Young parents document their lives in a new exhibit

MIDDLEBURY — Krista Sargent had lost part of her soul.
She reclaimed it with the help of others — and through a special poem that came from her heart.
“I am from the smell of Nana’s cookies baked all the time, hugs from Nana, whose long-gone porcelain dolls I remember as if they were mine,” the Vergennes resident writes.
“I am from being raped three times and living homeless in California, from doing drugs and learning better.”
“I am from late nights studying for college and cleaning and cooking.”
“I am from being a wife and mother.”
“I am from these moments.”
Sargent candidly tells her life’s story in her poem, one of many searing, evocative and sometimes fanciful autobiographical writings, recordings and photos that are part of the Vermont Folklife Center’s new exhibit, “Discovering Community: Showcase of Student Work.”
In all, the exhibit showcases more than 100 documentary works produced during the last nine months by kindergarten-through-12th-grade students and at-risk youth populations. Among the unique individual projects are films produced by kids attending the afterschool program at Upper Valley Haven (a homeless shelter), a memoir writing project by young mothers at the Parent/Child Center of Addison County, a documentary project by high school students who traveled to Rwanda to record “Stories of Hope,” and a film exchange linking Vermont students with young people in a small fishing village in Nicaragua.
“We are all richer as an audience learning from the expanding archive of human experiences recorded with creativity and honesty,” said Vermont Folklife Center Media Instructor and exhibit curator Scott Miller. “Working with this diverse group of Vermonters over the past nine months has been a humbling experience.”
Around a dozen members of the Parent/Child Center’s “Memoirs Class” agreed to contribute selected works for the exhibit, according to Carol Johnson, an outreach worker at the center. The Memoirs Class gives young parents an opportunity to write about themselves while earning high school credits.
“The goal (of the class) is to help students’ confidence in their own voice and promote appreciation for their stories,” Johnson said.
Rose Ferron, a University of Vermont student and intern at the Parent/Child Center, also helped with the project.
This is just the most recent creative collaboration between the Folklife Center and the Parent/Child Center.
Parent/Child Center students were happy to share their work, and through it, the various chapters of their lives that have made them who they are today and indeed, like all of us, works in progress.
Ned Castle is director of development for the Folklife Center. He spent time taking photos of the participants and explaining how the center would use the material to capture their stories and help them learn more about themselves through writing.
“I told them there was this potential to share (their stories) with the community and not just within the class at the Parent/Child Center,” Castle said.
Exhibitors can take their work down at any time if they decide they no longer want to share it.
Mikela Dietrich, a local 18-year-old single mom and Parent/Child Center client, has already seen more twists and turns in her life than many people twice her age. Like her Memoirs Class colleague Krista Sargent, she penned a poem about who she is and how she got there:
“I am from Middlebury, Vermont.
From Kool-Aid smiles and baggies of Kix Cereal.
Am from endless games of hide and seek being won under the bunk beds,” Dietrich writes.
“I am from Edna’s chicken soup and the weeping
Willow I always saw in my dreams.
From the positive pregnancy tests at sixteen
to the delivery of my beautiful son at seventeen.
I’m also from broken promises and lost hopes
Beneath my thick bruised skin.
I’m from the hair dryer striking me across the back of my head,
To the pity nighttime cuddles.
I am from all of these things.”
Dietrich also provided an essay, titled “Just Like Old Times,” which describes her close relationship with her grandfather, whom she considers her rock and role model. He, in turn, still refers to Dietrich as his “Princess.” She recounts how her grandfather’s cheerful banter and unconditional love has carried her through some depressing, dark times.
“I don’t get these times with my Grandpa often, but when I do it changes my whole day, my whole week and it fills my heart,” she writes in her essay. “I always cherish the little moments in time I spend with him because I know someday I won’t be able to have them back.”
Writing has indeed proved therapeutic for Dietrich, Sargent and their colleagues as they lay their lives bare for all to see.
The writing usually begins with carefree moments of youth that get more raw and complicated, such as for Dietrich, who became pregnant at age 16, followed by a bad break-up and a wake-up call to provide for herself and her child.
Sargent’s poem also follows the arc in her life, from a playful childhood to being a rape victim and a substance abuser, to being a young mom back on the road to recovery and self-sufficiency.
“A lot of people don’t realize what I’ve been through and the  person I have become because of those moments,” Sargent, a 28-year-old mother of two, said. “I think (the writing) brings people to see a new side of me. I am usually very shy and quiet.”
Sargent does not plan on writing a lot more poetry.
“Being able to get things out and write it down helps, but I don’t like hearing about it after that,” said Sargent, who got married last year.
On the other hand, Dietrich plans to keep on writing.
“I definitely use writing as one of my outlets; I have since I was in high school,” said Dietrich, who like Sargent is seeing her life get better. She works multiple jobs for a total of more than 50 hours a week.
“Discovering Community: Showcase of Student Work” runs through June 8 at the Folklife Center’s headquarters at 88 Main St. in Middlebury.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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