Fridays at the farm, with Speaking Center
If community partnerships are one of the building blocks of UNCG’s real-work impact, then Kim Cuny ’94 MA, ’07 MFA is one of the University’s best construction workers – figuratively speaking.
Cuny is a communication studies professor, an adjunct assistant professor (graduate faculty) in the School of Theatre, a part-time lecturer in the Political Science Department’s MPA program, and director of the UNCG Speaking Center.
In addition to earning the 2021 UNCG Anna Maria Grove Award For Teaching Excellence, she was recently honored, nationally, with a Service Engagement Award for a partnership she established with Peacehaven Community Farm.
Every Friday until the pandemic hit, Cuny and a group of UNCG Speaking Center students traveled to Peacehaven Community Farm to work with the residents.
An 89-acre farm in Whitsett, North Carolina, Peacehaven provides adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities a place to live, work, and engage with their community. For the past six years, Cuny and her students have been helping the residents improve their communication skills.
“We were seeing that the students working in the Speaking Center were very conflict-averse,” Cuny said. “When Peacehaven opened, I thought, ‘Hm … Four adults living together … I bet they have a lot of conflict. I wonder if we can be their communication coaches.’”
Their lessons focused on topics like respecting personal space, asking open-ended questions, and public speaking. And at the University, they started a weekly night program called “Let’s Communicate,” open to all adults in the community with intellectual or developmental disabilities who want help with communication.
“The biggest reward is the relationships we’ve all developed with the core members at the farm.”Kim Cuny ’94 MA, ’07 MFA
One resident at Peacehaven is Jeff Piegari, a UNCG alumnus who graduated through the University’s Beyond Academics Integrative Community Studies program. His father, Patrick Piegari, wrote a nomination letter in support of Cuny’s Service Engagement Award, stating, “These engagement activities with the Speaking Center are a highlight for the core members, especially my son Jeff, who has been a resident at Peacehaven since it opened in the winter of 2014. Jeff has improved a great deal with his communication skills, especially writing and verbally sharing ideas that relate to music, which is his passion.”
Since the work began in 2015, the Peacehaven residents have spoken publicly at events like Peacehaven’s Annual Harvest Festival and the 2019 National Communication Center conference. Their improved skills have also helped the residents engage more with their community – a primary mission of Peacehaven Farm – by participating in service learning projects for seniors, church organizations, and the homeless.
Cuny’s Service Engagement Award was presented by the National Communication Association, the largest professional organization of the communication studies academic discipline. Yet it’s not the award’s prestige that matters most to her.
“The biggest reward is the relationships we’ve all developed with the core members at the farm, with the RAs, and volunteers,” said Cuny. “It has been such a rich partnership.”
By Elizabeth Keri with updates by Brittany Cameron.
Photography by Martin W. Kane.