Wednesday, November 26, 2008

High expectations for Obama

Today, I got to catch up with my old friend Nathalie. She was a student last year in the Youth Arts Program here at Ayuda. She's not able to take classes this year because she is responsible for taking care of her little brother and sister after school until her mom gets home from work. She is currently in 10th grade at CHAD (Charter High school for Architecture and Design). She's a great artist and I am glad to hear she's excelling there with all A's and one B. I just wanted to share this part of my conversation:
"The violence is getting really bad at school. All of the teachers say, 'This isn't CHAD anymore; it's chaos.' But you know, Obama said things are going to change so..."
Me: "Do you think Obama being the president will bring change to your school?"
Nathalie: "Well, that's what he said!"
Go for it Obama...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Do the Next Thing

Last week in the prison, my coworker was talking about how to get through the days when you are locked up. In addition to my work at Ayuda, I have been working 2 days a week w/ the Mural Arts Program in the Philadelphia Prisons. So far, I have worked with juvenile women and men; teenagers in jumpsuits. My coworker is very inspiring to me; she's a former inmate and has a lot to share with the juveniles about what it takes to get one's life straight when you get out of jail. One of the girls last week was pretty much freaking out about how she couldn't do it anymore... being in jail was killing her. My coworker was talking about how you can't look down the road when you're locked up; you can only do what is right in front of you whether that's a phone call, writing a letter, eating a meal, making a picture, watching tv... it's too paralyzing to think about what lies ahead and how you can't control what those things will be. I shared with the girls that my Mom had sent me a poem and it talks about doing the next thing. They all wanted me to bring in a copy for them.

Today, I go back to the prisons; I carry two things. One, a poem for the juvenile women and two, the funeral papers for one of the juvenile men who's friend got shot two weeks ago. The victim's father and grandmother go to my church. His murder hit our church pretty hard as he was only 15. Both the inmate and I were pretty shocked that we had this boy's death in common. I felt a strong sense of God's presence as he and I talked about his death. It was a unique opportunity for both of us to share something very intimate with a person that is very different. What does a white girl from West Virginia who loves to draw have in common w/ a black guy from West Philly who is locked up for murder? As we worked on drawing portraits of each other and talked about Robert's death, our connection was pretty strong. I'm thankful to God that we met so that I can bring in these pictures of his friend from the outside. The juvenile said, "Two of my boys have been shot since I've been locked up. I feel like I'm hiding from death in here." He's 17.

Here's the poem:
At an old English parsonage down by the sea,
There came in the twilight a message to me.
Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven
That, as it seems to me, teaching from heaven.
And all through the hours the quiet words ring,
Like a low inspiration, do the next thing.

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care.
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand,
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe 'neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering by thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance, be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons, do the next thing.

Author Unknown

Nuru Blog by Jake

Anybody interested in reading my brother Jake's blog while he is in Kenya launching the first Nuru International project, check it out here: fighting Goliath.

Read about Nuru International.

AND my brother got struck by lightning.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Giving it my best shot"

Our first few weeks of the Youth Art Courses have been crazy as usual and a reminder to me why I love my work at Ayuda. I am really energized by having the kids around again and working with my great teachers to provide a fun creative space for our kids. I wanted to share a story from our first week...

Shawn is a one of our daily visitors here at Ayuda. He comes for lots of reasons: he's a faithful boyscout, he loves to hang out with Ryan, Ayuda's Director of Development, and shred things for him, and he loves to draw. He has been showing me his drawings for quite sometime. I encouraged him to join our Beginning Drawing class this fall. At first, Shawn was really enthused about joining the class. But as we got closer to the first day of class, he seemed to seem less and less interested in the class. I was unsure what the issue was for him as to why he was losing interest in joining. Finally, I asked him pointedly, "Shawn, today is the first class. Do you want to be in the class?" He looked at me with a deer-in-headlights look and said, "Yeah, I do, but my mom's got lots of bills so I don't think I will be able to do it." The enrollment fee for the youth art courses is $50 for 10 weeks (about 60% less than other art training available for our youth). I told him that I had some scholarships available for youth and that he may qualify. I told him that he could try out the first class to see if he liked it and I would go and talk with his mom. He still seemed very unsure, but he went downstairs to join the other 5 students and I walked across the street to chat with his mom.

