OUR TEACHING ARTISTS
Ridgelines teaching artists are expert language artists—poets, writers, songwriters, journalists, storytellers, and more. What do we mean by “expert”? We mean that our TAs have their own ongoing language arts practices. In their daily lives they write poems, sing songs, perform plays, tell stories, and have firsthand experience of the reflection, honesty, pleasure, and intimacy fostered by the study of language arts.
Our teaching artists work in a variety of community settings and local non-profits to provide language arts instruction to those who are underserved in our region. We work closely with TAs to develop their own dream programs, and often describe ourselves as a “matchmaking” organization—a big part of Ridgelines’ mission is connecting our TAs with the people they want to serve, learn with, and teach. In addition to supporting TAs administratively and financially, Ridgelines facilitates conversations between TAs and the organizations where they teach so that each program is built to fulfill the needs and goals of participants.
Brooklyn Leo is a first-generation, non-binary Cherokee and Sephardic Jew who’s pursuing a dual-title PhD in Philosophy and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Pennsylvania State University. Their research concentrates on abject embodiments, resistant aesthetic practices, and decolonial theory. As a poet and trans activist, they are currently a teaching artist in residence for Ridgelines, providing spoken word poetry workshops for local queer and trans youth in Centre County PA high schools. They are especially passionate about dispelling the myth that queer love and trans life does not exist within rural contexts. Rather, students are exploring themes of radical self-love, queer futures, and trans creativity, offering poetry as a way to bridge the knowledge gap surrounding LGBTQIA+ life in rural spaces.
Terri Dennis graduated from Penn State University in 1991 with a B.S. degree in Human Development and Family Studies. She went on to be a family counselor for the Big Brother/Big Sister Program at the Centre County Youth Service Bureau for 5 years. As a counselor, Terri supervised hundreds of adult volunteers and worked directly with children and families to coordinate a number of community services. Currently, Terri works with her daughter in their Spirit Guidance and Healing Practice. Together, they are dedicated to offering healing, guidance, and empowerment through their various services and classes. Their private practice has reached thousands of clients worldwide. Terri is a certified Life Coach, and she writes and co-facilitates national workshops and leads guided meditations for
groups across the country. She has received guided meditation training with Dr. Brian Weiss, Lynn Roberts, and John Perkins at Omega Institute in New York. Terri is also the co-founder of Spirit Junction, a community program that meets monthly with themes centered around personal and spiritual development. Terri is also the creator of KindHeart products, which includes her healing paintings, positive affirmation cards, and Kind Card decks, as well as various guided meditation CDs.
Robyn Passante is an author, journalist and essayist based in State College. She is editor of Centered Magazine, a quarterly health and wellness publication, and is associate editor of State College Magazine, covering the Centre Region. In addition to working as a freelance writer for varied publications, including The Washington Post, GQ.com and SUCCESS Magazine, she runs a copywriting and editing business at WellPhrased.com. She also has been a college lecturer on writing and interviewing, and has authored two books for the wedding industry. She earned a degree in journalism from Penn State University, and her journalism honors include being named “Reporter of the Year” by the National
Alliance on Mental Illness in South Carolina as well as numerous South Carolina Press Association writing awards. She devotes her time and energy to her two boys and to volunteering, most notably with a local hospice agency, where she helps patients and their families face the final stage of this life with dignity and love.
Born in State College, Pennsylvania and raised in North Carolina, Eric Ian Farmer has returned to his birthplace sharing his songs about relationships, social awareness, and finding one's path in life while keeping alive classics by artists like Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and Bob Marley. Life as a full-time singer/songwriter heavily features live performances in Centre county restaurants, bars, and concert halls but also schools, churches, and the county jail (i.e., Centre County Correctional Facility). Additionally, Eric recently released Journey of a Love So Strong (Live), his first live album.
