This summer I am interning at the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, “a private, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to providing every Pennsylvanian with access to the humanities.”
Despite the neat modifier featured above, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council is a bit of a tricky organization to define. It’s essentially a regranting agency i.e. granting funds from organizations like the Pew Center to independent arts initiatives, but also heads various out-of-school-time and workforce development programming such as the Teen Reading Lounge, a book club geared towards older youth and featured in libraries across Pennsylvania. So PHC is not a government agency and it’s not a library, but it can be difficult to explain what makes us different. And the presence of “humanities” in the title, a word loaded with earnest platitudes and general hem-hawing, does not make the elevator-pitch any easier. But the great thing about working at a humanities organization with humanities-educated staff is that the ambiguity of this situation is not lost on us—identity and self-definition are issues we grapple with in staff meetings, phone conferences, and collateral pieces. Right now, it’s like we’re part nonprofit titan and part precocious teen just trying to figure stuff out. Like a Gorgon, but it’s wearing a cardigan…and maybe some Buddy Holly glasses.
Back to the point: the PHC is in a period of all-around transition—cool, collaborative, civic engagement transition. We’re funding fewer things, but the ones that we are, are rooted in community development with long-term and far-reaching agendas. Most recently, PHC is funding the West Scranton park revitalization efforts of the Scranton Neighborhood Pocket Park Collaborative, a collective formed from six area non-profits and led by the Scranton Area Foundation. Just last week I was up in the Electric City itself with the PHC crew, awarding a $50,000 check to the Collective and attending a roundtable on the role of the humanities in civic engagement. Side note: I got to order the oversized check and it is a more complicated process than one might think.
The Pocket Park Collaborative has been serving as a great model for another project coming down the pike—the Chester Cultural Corridor (C3 for short), which intends to reopen the shuttered Deshong Park as a meeting center and Cultural Corridor in Chester, a city that has long been saddled with high unemployment and crime rates.
Where Rachel the Intern comes into all of this is in that most magical realm of Internland: Communications and Development. PHC is composed of a small staff and there is room for me to help out in all departments, but I am officially under the instruction of the Director of Communications, Sherry Hicks. On a typical day, I have tasks ranging from composing and editing press releases to helping organize donor and community outreach events to conducting research for grant initiatives such as Veterans Arts and the aforementioned TRL programs. The English major in me is pretty thrilled by all this because I have the opportunity to hone my writing and rhetoric skills while gaining professional experience in the nonprofit sector.
Well, that’s all for now!