Shawn's mom and I have met and talked some in the past. She knew that I do art stuff. I found that she knew about the class and about the $50 and she said there was no way. She was wearing scrubs and had just gotten home from work. As we sat there and talked for a while, 2 teenagers walked in and out of the house, one 18 and one 15. Joining us in our visit was a 2 year old cutie wearing his jammies. All of these kids were hers: 5 kids in all ranging from age 2-18. And it is just her providing for them. No wonder $50 for an art class seemed a little "luxurious" for one child when it seemed that every dollar she made at her job would be spent on food, rent, and clothes for the kids before she even brought home her paycheck. I sat there thinking about my own paychecks and how I just keep them all. All for me. How does she do it? Eventually, I assured her that I did have people who wanted to sponsor youth to take these art classes and that I could grant him a scholarship. She was still hesitant at first, but eventually, she relaxed and smiled; she said she knew that Shawn drew all the time and he really wanted to join. She agreed to fill out the paperwork. As I left the porch, she said, "Make sure you tell Shawn that I signed him up!"

Drawing class ended; kids trickled upstairs all trying to show my what they drew all at the same time. I pulled Shawn aside and said I had something to tell him. Again, that sick look! I said, "I just wanted you to know that your mom signed you up for the class." He literally erupted. His grin was huge; he yelled out; he started spinning in the chair! He kept saying, "She did? She did? Really? I can stay in the class?" It was really fun... and talking with his mom later in the week, she mentioned how happy he was to be in the class.

And that's just one. We have 19 other great kids, each with their own story, enrolled in the fall courses. One of the things that I go over with the kids in our classes in the beginning is the commitment that we all make to take artistic risks. I love to ask the kids what they think that means... "Doing something dangerous." "Drawing a gun." One of the photography students suggested that it meant "giving it my best shot." Yes. I ask all the kids to commit to doing that while they are in our program and I tell each of them that it is my commitment to them to take the risks involved, artistic and other, in shaping Ayuda's Community Arts Program. We're giving it our best shot.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Some thoughts from my latest Ayuda Arts Update

Creative Work in the Midst of Violence
September has arrived again. We greet the fall excited about what this next year will hold for Ayuda's Community Arts Program. We continue to hold out our collaborative creative work as an important part of what Ayuda (meaning "help" in Spanish) is about. As we have prepared our themes for this year, we have decided to turn our intent gaze into the violence that surrounds us and abides within us. Violence is dangerous territory. Alone, violence has the ability to reduce our lives to a base level existence. Once there, there is one purpose: survival. Our days become two-dimensional where we hide to avoid the intrusion of the violence that exists outside us and we seek distraction to avoid wrestling with the violence we find in ourselves.

The 16th chapter of Ezekiel describes God finding an unwanted child exposed to its environment striving for survival. "No one looked on you with pity or had compassion... rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, as you lay there in your blood I said to you, 'LIVE!'" This allegory continues to describe how God bathes, clothes, adorns, and feeds the child with the finest of foods.
This is our God who encounters one discarded and restores worth and beauty.

Ayuda's mission statement speaks of revealing Jesus' restoration: restoring our souls to that Community which created it; restoring the humanity of one person relating to another; restoring voice to our inner search for identity and worth. Ayuda's persistence in doing creative work restores beauty to our community, which lies in danger of operating only from the pale necessity of survival.

"The dichotomy between beauty and necessity has always been a false tension. Yet as a distraction, it has been extremely effective at crippling our power to bring full-bodied, earth-rending change. In our line of work, the task of stoking our vision and constantly imagining possibilities is absolutely essential." - Dee Dee Risher, former editor at The Other Side.

