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Cheyney University Art, Biology & HRTM Students Partner with Local Retirement Communities

March 1, 2014

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Dr. Steven Hughes and Professor Marietta Dantonio-Madsen unveil the collaborative work of art

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The build-up was a year in the making; everyone stood anxiously, awaiting the big reveal. When the golden sheet was removed and the colorful 4' x 4' mural unveiled, oohs and ahhs filled the Lounge at Kendal~Crosslands in Kennett Square, PA as Cheyney University students, faculty and staff stood arm to arm with residents and staff at the retirement community.


For months, both sides had met in collaboration on a community service project that would bring the generations together. On Thursday, February 27, 2014, it all came to fruition.


CU’s Fine Art Honor Society (FAHS) students visited Kendal twice several months ago to interview some of the residents, explained CU Art Professor and Chair of the Fine Arts, Design, and Liberal Studies Department, Marietta Dantonio-Madsen, who worked closely with FAHS Advisor and CU Art Professor Joel Keener on the project. “Then, our biology students toured the 500-acre Kendal landscape with some of KCC’s Horticultural Committee, identified plants with them and took pictures of flowers that were indigenous to the area.” The students talked to the residents and really got to know them, their likes, their tastes, and their life's experiences. The pictures and artwork that were unveiled at the reception showcased the students’ talents and highlighted each of the participating residents.
The three-dimensional mural is a colorful display of those indigenous plants surrounding a giant black-eyed Susan. Each of the golden petals represents one of the nine residents who were interviewed and their "story" as the Cheyney students saw them. The young people described the seniors as vibrant, experienced and possessing great wisdom.


The art students used insulation foam to sculpt the giant center flower, covered it in traditional paper mache and then paper clay mache to harden it before water-proofing the work. The center of the black-eyed susan was painted red, yellow, black and white, representing diversity--all of the races and communities reaching out with the hope that one day there will be healing and all communities will be one. In the end, because bad weather threatened to derail their deadline, other students and community volunteers joined in the painting effort to get the mural done in time—a true community service project, indeed.


KCC resident Mary Lee Barker thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration. "I saw youth again,” she exclaimed. “They were without pretense. It was an exhilarating experience interacting with the students."' KCC resident David Mooberry agreed. “We had a great time with the kids. This is great fun.”


Dr. Steven Hughes, a Cheyney biology professor, told how he brought his ecology class to KCC for an “opportunity to learn from others. I am amazed at the energy and knowledge that’s already here,” he said. “With Cheyney opening our new science building soon, I’m very ecstatic about this relationship and I’m looking forward to continuing it.” Joel Keener, Associate Professor of Art, also participated in the project.


KCC resident Karen Cromley said she appreciated the students’ talents and enjoyed getting to know them better. “I learned of their hopes and dreams for the future," she proudly acknowledged. CU sophomore Dymund Coles, a dual Communication/Graphic Design major, worked closely with Cromley in the collaboration process, and loved watching her face and the faces of others as the finished product was unveiled. It was clear to all that  the students and the residents were very pleased with the end results.


Lawrence Green, CU’s Assistant Vice President for University Advancement and External Relations, who helped plan the collaboration said, “It became apparent that the Quaker roots that both organizations share provided a bridge that would bring commonality to Cheyney University students and Kendal’s residents.”


KCC was founded in 1971 by a $300,000 gift from the Philadelphia Yearly meeting with a charge to find a better way in retirement and Cheyney was founded because of Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist who donated $10,000 to design and establish a school to educate African Americans.
Standing before those gathered at the reception, KCC resident Charlotte Gosselink recalled the first time she met the Cheyney students who soon became her friends. "They came into the room with a burst of energy and proceeded to ask us all kinds of questions." Turns out, Gosselink's family is tied to the University. Her Quaker grandfather who lived in Media, PA and invested in education, served on Cheyney’s Council of Trustees and eventually became president of the University's board. When the school was constructing a few new buildings one, Biddle Hall, was named for her grandfather, she said. Biddle Hall is where Cheyney's president now has her office.


Another KCC resident, Wiltrude Paprotta, mingled with the students and faculty at the reception, sampling hors d’oeuvres served by CU's Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management students who worked closely with KCC’s dining staff. While Paprotta now lives at Kendal, the Cheyney contingent was shocked to learn that she taught foreign languages for more than 25 years at Cheyney and even taught CU’s current Professor and Chair of the English, Languages and Communication Arts, and Director of International Programs, Dr. Norma George, when she was a Cheyney undergraduate.
“This collaboration touches on so many aspects of diversity,” remarked Audrey Super, KCC Director of Human Resources. “It provides residents and students an opportunity to explore intergenerational differences. This collaboration helped to eliminate barriers that may exist between groups of very diverse backgrounds and experiences. We believe this is a model for other educational institutions and organizations to demonstrate the benefit from learning from each other and contributing meaningful work to the community in which we live and work.”


The FAHS of Cheyney University gave KCC the mural as a gift. It will be rotated throughout the three retirement communities. The amazingly detailed photographs of the indigenous plants are also on display. In addition, the students gave everyone prayer ties that they made—a Native American tradition that symbolizes healing and blessing.


FAHS Vice President Rosalyn Mitchell-Jackson told explained how the collaboration was a life-changing experience for her that forged lasting relationships. She ended by shouting what the CU students had discovered for themselves - “SENIORS ROCK!”