Saving Stories is a community-wide collaborative project that many organizations have contributed to. By working together, they have marketed and promoted the project, hosted Saving Stories writing workshops, worked with area youth to create illustrations, and have translated each manuscript into English and the native language.
Thanks and recognition go to the following contributing organizations:
Spearheading the project are a teacher and a librarian. Renee Christman is an elementary English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in the Baldwin- Whitehall School District. She has been teaching ESL to area youth for the past 23 years. Ten percent of the students in her school, Paynter Elementary School, are enrolled in ESL classes, and an estimated 15% of the student body speaks a language other than English at home. Renee is always searching for ways to making learning English fast and fun for her students. While teaching her students about America, she is privileged to learn about her students' various cultures. Renee has presented workshops on ESL instruction, inclusion and diversity at local, state and international levels. Renee and co-worker Kathy Gorham presented Saving Stories initiative during the 2014 ELL Symposium sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Most recently, Renee presented Saving Stories as a model for family engagement at the 2015 WIDA National Conference.
Born and raised in Whitehall, Paula Kelly began working at the Whitehall Public Library in 1997 and became the Library Director in 2009. During her tenure, the library has served this unique population of multi-ethnic resettled refugees. Through cooperative efforts, the library developed its LEARN Bus program (Library Easy Access for Residents in Need). Local refugees ride the LEARN Bus monthly to visit the library where they are offered special programs and materials for all ages and English proficiency levels. For many, this has been their first library encounter of any kind. The program has garnered numerous awards and recognition, most recently, a $5,000 award from the Allegheny County Library Association, The Maggie Forbes Distinguished Service Award, for outstanding work in community engagement. In addition to LEARN Bus successes, Paula has written and received grants to acquire funds for various other ESL literacy-based projects. She has presented her work at library conferences and has been interviewed for a national library blog. In 2010 Paula became a certified ESL Literacy tutor with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council where she volunteers weekly, working closely with many adult and older adult refugees in her library community. She is the recipient of a Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Community Champions award and a 2014 national Jefferson Award.
One of Paula Kelly's 2013–2014 initiatives involved working with professional portrait photographer, Rich Waters, to create a traveling exhibit highlighting the diversity in Whitehall entitled "Meet Your Neighbors, Refugee Portraits and Stories." Some of the Portraits are showcased below.