We believe that creative work resists the heaviness of violence and brings about an imaginative engagement with possibilities beyond survival. At Ayuda, we feel brokenness. Our work is to daily choose restoration through that which is beautiful. And we invite you along.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Complicated Birthday Celebration

I turned 31 on September 8th this year. My housemate Susan wanted to gather some folks for dinner on Sunday the 7th to celebrate and chill in the backyard enjoying the break in the heat. On Saturday night, Susan was home (I was out) and she heard this shooting from our living room. She gathered with others to find out about this young man's death. This is how the paper read in the morning:

Ronell Davis, 29, was shot in the head and the knee at about 8:30 Saturday night on Franklin Street near Wingohocking, in Hunting Park, police said. Davis was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital at 9:05 p.m.
Walking to church in the morning, I realized it was the same house that recently had the banner of those who have passed from our neighborhood (see past post). The irony was painful. Today, there's a memorial out for Ronell:
It was a quiet day on Wingohocking Street. We decided to go ahead and have dinner with cake and slowly the word got out. Soon after we started eating, the kids called from the front, "Can we come back yet?" So we opened the gate to the backyard and let the flood of children flow in from the block that heard that it was Miss Michaelanne's birthday and there was mention of a cake. When evening came, the heaviness of Ronell's death was so present and there in the midst of it was the joy cries of our kids playing tag and tossing the football. It is really, really complicated... this whole life thing.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Sifting through some stuff; found this Rilke poem in an old letter my sister, Jessie, wrote to me in 2001. This morning, Manny, my pastor, said some things about suffering that I found to be important to me. This poem echoes some of those notions...

It feels as though I make my way
through massive rock
like a vein of ore
alone, encased.

I am so deep inside it
I can't see the path or any distance.
Everything is close
and everything closing in on me
has turned to stone.

Since I still don't know enough about pain,
this terrible darkness makes me small.
If it's you, though -

press down hard on me, break in
that I may know the weight of your hand,
and you, the fullness of my cry.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Story of the Mural

Click the photo above to see my images on Flickr. Read the descriptions to learn more about the collaborative process of painting and installing this mural together as a community. There are also photos of our Mural Celebration held on July 19th, 2008.

Sometimes, I forget about the mural and then as I'm walking to Rt. Aid or going up 6th Street to chat w/ the Courtland folks, I'm so struck... WOW. There it is. It's still new to us here in Hunting Park. I suppose we'll get used to it eventually. Come see it!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mural is UP!

Hallelujah! Yesterday's celebration was a great time. It's been a long week; lots to tell. I'll write more soon...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

This is my neighborhood

I passed this banner made out of sheets on my way to work on Monday. Over 4th of July weekend, the neighborhood had a block party to honor those who have died in the past few years. Some of them died of accidents; others were the victims of crimes. I heard there were speeches by loved ones and a moment of silence to remember the lives of those who have passed.

I really love my neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

a few new mural pix...

Don't forget to mark your calendars for our Mural Celebration at the corner of 6th St. and Courtland St. on July 19th at Noon! Call me if you have any questions.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Museum Trip to see Frida Kahlo

Last March, we took the youth in our art program to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit. Half of the kids had never been inside the museum before and none of them had ever visited one of the special exhibits that come through the museum. Ordinarily, tickets to see these exhibits are around $25. But the museum had a special group of tickets that they were giving away to community groups. We were thrilled! Most of the kids new a little something about Frida's work. One of my older teens told me he thought she was so arrogant. "She just paints herself over and over again." I asked him to think about why someone would do that as he looked at her work. Before we went, I gave them some background information and we looked at a few of her more famous paintings. They each listened to the audio tour provided by the museum and they learned a lot. When I had them respond a week later, they were each able to speak about her paintings; it was really interesting to me what stuck with them...

“The fruit painting was my favorite and it showed a flag and a bird standing on it. That was my favorite part about it.” Jasmine Rene, age 11

“[I liked] the twins when they were sitting down and have all these things connected to each other.” Markita Jones, age 15

“[I liked] the self portrait when she said that she was very ugly and she made her skin ugly with a crack.” Ikeisha Manson, age 12

“The painting Mother and Child, had a mother on a balcony holding a 2 year old boy and the balcony floor breaks which makes the mother and child fall a couple of feet down. But the irony is that he mother and child don’t die or get hurt badly.” Jazmin Lopez, age 16.

