Looking back on 2016, Looking forward to 2017!


With only 9 days left in 2016, we’re taking a few moments away from our end-of-year campaign to reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the last year and get ready for the year to come.  We just hit 79% of our goal! This means we still have 20% left to go, or about $4,000.  As we reflect, we are reminded that reaching our goal means empowering Story Tapestries to reach over 1,300 more community members with custom-designed arts-integrated programs.

img_0054We’ve had some wonderful successes, and we’ve also had some wonderful “teaching moments,” and both of those types of experiences are valuable!  One recent success was a residency led by our Executive Director, Arianna Ross, in partnership with teacher Mary McGinn and other educators at Stedwick Elementary.  Arianna kicked off the program with an assembly for the entire school, and then she worked with the individual third-grade classes over the course of five days using theatre, writing, movement, and visual art strategies to help students define elements within a story.  Arianna and the teachers at Stedwick Elementary worked in true partnership to co-plan and co-teach in order to identify and best meet the needs of the students.


During the residency, it became clear that the students would be able to shape the lesson, and the teaching artist and instructors were able to act as a guiding force.  Additionally, the teachers expressed that the process was successful in helping them feel valued through the successes of the students, making it clear that their efforts to integrate arts into their lessons were successful and meaningful.

By the end of the residency, the students had integrated all of the different curriculum standards into the creation of a devised opera that they will work on for the duration of the school year.  At the end of the year, they will have the opportunity to perform their opera at The Kennedy Center, where it will be live-streamed to students in Spain! It was a true privilege for Story Tapestries to play a role in this project that starts with an individual school but will eventually cross national and continental boundaries to create a truly global connection.

About the Artist:


Arianna Ross creates dynamic, educational programs that weave together dance, theatre, creative writing, music and spoken word. For more then 12 years Arianna has performed and taught workshops for all ages both nationally and internationally in many diverse venues. Each program is tailored to the specific age group(s) in attendance.

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We’ve reached 73% of our Goal!

No matter the weather outside, it’s been sunshine inside the Story Tapestries office thanks to great steps forward over this past week!


Over this past week, we’ve had a special big donor commit $10,000 to supporting Story Tapestries. In addition to gifts from several community members, we’ve now reached 73% of our year-end campaign goal. We’re so pleased! And it gets better – this donor has pledged that if we reach our goal, they’ll give an additional $2,000 BONUS! Reaching our goal means empowering Story Tapestries to reach over 1,300 more community members with custom-designed arts-integrated programs. $0.85 of every $1.00 goes directly to support programs.

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For many members of the Story Tapestries family, the month of December is a mad dash to get ready for the Holidays. For others, it represents a time to reflect on the year and spend time with family.   As we approach the end of 2016, we’re taking a moment to look back on everything we’ve accomplished over the last year.  Did your New Years Resolution include giving back to the community?  Have you met your goals, either by donating or volunteering?


It’s not too late to make a difference for 2016.  Make a tax-deductible donation to help us reach our goal.  Or, give the gift of time by volunteering.  If you’re still finishing up some holiday shopping, click HERE to have Amazon give 0.5% of every purchase to Story Tapestries through the AmazonSmile program.

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We do a lot with a littleeven the smallest contribution can have an exponential impact when it comes to these children’s lives and those of the communities they live in. Thank you to everyone in the Story Tapestries family whose generosity makes these programs possible for years to come.

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#GivingTuesday, GlobalGiving and a moment of gratitude!

On November 29th, GlobalGiving is relaunching their #GivingTuesday program, their eighth such campaign since 2012 to help give not-for-profit arts organizations an extra end of year boost and remind our supporters to keep us in mind this holiday season! Read more about #GivingTuesday on the GlobalGiving site. Story Tapestries has been a long-time partner with GlobalGiving, an organization we’re proud to see is truly making an impact in helping not-for-profit organizations realize their potential. 

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Even in this decade, a little less than half of secondary students in DC public schools are below grade level in grading. This year, Story Tapestries is working alongside GlobalGiving in our literacy project campaign. Help us give the art of literacy to students in DC public schools. We aim to stop the illiteracy cycle in its track by focusing not only on growing reading and writing skills but also a passion for learning and lifelong education.



We are excited to have launched an artful moment initiative that brings a Story Tapestries artist or family member into your home every Tuesday at 7pm EST. This past Tuesday featured artist Carrie Sue Ayvar. If you missed here, you can watch her HERE! Then tune in Tonight with our founder and Executive director, Arianna Ross!




Lastly, as we prepare for the holiday season, we at Story Tapestries are reflecting on what brings us joy. At the top of our list is our amazing family – and that includes YOU!