This current chapter seems a departure from the path of nearly ten years as a
classroom teacher plus graduating from Penn State University's doctoral program in educational leadership (2016). As a classroom teacher, Eric mainly taught English at two schools out west. One, Life Learning Academy, is a small charter high school in California's Bay Area created in the late 1990s as part of the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Initiative. The other, Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, is a small residential, nontraditional, independent high school in Estes Park, Colorado for youth from around the U.S. Both Life Learning Academy and Eagle Rock School are for youth who might not otherwise graduate from high school. However what looks like a departure could also be seen as an expansion of the path. In addition to performing, Eric has stayed connected to youth by using music with high school students in (central Pennsylvania and northern Colorado) to facilitate both songwriting and conversation related to identity and social issues.
Abby Minor has taught poetry-writing and storytelling workshops in low-income nursing homes, senior centers, and personal care facilities since 2012. Her award-winning programs honor the voices and imaginations of older adults from all walks of life. Her students have been farmers, dancers, teachers, mothers, fathers, artists, hunters, mowers of graveyards, and more. Abby specializes in working with adults who have physical and cognitive disabilities, including memory loss—her classes meet people where they are at and celebrate each person’s contributions. Each program responds to the specific interests and needs of participants, but the goal is always to learn more about ourselves, each other, and poetry. Through discussions, readings, listening, and sharing, participants gain a deeper sense of who they are and what the world is.
Abby was born and raised in Centre County, where she still lives. As well as being an alumna of Smith College and the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State, she is a poet, an artist, a gardener, and a community writing teacher. She believes in the power of poetry to cultivate empathy, knowledge, and joy.
Érika Anseloni is an educator and community development specialist, with over 19 years’ experience of work and research in the developing world, with expertise in leadership development, critical education for social change, and engagement. She has lived in State College for 6.5 years and has just finished her PhD at Penn State with focus on those issues. Throughout her professional path, she has applied and researched the use of theater and arts to individual and social transformation, and developed several programs including theater as an educational and transformative tool for youth leadership development, women's empowerment, community and local development, and environmental education. She participated in workshops and presentations of Theatre of the Oppressed and was one of the founders of the Theatre of the Oppressed Group of São Paulo (Brazil), composed by women. Érika is moved by social justice, by building community capacity, by empowering people to take individual collective action to build the positive changes they desire.
PAST TEACHING ARTISTS
Teresa is a storyteller from West Helena, Arkansas, who moved to State College in December 2009. She teaches writing courses in the English Department at Penn State University and serves as a writing coach and advisor for undergraduate and graduate students with the Office of Graduate Educational Equity Programs. Teresa is co-founder of State of the Story, a moth-styled storytelling group who tell stories in the Attic at the State Theatre. She believes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Danger of a Single Story" where humans are extremely complex and cannot be reduced to a single narrative. We need more stories to help make sense of the world.
Nicole is a wearer of many hats, her personal favorites being artist, geographer, waitress, and cat-whisperer. Originally from Southwest Florida, she grew up at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades. After migrating 1,000 miles north, she has spent the last decade in central Pennsylvania with her twin domestic long-hair daughters.
Nicole graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Geography Education where her studies focused on social justice, aural landscapes, and climate change. She worked as a high school social studies teacher, encouraging students to engage the world with curiosity and spunk. Though she enjoyed being in the classroom, she now proudly waits tables full-time. Not only does serving allow her to develop unique relationships with a diverse array of people, but it also enables her to pursue musical and other artistic interests. She fulfills her passion for social-justice and education through her work with Ridgelines, where she has worked with young women to explore their identity through music. She believes that immersing ourselves in art, laughter, and the hearing and telling of stories leads to richer experiences and deeper relationships with ourselves, others, and the worlds around us.
Nico Amador is a poet, community organizer and educator living in Vermont, by way of San Diego and Philadelphia. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, Vol. 3, the Academy of American Poets' Poem-A-Day series, Hypertext Review, Poets Reading the News, Poet Lore, Bedfellows, APIARY Magazine, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Flower Wars, was selected as the winner of the Anzaldúa Poetry Prize and was published by Newfound Press in 2017. He is a recent grant recipient from the Vermont Arts Council, an alumni of the Home School and Lambda Literary Foundation's Writers Retreat, and helped to found the Rogue Writing Workshop of Philadelphia, which provides workshop instruction with accomplished poets to those writing and learning outside of academic institutions.