"[I liked] the painting with Frida and her husband. It shows that they are together but separated at the same time.” Rafael Gonzalez, age 17

"There was one painting that showed Frida on a hospital bed. She was naked and bleeding. There were certain symbols in the painting that represented her state. She couldn’t have children: broken uterus. She had to go to the hospital numerous times. She was in an accident that seriously changed her life. She was heartbroken.” Alexis Wright-Whitley, age 15

After viewing the exhibit, I asked they kid who thought that Frida was arrogant what he thought. He responded, "She changed my mind about that."

Monday, June 30, 2008

"Won't see that on channel 6!"

Walking to work this morning, my neighbor Ron was showing his new Toyota Prius to me and Lettie from across the street... beautiful color. Like some kind of silvery-green. We got to talking about the engagement party that my neighbor, George, threw for his daughter on Saturday and how much fun we all had. It was a great night on the block. The music was awesome. We got to laughing so loud telling stories and suddenly we heard George yell out from his porch, "Look at the community! Neighbors talking and enjoying themselves on this beautiful day. Won't see that on channel 6!" It reminded me of the last letter that our Director of Development wrote concerning headlines about our neighborhood. If you haven't already read it, click on the letter below to enlarge:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mural Celebration Date Set

If you're in the neighborhood...The Friends of Hunting Park Community Garden received a grant for $5000 to continue the greening and beautification of our neighborhood. As we celebrate the completion of the mural, we'll also be discussing with our neighbors future projects funded by this grant. Should be a great party! Here's a small preview we're calling "the Andy Nolan Detail":

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Introducing Ayuda's Good Works Group

Join Ayuda's Good Works Group and receive more for your generous donations to support the arts at Ayuda. By giving an annual donation, you will receive "Good Works" in return. You can choose the level that you would like to join and we will send you the "goods" listed below.
(Note: 2009 calenders will be shipped in December 2008.)

$20 - Set of 5 notecards featuring images of good works from our youth artists (designs)

$100 - 2 sets of 5 notecards featuring images of good works from our youth artists (designs)
2009 calender featuring images from Community Arts at Ayuda

$500 - 2 sets of 5 notecards featuring images of good works from our youth artists (designs)
2009 calender featuring images from Community Arts at Ayuda
8 X 10 or 8 X 8 unframed photo taken by our youth photographers (choices)

$1000 - All the good works at the $500 level plus:
Your choice of a framed and matted 11 X 14 photo taken by our youth photographers (choices)
a framed printed reproduction of a painting or pastel from our youth artists printed on canvas (choices; sizes indicated)

Most of all, we at Ayuda want you to be connected with the exciting work that we do in Hunting Park. We hope that you'll enjoy choosing a "good work" to receive for your donation as we will celebrate the continuation of the Community Arts Program with your support.

Indicate your level of membership and list the title(s) of the artwork you select to receive. We will contact you when we receive your membership donation to arrange delivery of your Good Works.

T-Shirt Design by Youth Artist: Nathalie Nunez

Summer Camp Theme: Celebrating Unity in Diversity: A Tour of 7 Continents


Last week, I attended the launch event and documentary screening of at Esperanza Academy,a local charter high school. This youth-based website provides space for youth in our neighborhood to speak out against .

"With the creation of this website, we hope to change our community as well as our world from a birthplace of to a world of peace and harmony."

We sat before a panel of 7 high school students involved in the Student Council as they talked to the audience about why developing this website was important to them. One of the young men gave one reason that he wanted to be proactive against in N. Philly:

"Because when I am an old, old, old, old, old, old, man, I want my great-grandchildren to be able to go to the corner store and be safe."

I felt very fortunate to be there to hear these creative kids talking about their work. Very inspiring. Once you're on the website, click on Media and watch the documentary made by the students in the film classes at E. Academy. (It takes a while to load, but it is really worth it.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Program from Youth Art Show

Click on the document to get a closer look:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jacob Hoop'n it up at Ayuda

Family Day 2008

New Flickr Set from Family Day, Saturday, 14th, 2008.