We’re grateful for…

…your ability to read this message

…children’s smiles when they have lightbulb moments of learning

teachers’ renewed excitement when they discover new ways to connect with their students

our partners that inspire and support us

…the child that discovers the joy of reading after participating in a program

the parents that learn how to share a song, a poem, or a story with their children

the 110,000 people we were able to connect with in 2016 thanks to YOU!

MOST of all, we’re grateful for supporters like YOU that see the value of Story Tapestries.

THANK YOU for being a part of our ever-growing family of artists, educators, parents, students and community members.


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“What children’s books can teach us about the value of art, acceptance, kindness, and the meaning of family” – by Mandela Harmon

From the time my big sister taught me to read I’ve spent my life living in the pages of books.  I didn’t grow up in a family that could afford books, or time to read to me, and if not for libraries and yard sales my mind as much as my belly would have been at a lost for the nourishment my soul needed to thrive.  I firmly believe that not only are books a magic portal to anywhere, but that children’s books in particular remind us of what is best and worst in humanity in purest form; unfiltered, open, honest, and without condescension.


I spend what free time I have trying to help children and their adults, or anyone who will listen, find the perfect book just for them. I dust off classic titles long lost and forgotten and try to lure readers to behold whatever new gem I’ve found and fallen in love with.

Next Tuesday November 29th is “Giving Tuesday“. A day to ignore the melee of “Black Friday/Cyber-Monday” and instead honor each other as human beings by donating to charity to enrich our local, national, and global community.

This week of all weeks, I find myself with four particular titles spinning in my head.


Each title shares an element of giving and community with a pinch of beauty to strum your heartstrings  and a dash of empathy that will remind young readers of what matters more than “things”. My gifts to you this week are these stories that when shared remind us what each of us can contribute to make our corner of the world a better place.

Picture Books (Pre-K-Age 7)

Frederick by Leo Lionni
Caldecott Honor Award 1968 (publisher Scholastic Books)


As a takeaway from Aesop’s, “The Grasshopper and the Ant”, it is no surprise that Leo Lionni (a lifelong artist) reinvented the tale to remind young readers that it takes more than stores of food to get a family of field mice through a long grey winter.

While the other field mice in Frederick’s family toil to gather food for the winter ahead, Frederick seems oblivious with his head in the clouds. When his weary family ask about his work ethic, he replies, “I do work. I gather sun rays for the long dark winter days… I gather colors, for winter is grey…I gather words for the winter days are long and many.”  This all seems so selfish and foolish to his family, that is, until food dwindles and the mice grow weary of being trapped inside until springtime arrives. It is then that Frederick, the gifted story teller, feeds their hearts and minds with the remembered warmth of the sun, the colors of nature, and words to captivate them so they forget their ennui.  A reminder to all that our story tellers and artists give the gift of themselves to round out the variety of crafts needed to help our communities flourish and grow.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman (publisher Simon & Schuster)

“They tweet and they twitter.
They chat and they chitter.
But the bear snores on.”

The marvelous melodious combination of words and illustrations in Bear Snores On is what no doubt catapulted the title to become a whole series of books over the years.

An unusual tale of friendship begins with a single mouse seeking warmth from a blustery storm in the cave of a bear. One after another various forest friends find their way into this comfy friendly refuge and gather together around a fire. Each creature brings a little something, and before you know it, a lively little feast ensues. It isn’t until a small pepper flake awakens Bear that things go amiss. Bear seems very upset at first, but we come to discover just feels left out of the fun. Mouse and his motley crew of new  friends comfort Bear and they all enjoy home, hearth, and festivities.

Intermediate Readers (grade 4-7):           

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (published by Feiwel & Friends 9/22/15) 

This book struck me like an arrow to the heart. My sisters and I spent the better part of our childhood as nomads. A single mom working multiple jobs, last minute evictions, little if any food sometimes, and a car we packed up over and over again with our doberman Sugarbear in the back seat along with us.  Just like Jackson we all understood what the anxiety of living on the edge meant, and just like Jackson I too had an imaginary friend to help me through the worst times.

I encourage as many readers as I can to pick up Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.  You may not know her name immediately, but no doubt you’ve heard of her  Newberry Award winning book “The One and Only Ivan”. She brings the same soulful voice to our main character Jackson that moved us so deeply in the gorilla Ivan.

This is the first book I’ve read that approaches homelessness with honesty, and in a way that this age group of readers can fathom . The book puts to rest rather quickly the dismissive offhanded notion young readers have learned from adults…to ignore the homeless or see them as “others”; adults, invalids, lazy, or con-artists.  Jackson and his family are like most who live on the cusp of being homeless every paycheck. They have an average life until his father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Jackson was little then, and only remembers in flashbacks the tough times that followed. His father, mother, little sister, and the family dog lose their house as his father’s condition declines, and his earliest memories include the family undertaking a new summer activity called “car camping”; or in their case mini-van camping.

