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Ridgelines Language Arts Project Aims to Create Poetry Library at Youth Detention Center

 

Ridgelines Language Arts, the Centre County nonprofit that uses the power of language arts to celebrate and empower under-heard voices in the region, is kicking off 2021 with a new project that benefits Central Counties Youth Center (CCYC), the youth detention center located in Bellefonte. 

The Ridgelines team aims to create a poetry library at the center, to benefit youth there even when Ridgelines isn’t able to continue its in-person programming at the center due to pandemic precautions.

“Ridgelines has worked with CCYC since 2018, when we piloted a program called Youth Songs, which we designed in collaboration with local musician and teaching artist Eric Ian Farmer,” says Abby Minor, Ridgelines’ founding director. “Youth Songs is a series of interactive mini-concerts designed to draw youth into [an] artistic community. Our goals have been to provide an opportunity for CCYC residents to interact with a model of music-as-self-discovery; to connect with an expert teaching musician; and to share their own stories.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, things haven’t gone quite as planned in 2020.

‘We haven’t been able to offer Youth Songs programming as we had hoped,” Minor says. “But, in the down time, we have started to imagine what we can do in addition to concerts — so, we’ve been working with a set of new teaching artists and planning for creative writing workshops and song writing workshops in addition to the concert model. And we’ve also come up with the idea of the poetry library as something we can offer as we wait to be able to do in-person programming again.”

According to CCYC director Dana Droll, there’s no set date for in-person programming to resume, “due to the uncertainty of COVID.” However, she notes the relationship between Ridgelines and CCYC since 2018 has been positive for residents and she hopes in-person programming can continue in the near future.

“Up to this point, we have only had the pleasure of having Eric Farmer entertain us,” Droll says. “He is phenomenal and the residents talk about the experience days later. When Abby approached me about adding new artists to our program, I never even hesitated. The residents we have can only become better after having this experience. It is positive programming and gives the residents an unexpected and unique opportunity while being detained.”

The upcoming poetry library will contain approximately 100 books, with works curated with the help of a local poetry teacher and poetry librarian.

“American poetry — and international poetry — is experiencing an incredible flowering right now, with poets from many different backgrounds writing on topics we haven’t seen so much in the past,” Minor says. “We have amazing poets like Natalie Diaz writing about family and addiction, Reginald Dwayne Bates writing about incarceration and — closer to home — poet Julia Kasdorf documenting the effects of fracking through poetry. We want to include books that deal with subjects youth at CCYC are familiar with, and also to present experiences and ideas that may be new.”

Ridgelines hopes to raise $2,000 for the poetry library and plans to purchase the core collection of new poetry books through Webster’s Bookstore via BookShop.org. Minor notes the importance of purchasing the collection’s first set of books new in order to support independent poetry publishers and local businesses. 

Following the initial establishment of the core collection, Ridgelines will put out a call for poetry book donations. Ridgelines is also setting up a book wishlist with Webster’s, so that supporters can purchase particular books for the library in support of the effort.

“… For most of our residents, they read to pass the time, usually [for the] first time for a lot of them. If we have a poetry library, this just adds options to broaden their minds…,” Droll says. “A lot of our residents have a creative side and do not know how to express it. Giving the residents a poetry library may help open a door to another creative world they did not realize existed. The fact that they’re detained means we have their undivided attention for a bit; why not [introduce] as much positive coping outlets as we can while we have them?” 

Ridgelines’ 2020–2021 programming at CCYC is supported by the Centre Foundation’s Patricia Farrell Music Fund. Support this and other Ridgelines programs via an online donation, at www.ridgelineslanguagearts.org/donate, or a mailed check, to Ridgelines, Inc., PO Box 162, Aaronsburg, PA 16820.