Gazzettenet by Nick Grabbe Thursday, November 3, 2011
HOLYOKE – Anne Teschner of Northampton was at the White House Wednesday to receive an award from Michelle Obama for helping low-income teenage mothers learn to express themselves.
Teschner is executive director of The Care Center, which provides classes for teen-age mothers in Holyoke and helps them earn their high school equivalency diplomas and go on to college.
The center was one of 12 nonprofit organizations to win the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, which recognizes after-school programs that have an impact on the lives of young people. The center, which will receive $10,000 with the award, was selected from among 500 applicants for its “Humanities Rock” program.
Brenda Rivera, 18, one of the students in the Care Center program, spoke at Wednesday’s awards ceremony at the White House. She said her 9-month-old daughter receives care downstairs at the center while she takes classes.
The center has inspired a love of poetry in her and is “the first place I’ve opened up,” Rivera said. She read a poem she wrote, called “My Pain,” that includes the line, “Do you notice my pain inside?”
Obama gave hugs to and posed for a photograph with Teschner and Tashia Davis, another student at the Care Center.
“You’ve provided unparalleled opportunities for our young people to explore all aspects of the arts,” Obama said to the award winners. “You’re not just teaching these young people about painting, acting or singing; you’re teaching them about hard work and discipline and teamwork. You’re teaching them how to manage their time, how to set goals and achieve them.”
Obama said the skills the young people are learning will affect other parts of their lives.
“If they can compose a song or poem, maybe they can write that term paper or finish that math homework,” she said. “If they can deliver a monologue onstage, then maybe they can make a presentation in from of a classroom. If they can conduct a quartet, maybe they can lead a student group.”
It’s not easy to keep these programs going in difficult economic times, Obama said.
“You all keep going because for so many young people, the arts are not an extra or a luxury, but rather a lifeline,” she said. “For every young life you transform, there is a tremendous ripple effect when a child goes on to mentor or inspire another, or when a community is lifted up, or when the economy benefits from their skills, and the nation and the world are graced by the works they create.”
One of the other winners was Zumix, a youth performing arts organization in East Boston. The award winners ranged from the Dance Institute of Washington to the Native American Composers Apprentice Project of Grand Canyon, Ariz.
Teschner has implemented a free, 28-week humanities course at The Care Center that is taught by local professors in connection with Bard College.
The teenage mothers taking the course learn about art history, moral philosophy, American history, literature and writing in the course.
“When the women read about Romeo and Juliet, they can relate to love, and when they read about Socrates, they can relate to justice, death, abandonment and the need for knowledge,” Teschner said.
Not all the teenage mothers who enroll at the Care Center are able to complete the program, but among those who do graduate, 85 percent go on to college. They get introductions to poetry and photography, take parenting classes, and receive financial counseling. There are also sports programs.
“The notion of teaching humanities to the poor offers them a way to reflect and express themselves,” Teschner said.
“It provides them with a deeper understanding of life. Observing the arc of a basketball as it is thrown into the hoop, viewing an original Picasso, and discussing passages from Shakespeare or Plato are all experiences that transform their lives.”