This is where Jackson’s old friend Crenshaw enters the story. Crenshaw appearred to Jackson at a rest stop when he was about 7 years old. A larger than life (adult-size anyway) cat with a devil may care attitude who loves to cartwheel and be mischievous in general. Just what a confused little boy would wish for in an imaginary friend. The only problem is, much to Jackson’s dismay, that Crenshaw shows up again from out of the blue when he is eleven and in the  fifth grade.  As the bills pile up, his mother works three jobs, and the family sells almost everything they own. Coincidence? Not likely. As Jackson tries to comfort his little sister, who now mirrors who he was the first time around the bottom fell out of his life, the reader can really feel for him and his situation.

No, it doesn’t sound like a cheery read, but I’ve learned that there are lots of young readers who seek out books about empathy. They want to understand, just as adult readers do, and be emotionally connected to and moved by the book in their hands. The book has its moments of levity in Crenshaw’s antics, but ultimately the love the family has for each other speaks to the audience in a way that only love can.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown  (published by Hachette Books 5/22/15)

The Wild Robot

So many books try to teach children about the human experience, but few succeed as well as re-known children’s picture book author/illustrator Peter Brown does in his chapter book debut, The Wild Robot.

Roz is just one of many robots boxed in shipping crates who find themselves dashed upon the rocks of an unnamed island. If not for a playful lot of sea otters and a strange twist of fate, Roz would never become the being we all come to embrace in this coming to life story.

Peter Brown is able, as in his many astonishing picture books, to transport us into the wilds and beguile us with his myriad of sentient creatures.

In the course of her adventures Roz must learn to survive, make friends, become part of an alien community of woodland creatures, and ultimately become mother to an orphaned bird. As we travel beside her it is easy to relate to the difficulty of becoming something so far outside the scope of what we are hardwired to be. As she releases her solitude and struggles to relate to her animals neighbors we are are reminded of how closed off from each other the world seems at times. It is only with kindness on both sides that all creatures, including a robot, learn to embrace one another and realize that we are all interdependent on one another.

This is a story soft enough to read aloud as a family, but also deceptively heavy on a philosophical level for those who have advanced readers. A story worth sharing that reminds us that humanity is more than metal/fur/skin-deep.


About Mandela:

Born in Maryland and raised a little bit of everywhere, Mandela Harmon is a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and giver of bear hugs who currently lives in Monrovia, Md. Mandela attended Hood College to work on a degree in philosophy. She is a lifelong bookworm, and has worked in sales as a children’s book specialist on and off 15 years. She likes blustery snowbound days reading by a fireplace drinking Earl Grey, hot.

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The Impact of the Arts on Literacy Development

Several studies have linked the impact of arts with the development of language arts skills and literacy skills. Arts integration programs implemented in schools across a period as short as a few months have been shown to improve students’ abilities to master certain language skills.


There are many ways in which the arts can be integrated into the classroom. The Developing Literacy Through the Arts (DELTA) report, a summary of research conducted by scientists and educators, lists such practices as music and song integration. In a music unit set up in an elementary school, educators saw measurable results on how lyric and songwriting problem-solving tasks enhanced literacy development in students over the course of just a few weeks.

img_2180-1Furthermore, according to the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies (NASAA), the overall effects of arts integration has been shown to benefit both English language learners and native English speakers by helping them gain a greater avenue to express their own ideas and create their own textual narratives. Furthermore, student populations considered to be most ‘at risk’ showed the greatest gains from arts integration practices.

We at Story Tapestries believe that by investing in multi-faceted arts integration practices, we will sustain and enhance the ways in which students and educators alike develop and grow holistically.


A message from one educator we worked with: “The students were taught strategies in drama that involve different ways to use the body to tell a story or reinforce learning unfamiliar vocabulary or show how different characters in a story were portrayed. We also used the level of our voices to show how different characters in a story were feeling. The visual arts were used to map out what the setting looked like in a story.

Through our work, we seek to engage and empower every participant we reach to embrace the arts as a component of daily life as the arts certainly do make a measurable difference in the way we envision ourselves, embrace our identities and work with others to build an encouraging environment based on understanding and community.

To learn more about the DELTA report, click here.

To learn more about the NASAA findings, click here.

To learn more about STEAM at Story Tapestries, click here.


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Failing it Forward: Lessons Learned

Story Tapestries recently participated in a Fail it Forward initiative led by GlobalGiving.org. We wanted to share our story with you!

