The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park sees thousands of kids each year. However, out of those large numbers, very few of them attempt to make another visit. As a CVA I am tasked with connecting our youth population while transferring historical and cultural knowledge to them. From visiting their youth programs to giving talks and lectures in their classroom, we are not only connecting with the youth and instilling knowledge, but expanding our park's brand to the general public. Just recently I, alongside one of our pre-collegiate interns, visited one of our most prestigious youth programs in the city, Youth Opportunity Unlimited (YOU). We conducted a historical program where we taught close to a dozen eighth grade boys about Cenotaphs, its’ history, meaning, and how they’re made.
Cenotaphs are typically small monuments that commemorate the memory of a loved one, most commonly those that died in war. Handmade cenotaphs can be created by using lettered stamps to create a message on paper. They can also be created by shaping clay into a specific shape (usually a square) and write a message with a light but small pointy object that allows the user to trace over the clay. After its construction, the now completed cenotaph is put into a sunny area to be dried up and hardened. The intern and I brought in stamps, paper, and clay for the kids to create their cenotaph. An activity that can be challenging on the soul, seemed very lighthearted and was done with joy and pride. At the end of the activity, we provided the space and time for the kids to share their individual story and what their cenotaph meant to them.
During our planning stage, our intern and I wondered about how receptive the boys would have been to the program. Thinking about the possibility of the program participants disengaging, or going off-topic, had many ideas running through our heads on whether or not we were going to be successful with this program. Despite it all, we proceeded with our planning stage and gathered our equipment and materials for the program. As we got to the site of YOU to conduct the program, we found the boys playing basketball jovially. Their staff members gathered them around, and after we set the activity materials down, their attention was fully on us. I then proceeded to introduce myself and what my role is at the park and allowed our intern to do the same. We explained the activity to them, and they all seemed to understand it. With no questions asked they proceeded to partake in the activity with laughter, smiles and good vibes.
Some may find history boring, but it's what helps us understand where we come from and helps guides us to where we're going. For history to be preserved, it has to be passed down to the next generation but sometimes this is easier said than done. One of my goals is to introduce the park to local high schools, universities, and organizations around Bristol County, and ultimately for the park to have a great and mutual relationship with New Bedford's surrounding community. There's a lot of things happening here at the park, from volunteering at events and continuing my internship position, to participating in art-related events. We here at New Bedford would love for every student to be a part of it all. More importantly, we want the community to ultimately use us as a resource, whether that'd be hosting an event here at the park or partnering with us. After all, it is their park!
Written by Carter Remy, CVA at New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park