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Friday, Oct 24, 2014

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Paper Circle

This summer, 60 underserved area youth enjoyed a summer of learning through the arts at Paper Circle.

Photo courtesy of: Paper Circle

UNICEF officers at Paper Circle

UNICEF/Ohio University workshop participants Ndiaga Seck (left) and Caroline Akosile pose with "cigar-box guitars" made by young people at Paper Circle in Nelsonville.

Photographer: Camilo Perez

UNICEF staff

Ohio University's two-week training workshop brought UNICEF staff members from 37 different countries to Athens as part of a nine-month blended learning course on communication-based improvement projects.

Photographer: Karen Greiner

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When Barb Campagnola first came to Nelsonville, the town was in the midst of economic revitalization. For aspiring artists, the town's history, aesthetics and affordable rents were enticing, recalled Campagnola. But she was perplexed by the resistance of some to the town's budding cultural identity.

"One day I asked about the children, what their art education was like, and I found out that they didn't have any. Not only that, they have never had art. It has never been offered K-8," Campagnola said. "It created a little bit of a divide."

In 2004, Campagnola set out to change the status quo as director of Paper Circle. Located in historic Nelsonville, the non-profit organization offers year-round community art workshops in addition to six annual exhibits. Its major outreach program, Circle for Kids, provides underserved area youth a summer of learning through the arts.

"It was a matter of social justice and a matter of bringing the community together," explained Campagnola.

International perspectives

Putting this call into action has been a tremendous charge by any measure. That's why this summer, Campagnola partnered with Ohio University's Communication for Development (C4D) Workshop.

The two-week training workshop brought UNICEF staff members from 37 different countries to Athens as part of a nine-month blended learning course on communication-based improvement projects. Here, two cohorts of UNICEF officers applied what they learned about communication for development (C4D) to help local organizations in southeast Ohio.

Twelve community groups received professional communication counsel from UNICEF professionals participating in one of the two workshops offered this summer. At Paper Circle, UNICEF officers developed a "communication for social change toolkit" based on community research and input. According to Campagnola, the kit will save "incredible amounts of time and money" in the years ahead.

"They really understood what I was trying to do, pretty much immediately. Their life work is what my life work is – helping children. So I didn't have to go too far to satisfy them," Campagnola said.  

Principles in practice

Ndiaga Seck, a UNICEF communications specialist who contributed to the Paper Circle collaboration, said the toolkit was designed to help raise awareness and increase support among donors. But the workshop and the applied work with a local Appalachian organization will also enable him to better serve children in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"There are things that we know, but we've never known the methods and models behind it. And it's very interesting. Now when we apply things, we don't apply them blindly. We apply them because we know them," Seck said.

Though Seck departed for Congo on Saturday, he will continue to work with Ohio University instructors online – providing an essential "boots on the ground perspective" to OHIO faculty, according to Karen Greiner, a visiting assistant professor who instructs the C4D course.

"We have our communications theories in academia, and our work with UNICEF allows us to see how those theories hold up when they're being put into practice. So it's nice to learn from our UNICEF colleagues," Greiner said.

This marks the second year in a row that Ohio University has partnered with UNICEF for the training.

"I feel very lucky because we don't often get this many people – not only from this many countries but from this many different professional sectors within UNICEF … So you're getting a lot of cross-pollination happening, and we get to be there and be a part of it," said Greiner, adding, "Sometimes I just can't believe that this is my job. I'm so grateful to have this teaching and learning opportunity – I think it's fantastic."

Bridging continents


A two-year, $940,000 contract enabled Ohio University's Communication and Development Studies Program to develop the blended learning course for 200 of UNICEF's country and regional officers working in C4D related programs and activities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs worked to connect and engage regional partners with the project.

Thanks to these collaborations, Campagnola is hopeful that Paper Circle will inspire art education far beyond its Appalachian setting.

"Four (UNICEF officers) said they'd like to replicate this in their country, and that is the highest compliment that anyone could pay me," she said. "It's my feeling that art creates bridges that are wide enough for everyone to cross together. And for our community at least, it has really helped."

Regional partners assist and gain from C4D workshop

Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs worked to connect 12 community organizations with Ohio University's Communication for Development Workshop. These included:

Live Healthy Appalachia  

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Athens County  

Kids on Campus  

My Sister's Place  

Rural Action  

Tomcat Bridgebuilders  

Community Food Initiatives  

Athens County Health Department  

Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD)  

Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action Partnership  

Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Community Health Programs

Paper Circle