Supporting Students Through Art and Community


Creating Supportive Space for Students

If you ask long-time artist, arts educator, and Delta House Founder Shirley Whitesides how she's moving through the challenges of COVID as she welcomes students each day into the learning pod she's fostering in partnership with Asheville City Schools, she will smile and warmly tell you that she's more energized than ever. Despite being high-risk for the infectious disease given her age and health conditions, Mrs. Whitesides says waking up at 5:30 a.m. to create the space for students to safely gather and create connections in their learning, with one another, and through music and art is also what keeps her body moving and mind strong through this challenging time. 

Founded in 1983 by Whitesides and fellow Delta Sigma Theta sorority members, Delta House serves as a space to enhance the lives of under-privileged youth by strengthening their cultural awareness, education, and health within a diverse population of their peers. United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County has been a long-time supporter of their critical and inspiring work with local students, offering support through our partnership in Community Schools as well as our annual Holiday Book Drive.


Creating Community Connections

Many local partnerships come together to support Delta House students. Our organization is one and the funding received through our community helps serve their incredible work, including through our annual Holiday Book Drive. Mrs. Whitesides said the students were recently doing an activity where they were asked to list five things they like to do. As they shared aloud, she noticed reading was missing from their lists and asked the students why. They told her if they had books they could relate to from their culture, they would read more.

"So that's why being able to share some of the books collected from the drive is very good for them," she said. "As we continue to diversify and learn about different cultures, we'll all have better relationships and learn how to hold respect for one another, learn teamwork, and build self esteem."


Experimenting to Find Their Own Way

In her earlier years teaching arts education at Hill Street under Arthur Edington as her Principal, whom the Edington Center is now named after, Mrs. Whitesides said she discovered the connections students found as they experimented in the arts. "We didn't have much-- crayons, pencils, and yarn-- yet I worked to make sure they arrived to a colorful classroom where they were encouraged to find their own way."

Her Delta House LEEAP, Learning Through Expanded Academics and the Arts, shows this work in action, where community teachers come in and help introduce and foster new arts forms with the students. Their Delta House Jazz Band is one extension of this work, allowing students the space to learn New Orleans style jazz, work together creatively, and create music that they share in the community. "Many of our students have IEPs and social/emotional learning needs, so the arts are an incredible part of supporting them."