When Story Tapestries first received its 501-c-3 status, we knew we needed to spread the word about our new status and to rally a network of donors that would help sustain our growth. Following what we’ve observed from other successful organizations, we decided to host a fundraising event – live music, wine, snacks and an opportunity to meet and talk with ST artists. We used Eventbrite to invite our friends and acquaintances, as well as made phone calls and sent personal invitations to encourage attendance. However, the event was not well attended and we raised very little money. The following year we tried again, only we changed the flavor of the event by asking our Samba band artists to provide the entertainment, as well as a juggler and a face painting artist, and we made a more direct ask for a $25 donation per family in advance or at the event. Sadly this event was equally unsuccessful in meeting our objective of raising funds and letting people from outside of our existing network know about who we are and what we do. While we had called on Board Members and friends to help us drum up support and encourage attendance or a donation in its place, we still managed to raise only a few hundred dollars with these events.

Simultaneously in 2011, we learned about Global Giving and participated in the Open Challenge, successfully earning a permanent place for our Literacy Project. We were excited and encouraged that perhaps this could be a new way for us to expand our network of donors above and beyond our local connections. Unfortunately, after the initial excitement over achieving that first goal, we struggled to make significant progress with securing individual donations and our donations from 2012 to 2013 flat-lined, and in 2014 they actually dropped. We were failing and needed to change our tactics.

Time to go back to the drawing board?

So in 2015 we participated in webinars through GlobalGiving and other resources, we met with local organizations like the Community Foundation of Montgomery County, and we met with marketing and social media consultants. Gathering together all of their resources, we tasked our Board and staff members in an annual Strategic Planning Meeting to complete a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and to develop a new strategy to help us focus and prioritize our next steps. We then launched an annual fundraising campaign that more than doubled our individual donations comparing 2014 to 2015.
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What was different? We followed suggestions to activate our artist network and our program participants to share their stories and let people know about the results of the work we do. A series of short videos and email templates with colorful photos helped empower our Board Members to reach out to their personal contacts and move them to action. Our messages moved away from long emails quoting national numbers and statistics related to arts integration, and instead focused on telling stories about the direct impact of ST programs while highlighting key numbers to demonstrate in a concrete way how a donation would affect the life of a child. We also set a specific monetary goal, following the advice of our mentors, to create a clear target and a sense of urgency. Utilizing GlobalGiving’s connection with the VolunteerMatch service, we were also able to engage several skilled volunteers to help us achieve our goals.

Through this process, we learned first and foremost that we can’t fundraise on our own – we need to engage the support of resources like volunteers. We also learned that for our organization, in-person events at this point are not a fruitful strategic approach for fundraising. However, we have realized that successful fundraising needs a personal touch, allowing readers to feel a personal connection to what we’re doing by seeing photos and videos of what we’re doing and the results our programs achieve.  While this is a continuous process that we continue to learn from, our failures with in-person fundraising events and our initial struggle with online fundraising finally took a turn in the direction we were aiming for and by reflecting on what has and hasn’t worked, and we’re confident that we’ll continue to improve our ability to engage individual donors and expand our support network. We decided to share this story with you as part of GlobalGiving’s Fail it Forward campaign because we believe that transparency is a key means for building a strong foundation. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned, and to let you, our reader, in on what has happened behind the scenes. This reflection has also created an even stronger bond and sense of being a team that will help us persevere and ultimately achieve even our loftiest goals – together!

 Thank you for being a part of the ST hiSTory!

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New Beginnings: “Tuesdays with StoryTapestries” and GoodWorld!

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Exciting news! Story Tapestries will be launching “Tuesdays with StoryTapestries” this November! Starting on Nov. 1., every Tuesday night at 7:00 pm we will be sharing a Facebook Live video for parents in our network to watch with their children and families at story time.  A family moment for the arts – whether sharing a story, a song, or other art form – is a great way for us to get together and explore, learn and create.


Every live video will feature a Story Tapestries family member, and every story will be premised on a specific theme such as “friendship”, “courage” and “perseverance.” We want this to be a resource to parents who are looking for stories and activities that share a positive message.   

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At Story Tapestries, we’re always looking for ways to get involved and stay engaged with our local communities. We’re all so looking forward to this new series, and we hope you can support us by being a part of the fun! Look for the first video on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7:00 pm with Arianna Ross!

In addition, up until November 1st, GoodWorld is offering anyone who clicks through the link and signs up for GoodWorld a $10 credit that they can immediately donate to Story Tapestries!  We have worked with GoodWorld to improve our ability to gather donations via social media. GoodWorld is like PayPal for not-for-profits, where people can create an account and make donations to their favorite charities.  Please consider following the link this week to send a free donation!

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Thank you so much for your support thus far. We hope we can continue to deliver exciting content for years to come.


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