Archives for November 2016

Nature Matters… and Advocacy Does Too

My time at the Arts & Science Council (ASC) has been spent doing things I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do in a professional setting. So far these things have included hiking, promoting a documentary, observing teaching artists in Pre-K classrooms, managing a professional web designer, event planning, and learning how to code. These four months on the job have been a whirlwind of excitement and growth. To state it simply, I’m feeling an immense amount of gratitude for these diverse experiences and the DIF program overall.

Nature Matters... and Advocacy Does Too

The DIF position at ASC is situated in the Education Department. Our team of seven is split between two locations due to our offsite, out-of-school program called Studio 345 which offers free classes for high school students in music, screen printing, mixed media, photography, and film. It takes everything in my power to stay away from that place (read: you can find me there most afternoons). During the summer, Studio 345 offers the Journeys Program which is also free to students but relies on an application process to select its participants.

I was fortunate enough to participate in this program as a mentor to fifteen deserving, creative, extraordinary high school students from Charlotte. Our local hikes to Crowders Mountain, the RibbonWalk Nature Preserve, kayaking on the Catawba River, and a weekend spent at Appalachian State University prepared the students for a week spent at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. There, the students were immersed in outdoor education sessions where they tested water quality, practiced orienteering, participated in a University of Tennessee citizen science research initiative on Salamanders, spoke with Park Rangers, all while developing a newfound relationship with the outdoors. The lack of cell service forced students to turn to alternate sources of entertainment. Most nights I found the whole group playing a rowdy game of Uno or singing loudly, accompanied by our resident troubadour Ukulele player.

Nature Matters... and Advocacy Does Too

Over the course of one summer spent in nature, these teenagers transformed. I saw it with my own eyes. From a lifestyle devoid of walking and with much of their time spent buried in their phones, these young city people have now experienced the wonder of a quiet forest and the serenity of a mountain stream. Many of them now hope to attend Appalachian State University after having spent time in a college dorm room. Most of them have created art inspired by these trips that they’ve shared with family and the greater community. Most notably, one of our students wrote her college application essay about the things she experienced while on the Journeys Program this summer. Here is a quote from her essay:

“[Over the summer] I learned that I desire to be an outdoor educator just like ones we met at Tremont. I learned that I want to take others out into nature and give them the experiences that the wonderful Tremont staff gave to us. Before entering Studio 345, I had no idea that my life would take a completely different turn. I transformed from a misplaced person to a focused individual in a single summer. This is all thanks to the summer I spent with the Studio 345 Journeys Program.”

Nature Matters... and Advocacy Does Too

Last year’s Journeys Program spent their culminating week at Yellowstone National Park and took a film crew along. The students’ transformative experiences are documented in ASC’s second advocacy documentary entitled Nature Matters. I was proud to organize the film’s premiere just two weeks ago where it was viewed by a sold-out crowd. I’d encourage everyone to attend an upcoming screening in order to witness the benefits of exposing a nature-deficient generation to the wonder of the great outdoors. For more information and to see the trailer, visit

Creating an Intentional Culture – Superman Style

Halloween started early at the Communities In Schools (CIS) central office because of a plan to bring staff together for a chance to bond. Once October rolled around, staff began to decorate the office using odds and ends and creativity that would have left Willy Wonka amazed. People decorated their office doors, cubicles, and copy rooms. The effect of the decorations was a synthesis of Halloween and Thanksgiving themed items that made Fall come alive. It took a while to decorate the whole office because people had to use whatever spare moments they could find, but the result was mesmerizing. Fall had come to CIS.

As Halloween drew closer, the administration team gathered to think of activities for staff and their children to do. Our Executive Director has emphasized the importance of a strong culture within the organization and so this Halloween event was planned with the goal of giving staff the chance to learn more about each other and their families (staff were allowed to bring their children and spouses to celebrate the special day)!

After a power-house brainstorming session, the administration decided to have a word search, scavenger hunt, cookie decorating station, happy monster hand creation (clear gloves filled with popcorn and candy corn), and magician. Once people had volunteered for various duties, we addressed perhaps the greatest challenge of the day. Would we be allowed to come in costume?

An intense debate raged for almost a minute before we decided that we could wear costumes to help celebrate the special day. My mind raced as I wracked my brain for what superhero I should come dressed as. After another minute of deliberation, I decided on superman.

Time passed during which we organized the events and prepared for the special day.

Halloween: October 31, 2016

            With my cape billowing behind me I strode confidently into work as only the man of steel could do. It was not long before I was set up by a tiny Iron Man, Hulk, Ninja Turtle, Batman, Cleopatra, Police Officer, Scooby-Doo, and Nemo. Many of the staff brought their kids into work to participate in the festivities. The day passed in a whirlwind of activity. Sweeping from one station to the next, I had the chance to visit with staff who are usually working in CMS schools, their spouses, and their children. I learned so much about the people that I work with on Halloween.

I dramatize the events of our Halloween extravaganza in order to hopefully give some insight into the amazing energy and passion with which everyone approached this project. The event gave me a chance to see colleagues outside of our normal work context, which was very special. This holiday gave us all the chance to make memories, which served as the basis for new friendships, and to invest in each other.

The culture at Communities In Schools is one of the strongest and most vibrant that I have ever seen. Everyone is so supportive, caring, and invested in each other. I believe that this event signals the incredible work that has been done to strengthen the culture at CIS. It becomes easy to devote yourself to an organization that devotes itself to you.