is very important because it encourages the strengthening of familial bonds within the community. It is important for children and adults, from the same family or not, to interact in a fun and beneficial way; it helps develop refined social skills and creates a place where parents and children can have fun together. Activities geared toward families are moments that individuals can take home with them and reflect on later. This continued engagement is a way to bring consistency to cultural awareness and family bonding.

Teens: This is the group I feel is most important to connect with when it comes to art. Teenagers have a special relationship self-expression, a primary concept in art, especially modern and contemporary. Art institutions can easily harness that energy and put it to good use, helping teens develop professional skills and encourage their youthful creativity at the same time. The challenge with this age group is connecting with them in a “cool” and nonacademic way. Teenagers, I have learned, often want to be responsible for their own choices, a characteristic that needs to be respected if a program is to connect with them.

Young Adults: I feel very connected to this group as well, as I am a young adult myself. Connecting with the young adult population within a community engages a demographic that is often caught up with work and adjusting to the real world to take serious interest in cultural activities. However, engaging this age group is not only an important part of a culturally aware community, but it interests the world’s next leaders in the importance of art education and museums, and therefore, ensures the future success of the arts. Plus, just because we are “adults” now doesn’t mean that we don’t like to make art!

Older Adults: This age group is an interesting one. Many retired individuals establish hobbies, some of which include visiting or volunteering at art museums. We often see higher numbers of attendance and membership from this age group. But beyond cultural involvement, exposing older adults to the arts is beneficial for sustaining activity of the mind. Many programs are being developed around the world that provide space for individuals suffering from dementia and their caregivers to interact with one another and the art before them. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has conducted a pioneering research initiative on this type of programming and its benefits. While these programs are incredibly valuable, these programs are run with a “therapy-like” quality to them and therefore require a higher amount of resources and energy.

 

What I’m getting at with this post, and what I’m learning in my position at the Mint Museum, is that there are a wide variety of audiences that we should reach out to – for the benefit of the museum, for the benefit of the individuals, and for the benefit of the community. But I am also learning that these things take resources that are not always available. No one wants to choose between groups of people to help, but ultimately it can come down to that. Hopefully that choice is only temporary and that eventually, museums can help everyone.

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