News May 2018

Olney Friends School raises funds needed to stay open

In early April, Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, announced it had met and surpassed its goal of raising $250,000 by March 31 in order to stay open for the 2018-2019 school year. Shared via email and a public Facebook post, the April 4 announcement stated that $360,022 had been contributed to the “Defining the Future” Olney action campaign that began two months prior; the announcement also stated that “a few more donations” were on their way to the school. This campaign is in addition to the $250,000 annual fund goal set for the current fiscal year ending June 30.

Olney Friends School is an independent, co-educational, college preparatory boarding and day school for grades 9–12, with an average enrollment of 50 students and a 4:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Founded in 1837 by Ohio Yearly Meeting, the school was governed by the yearly meeting until 1998 when that relationship ended, citing low enrollment and increasing financial burden. A group of concerned individuals with connections to the school formed a new corporation, Friends of Olney, Inc., to take over management and operations.

The emergency appeal for funding was first communicated to supporters of Olney Friends School in a January 31 letter sent by email and postal mail. The letter began: “Olney Friends School is at risk. We will finish the current school year, but without increasing donations will be unable to open in Fall 2018, and may be forced to lay down the school. What happens in the next few months will define Olney’s future. Your gift can make the difference.”

The appeal continued by addressing three main topics: (1) “How we got here,” citing many years of financial difficulties despite efforts since the 1990s to solve the issues, including spending reserves and borrowing against the endowment, cutting expenses “to the bone,” and discontinuing employee health insurance benefits in 2015; (2) “What it takes to run the school,” explaining how tuition revenue funds approximately half of Olney’s yearly budget ($1.3 million in fiscal year 2018), while 40 percent must be raised from donations, which have been falling short, and how approximately 90 percent of Olney students receive substantial financial aid; and (3) “Why it matters,” reminding supporters that a class of 21 students awaits their senior year, and of the school’s “180-year history of educating young people of many nationalities, faiths, ethnicities, and economic circumstances, and a long tradition of preparing those graduates for lives of important service.”

The letter was co-signed by Micah Brownstein and Cynthia Walker, who have been serving as interim co-heads of school since May 28, 2017. The school’s last major capital campaign, mounted a decade ago, did not meet its goal. In 2013, the board of trustees chose not to lease mineral rights for natural gas fracking of school property, losing a potential revenue stream.

Quaker Heritage Center program series looks at abolition

In February and March, the Quaker Heritage Center at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio,  facilitated a lecture performance series titled “African-American Resistance, Abolitionists, and Quakers” that focused on “the power of solidarity and resistance among African-Americans, Abolitionists, and Quakers.” The Meriam R. Hare Quaker Heritage Center is a facility dedicated to celebrating the local, regional, and national history of the Religious Society of Friends, especially in southwest Ohio where its located. The center includes gallery space as well as a traditional meetinghouse.

The intent of the spring semester program was twofold: to celebrate the history of Quakers as abolitionists and in solidarity with African Americans, and to engage with the complicated and troubling history of Quakers and white supremacy. Although many nineteenth-century Friends supported an end to slavery, many others did not. Even Friends who worked for abolition were not unaffected by the racism of their culture.

The first lecture in the series focused on the life and work of Harriet Beecher Stowe and her connections to Friends. Held at the Canby Jones Meeting House located within the center, the presentation was given by Christina Hartlieb, director of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, an historical and cultural house museum in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Two weeks later, also at the meetinghouse, the center hosted Dr. Tammy Kernodle, professor of musicology at Miami University in Ohio. She presented “Of Thee We Sing: Black Music and the Quest for Equality in Post Reconstruction America.” Kernodle said of the title, “The italicized ‘we’ is a reference to the way Marian Anderson sang this line from “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at her famous 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial.” She referenced this event as an example of the ways in which music became a medium of black advocacy for social equality.

The program also included a talk by Dr. Tamika Nunley, assistant professor of history at Oberlin College, on the intersection of gender and sexism with the abolitionist movement. The series ended with a half-day of programming, beginning with a talk on the music of abolition: “Songs of Resistance, Songs of Freedom” presented by La’Shelle Allen, who discussed the evolution of black music in America from spirituals through protest and beyond.

The day, and the series, concluded with a performance by Allen and others of “Spirituals in Motion.” Allen was joined by Joan Brannon on percussion, Scott Heersche on guitar, and Kaymon Murrah on vocals and piano.

Willistown Meeting hosts panel on Pennsylvania prisons

Photo courtesy of Willistown Meeting Facebook page.

On Saturday, February 10, Willistown Meeting in Newtown Square, Pa., hosted “Re-Imagining Justice: Prisons as an Opportunity for Change,” a program that focused on the Pennsylvania state prison system. The event featured a panel of six presenters who spoke on topics ranging from the disproportionate representation of minorities in prisons to alternative visions for criminal justice in the United States. Approximately 50 people, both visitors and Friends, attended the discussion, which was free and open to the public. An introduction was made by Willistown co-clerk Will Scull and event organizer Derek Stedman.

Dr. Michael Antonio, assistant professor of criminal justice at West Chester University, shared information about the prison system and community in the state of Pennsylvania. He stated statistics about the prison population, noting the high percentages of people in Pennsylvania prisons who have issues with mental health and addiction. Additionally, Antonio shared that a vast majority in the state’s prisons have no job skills at the time they enter the system.

Dr. Sami Abdel-Salam, also an assistant professor at West Chester University, spoke next, offering examples of alternative standards for prisons. Abdel-Salam emphasized that what happens inside a prison has a profound effect on the lives of inmates as well as on the communities they return to. He cited a statement from the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons: “What happens inside prisons does not stay there—it comes home with prisoners after they are released.”

Abdel-Salam spoke of the Halden Prison in Norway, which he has spent time studying. At Halden, prisoners have some privacy, including private bathrooms and single-occupancy cells that look like bedrooms. Prisoners at Halden also have access to living spaces and kitchens that bring a greater sense of normalcy and control to their experiences.

Christine Nye, a former inmate in Pennsylvania’s prison system, spoke about her experiences in prison and returning to her community: “Meals leave you starving; you never know who is who; and due to having a criminal record, it’s hard to get a job afterwards.” She also spoke about the difficulties inmates have in obtaining basic necessities. In most U.S. prisons, items like soap, feminine hygiene products, pens, and paper have to be purchased by the inmates.

Also participating in the panel were Laura Taylor, Ryan Newswanger, and Nancy Stampahar. Taylor is a member of Gwynedd (Pa.) Meeting, and helps run the Alternatives to Violence Project program at Graterford Prison in Montgomery County, Pa. Newswanger is the CEO of Jubilee Ministries, an organization with Mennonite roots that helps ex-offenders gain skills in money management, relationships, and workplace etiquette. Stampahar is a community educator with the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, Pa.

These remaining panelists spoke about the effect of trauma on crime, and about interventions within the prison system and greater communities in Pennsylvania. The panel ended with a question and answer session.


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