Leslie Vanholten, Director of Grants and Outreach for Humanities Kansas, relishes talking about the humanities. The core of her message is this statement from the Humanities Kansas website: “We believe that stories carry our culture and ideas change the world.”
Defining the word “humanities” is often difficult. Many associate it with a high school or college survey course in literature. But Vanholten broadens the concept, emphasizing that “the humanities help us understand what it means to be human — to seek connections with people and place. As we draw on our diverse histories, literature, ethics and cultures, we see more clearly who we are as people and define ideas that will shape a future worthy of generations to come.”
Humanities Kansas is a non-profit funded primarily by the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). NEH was established in the late 1960’s as a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The Kansas entity was established in 1972. Money from the State of Kansas and from private donations make up the balance of the annual budget.
Humanities Kansas distributed grants to fund a variety of initiatives. The primary criteria is that the humanities needs to be central to the proposal. Many rural communities take advantage of the Speakers Bureau to stimulate ideas among residents. Others use the book discussion leaders provided in the Talk About Literature program. Museum on Mainstreet brings displays from the Smithsonian Institute on the road to small-town Kansas. Collaboration on “Words of a Feather” has brought poetry and art together in a small book that has been placed in hotel rooms and cabins at state parks, on food trays for Meals on Wheels recipients, in local arts centers, and elsewhere across the state.
District Governor 5710 Vern Henricks strives to make an impact. His resume is impressive, but most notable is his commitment to serve in ways that make a difference in the world. The theme for Rotary International this year is “Serve to Change Lives,” fitting neatly with Henricks’ personal philosophy.
Henricks has stepped forward in the past decade to assist a school in Haiti financially. As a member of its board, he worked to place native-born, business-oriented Haitians into leadership. He has donated to a Rotary youth program in Haiti to provide school supplies to the children. He speaks enthusiastically about meeting with a Rotaract Club in Haiti and about a non-profit based in St. Louis that provides “Med and Food for Kids” in that country.
Now Henricks is focused on making an impact as District Governor. One way of doing so is to work toward continuity of ideas and programs. To that end, Henricks is convening past and upcoming District Governors in District 5710 for regular conversations.
He also believes that Rotarians can do better at communicating what we do, so he intends to launch a podcast where Rotarians can find updates about District activities. The District 5710 website will begin to feature the work of particular clubs each week. He encourages clubs to undertake tangible service activities because such efforts are what will attract younger adults to join Rotary.
Henricks encourages all Rotarians to attend the District Conference set for October 21-23 to learn more about what Rotary is doing locally, district-wide, and internationally.
Joe, a Cincinnati resident, explained that he belongs to an e-club in District 6600. They are a diverse membership of about 30 with active Rotarians in many different countries. The club is a good fit for people who have to travel and have challenging schedules. Ohio Pathways Rotary was working with Zoom way before the pandemic.
The GLP is one of the largest grassroots, multi-club, multi-district international projects in Rotary. The effort includes 600 clubs in 80 districts and eight countries. In 2017, then-Rotary International President Ian Risley described GLP as the gold standard of Rotary projects for sustainability and impact.
The goal of the project is to improve education for under-served students. The need is great as Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate in Central America. Children are often pulled out of school for economic reasons and do not return. Guatemala is also the largest source of immigrants at the southern border of the United States.
The project provides reading instruction, text books, computer labs and scholarships. Some 750 scholarships worth $960 each have been distributed. When the project started in 1997, only one out of three Guatemalans could read. Presently, two out of three students can read. Local Rotarians assist with GLP by teaching job skills and other aspects of the program. Over 225,000 students have been served by GLP.
Steve Nowak, Executive Director of the Watkins Museum of History , proudly explained that the Watkins was a “founding institution” for a new traveling exhibit about John Brown. “Encountering John Brown” is an appropriate initiative for the Watkins and for Lawrence because Brown’s experiences here were significant in forming his philosophy and actions as an abolitionist.
John Brown was notorious for his activities on behalf of the abolition of slavery in the mid-1800s. It was while he was living in Lawrence that Brown realized that preaching abolition was not enough; he needed to take action. His work to transport slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad are legendary. He fought at the Battle of Blackjack that took place near the present day Baldwin City before returning east to Virginia where he led the Harper’s Ferry slave uprising in 1859.
Developed by Overland Traveling Exhibits, the self-guided exhibit highlights the influences and episodes in John Brown’s life that formed his career as an abolitionist. Visitors will read narratives and view portraits of Brown and other key individuals of the era. The portraits are created by artist Brad Sneed.
Work on the exhibit began in 2019, but the fall 2020 opening was delayed due to the pandemic. Funded by grants from the City of Lawrence, Watkins eagerly accepted the challenge of staging a traveling exhibit even though the Museum had never made space for such a display in the past. The display will be situated in the Community Room of the museum for two months from September to early November. Nowak estimates that it will move to new locations around the country over the next two or three years. The Watkins Museum will continue to be highlights as a founding institution .
The project has a wealth of partnerships supporting it. To welcome the potential increase in tourism, ExploreLawrence is coordinating bus tours and developing a brochure about other local sites of interest. Blackjack Battlefield and the Lecompton Historical Society are making similar plans. The Lawrence Arts Center will feature an exhibit about segregation coincident with the exhibit. Theatre Lawrence will stage “The Ballad of Blackjack” this fall.