New project launching to document COVID-19 impact on Merced County

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Merced County Office of Education and UC Merced are taking action by launching a new project called "Shelter and Place."

The collaboration is a year-long program that will train high school and college-aged students on how to be civilian historians that will share real-life stories from the pandemic that will be used to document this time in history.

"The beauty of this is we're creating a situation in which UC Merced faculty, UC Merced students and Merced County students and teachers have an opportunity to work together to create something new and create something that we hope has some sustainability over the course of the next few years," said UC Merced professor Jayson Beaster-Jones.

Workshops provided by UC Merced humanities students and faculty will help 20 participants develop the skills necessarily to interview residents and explore the pandemic's effect on the community.

This oral history project will culminate in December when students present their findings through various live performances at a local theater.

"Some participants might want to create films through documenting their experiences during COVID. Some use the podcasting medium as a way of bringing in the voices of families to talk about the trauma they experienced," Beaster-Jones said.

Officials say all transcripts and recordings of the interviews and performances will be archived and shared throughout the community.

California Humanities has awarded the Merced County Office of Education and UC Merced collaboration a $20,000 grant to help launch the "Shelter and Place" project, which also aims to encourage high school students to pursue higher education.

"They get access to UC Merced professionals, they get access to Downtown Merced performing arts professionals. They're going to be meeting all these people, getting to use their resources and seeing how they might fit in in the future," said project manager Noelle Chandler.

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