View the creation of the Hunting Park Community Quilt. The final product will be hung in the front room at Ayuda. Stop by to get a closer look.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Womens Association of Supplee Presbyterian Church

Ayuda was visited by this women's group earlier this Spring. After their visit, they made a generous donation to help Ayuda provide lunch for our Hunting Park Community Paint Day. I was on their website today and they have a lovely slide show with shots from the mosaic mural at the garden as well as some shots at HPCA (Hunting Park Christian Academy located at Spirt and Truth Fellowship Church). Click here to see it and to read more about what they do. Thanks Supplee!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Article in The Bulletin

Read about Ayuda Community Arts' partnership with Youthbuild to host the Hunting Park Community Paint Day.
(Click on image to enlarge.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Only 21 months over due

A few special pix from Jess and Mike's Wedding in West Virginia 3.06

Trip Pix

Memorial Day weekend camping with Lauren and Roberto in the Poconos

Waterfalls at Glen Onoko, PA (see more here)

Seattle, WA 3.08 visiting Jess & Mike (see more here)

"Bible Go-Fish" on the Corner of 6th and Cayuga

"Ms. Regina? Do you have a Mary Magdalene?"
(There's a theological joke in there somewhere...)
Regina is the crossing guard at the corner of 6th and Cayuga Streets. As a neighbor, she is devoted to the well-being of our children and of our community. She belongs to the Hunting Park Civic Association and has participated in almost all of our Adult Art Workshops. Read an article written by Regina at the Hunting Park Herald Online. She's just one of those people who really make your day...

New Ayuda Photos!

Check out the additions to Ayuda Community Center's Collection on my Flickr Page (specific links in the right margin). In addition to some new sets, I also added more pix to the "Adult Art Workshops" set. More info about our busy spring to come...

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I know, I know... 4 months!
I truly am the worst blogger in the history of blogging. Let's just move on.

Student Spotlight:

Meet Jasmine. Age 12. Most of you may know or have at least heard of her cousin, Daquan (presidential candidate 2032). Jasmine is very quiet. Her aunt lives 2 doors down from Ayuda so her face was familiar to me, but until February, she and I had never spoken. The day I approached her, she was in her usual location on the porch watching the business of Marshall Street after school lets out. "Do you want to take an art class?" She gave just a silent nod in response... but it was an immediate response. Her mother was quick to sign the paperwork and pay the $50 enrollment fee. She said that Jasmine needs something to do. Classes started that week.

The Pastels teacher, Jamie, is a very good friend of mine. She works as an Art Therapist and Ayuda is fortunate to have Jamie volunteering her teaching and prep time to make this class possible. Her insight is invaluable as well. Because we are constantly encountering space challenges at Ayuda, the Pastels class meets in our "common room" on the first floor with the likelihood of frequent interruption and noise from other Ayuda activity. One benefit of this arrangement is that my desk is on the other side of a curtain that is drawn to close off the "classroom" so I get to listen in on the class and hear Jamie and the students' interactions. I rarely hear Jasmine speak. But with each class, she's begun to show her smile more and more. And after class, she and I have begun to know each other a little.

The students in Philadelphia just went through the grueling days of standardized testing. Before they started, Jasmine confided that she was nervous. She said she doesn't do well in math. I asked her what did she most enjoy in school and she quickly responded,"Reading." I asked what was her favorite book and she said she didn't want to tell me and suddenly got very shy. Puzzled, I asked her why she didn't want to tell me and she said, "Because it's old." I told her I liked many old books and finally she whispered "The Secret Garden." Wow... we then had so much fun talking about the book, telling our favorite parts, comparing with the movie, and talking about the musical. Her eyes were so alive. Since that conversation, we have really grown to love each other. Her hugs are long and genuine. One week, she was late for class because of some car trouble that her mom was having. When she arrived, she ran in for a hug and whispered, "I'll never miss a class!"

I'm not making any promises about how consistent I may be, but I would really like to make an effort through this blog to provide regular opportunities for readers to learn about the amazing kids that I am fortunate to work with in Hunting Park. Through this Pastels class, I have really enjoyed getting to know Jasmine. I would like your life to feel the presence of Jasmine's life as she draws the braids in her self-portrait with wild colorful gestures. One evening after class, her mom and I were talking out on the block about how special Jasmine is and she told me that Jasmine talks about the class to her all the time. As I turned that day to go back to Ayuda, I saw Jasmine down the block a ways skipping and skipping, making circles with her braids flying behind her. Creative work does that to us, I suppose.