The Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center (HAMEC) has learned firsthand the power of a hashtag.
The museum ran a fundraising campaign from August to October on the website Generosity.com with the hashtag #SkypeHolocaustSurvivorsIntoClassrooms. It was intended to raise funds for a Skype media center where survivors could make use of the videoconferencing software to reach schools and organizations in western and central Pennsylvania. It is sometimes harder for survivors to physically get to those places.
Because the word “Skype” was used, a representative from Microsoft (Skype’s parent company) found it while scouring Generosity and contacted the museum about partnering with its Skype in the Classroom program.
“The phone call came into the museum and I heard Geoff [Quinn, education director] get off the phone and he was like, ‘I just got a call from Microsoft,’ and there was dancing going on after that,” said HAMEC Media and Marketing Coordinator Rhonda Fink-Whitman.
Now the museum will be able to continue the programming it does in the five surrounding counties and parts of New Jersey but will also be able to reach classrooms across the country and even the world.
“It’s a way for our survivors to reach students that are out of their geographical reach — they can only travel so far,” Fink-Whitman said. “It’s just a fantastic opportunity for Holocaust education and we are so proud to be able to participate.”
The museum is creating an in-house Skype studio in its Northeast Philadelphia home. Survivors will be able to use new equipment such as state-of-the-art microphones and computers to share their stories with students in classrooms from California to India.
So far, there are 25 programs scheduled for 2017, according to Education Director Geoff Quinn.
The first Skype program took place on Jan. 4. David Tuck, one of the Holocaust survivors who does programming with the museum, was able to Skype with a group of teachers at a school in Wisconsin. On Jan. 24, Tuck will Skype with students at a school in Sicily.
“The initial thought process was that we’re able to reach those schools out in Pennsylvania that we can’t always drive survivors to, and it turned into now we’re starting to broadcast whoever wants to have us due to the funds that were raised for this Generosity campaign,” Quinn said.
Now it’s a matter of satisfying the demand.
“All throughout February and March, we have all over the continental U.S., a couple in Alaska, we have been getting requests from India and Turkey and trying to get everybody scheduled,” he said. “We’ve been getting requests from all over the place. The thing is we have 25 scheduled now. We keep getting more and more each day.”
While those at the museum are excited about being able to offer their programming across the globe, there’s another group who is just as, if not more, excited.
“We’re very excited about it but our survivors are more excited about it than we are,” Quinn said.
For some, it will provide a chance to speak to classrooms in their native tongue, be it Polish or German, and revisit their past while speaking to those who are in these countries now.
“We’re able to have more of those experiences and reach more students, and survivors can tell students from their hometown now what their experience was living there,” Quinn said.
While he noted they will not stop the programming they already do — bringing survivors to schools and organizations to physically share their story — Quinn is excited to see the program grow and see technology’s impact on Holocaust education.
“As long as we have Holocaust survivors and volunteers that are able to facilitate and transport them around the Delaware Valley, we don’t plan on using less of our physical programs and presentations. As long as our organization has Holocaust survivors to work with, we’ll never stop that,” he said. “What I’m looking forward to is the expansion beyond the Delaware Valley and providing this service to other areas.”
Board President Chuck Feldman agreed. “The sky is the limit,” he said.
Pointing to the organization’s growth as far as programming as well as the number of survivors and volunteers who work with HAMEC in just the last few years, Feldman said this program will only help.
“Even with our longtime volunteers and supporters, the discussion we will now be able to Skype has drawn tremendous positive response,” Feldman said. “This is taking us to the next level.”
Being able to offer a program like this is especially significant now.
“We are obviously reaching a point in time where our Holocaust survivors — and I would not say tomorrow or the next day — but in 10, 15, 20 years we won’t have them, or clearly won’t have as many,” Feldman said. “But I would like to emphasize we will have a number because these folks who are willing and able to do this have tremendous resilience, and as we’re fond of saying, they don’t call them survivors for nothing.
“While time is ticking,” he continued, “this is a real opportunity for us to take advantage of technology, to do as much as we can for as long as we can. And ‘as long as we can’ is not tomorrow or the next day; ‘as long as we can’ are years and years down the road.”
For him, this is a “feel good” opportunity.
“We live in times where people are not feeling good about any number of things, but this is something people can participate in, volunteer to be involved with, obviously support us financially, where they can actually see literally thousands and thousands of young people having this opportunity,” he said.
“Over the last three years, we’ve done 1,200 programs and we’ve reached over 100,000 students. This will enable us to not only increase that number but increase the number and the geographic location. We’re very happy and excited about this, and for good reason.”
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