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UNG's Appalachian studies' makes mark in Blue Ridge

Appalachian Studies March 2016
During the tribute, Brenda Bynum, author and storyteller, performed short pieces from interviews with Lewis, and Don Sailers performed iconic songs through the decades of Helen's life.

With north Georgia serving as the gateway to the Appalachian region, the University of North Georgia (UNG) finds many opportunities to celebrate the mountainous area's vibrant culture.

On Mar. 4, the UNG Blue Ridge Campus hosted Saving Appalachian Gardens and Stories, a community-based research project through UNG's Appalachian Studies Center. Students and faculty collected, banked, grew and shared heirloom seeds of the Southern Appalachians as well as their related ethno-cultural memories and donated them to a number of community partners including Feed Fannin, Fannin County Library, Fannin County Master Gardeners Club and Highland Rivers Health.

Earlier in the semester, the Blue Ridge Campus, the Georgia Appalachian Studies Center, which is based on UNG's Dahlonega Campus, and the Craddock Center partnered to host "What am I supposed to do now?: A Tribute to Helen Lewis." Dr. Helen Lewis, heralded by many as "the grandmother of Appalachian studies," has had a significant impact on students attending UNG as well as the Appalachian studies discipline.

Lewis has been working and teaching in Appalachia since 1955. She worked in central Appalachian coalfields, served as a founding member of the Appalachian Studies Association, crafted a highly-regarded historical perspective, and wrote a multitude of articles and books.

Senior history major and Appalachian studies minor student Ross McIntire can testify to Lewis' impact on this academic arena.

"She's one of my idols," McIntire said. "She has absolutely shifted my focus away from what can I get out of my degree to what can I give back to other people."

The partnership was made possible by Sandy Ott, director of UNG's Blue Ridge Campus, which was instrumental in helping the Craddock Center organize the event.

"This was a wonderful example of the community support through the Craddock Center, the UNG resources, and the opportunities that are now available with the opening of the Blue Ridge Campus, not just for the Appalachian students that got to meet Dr. Lewis, but also for the community," Ott said.

Julie Jabeley, executive director of the Craddock Center, agreed, and added that the UNG group offered thoughtful questions during their time with Helen.

"It was a pleasure to see her legacy carry forward into a current generation of compassionate, thoughtful scholars," she said.

Ott said UNG can look forward to many more community events in the future because it is a big focus of the Blue Ridge Campus to be able to provide opportunities such as speakers, lectures and other programs.

More info about Lewis' tribute can be found on the Craddock Center's website.

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