In Spring 2018, we awarded four $500 grants through the annual Harvardwood Heroes program in recognition of Harvard alumni performing outstanding work at the intersection of the arts and service. This Thanksgiving weekend, we're catching up with the 2018 Heroes to share their program updates with the Harvardwood community and to express our gratitude for their inspiring impact on their communities.
First in the spotlight is Jeanie M. Barnett MPA '02, who volunteers with The Chicago Help Initiative (CHI), which provides meals, social services, and life-enriching programs to people in need and experiencing homelessness. Jeanie leads CHI's weekly photography workshops.
Our photo workshop, which was launched in the fall of 2017, uses the power of photography and social media as tools for self-expression and creativity, and for bringing people together. Follow us on Instagram.
Our small group convenes every Wednesday for an hour before CHI’s meal service in downtown Chicago. On days when weather permits, we take our smartphones and wander around the neighborhood snapping photos—of architecture, graffiti, people walking their dogs, construction workers (we’re always building or repairing something in Chicago!)—which elicit spontaneous and positive interactions with strangers who might otherwise have no inclination to engage. We often use our time together to talk about specific photos, discuss photo techniques with apps, exchange tips about using a smartphone camera, how to edit photos and how to share on social media. Deborah, who is the most experienced photographer in the group, always has a new app or technique to share with us. She also has a keen eye, a roving curiosity, and a compassion for others that she expresses through her photos—especially of people who are homeless whom she encounters on her daily journeys through the city.
We share our photos with each other via Facebook Messenger, google+ and text messaging, and our Instagram account has grown steadily (and organically) to about 70 followers to date, with higher than average engagement rates (ranging from 11-28+% likes). This may seem trivial, but to our group, it’s an affirmation that people are seeing and responding positively to their photos, and it’s a self-esteem booster. Lamont especially has flourished as a photographer, and uses his smartphone to document the community activism for tenants rights he’s recently gotten involved with.
This past Spring, CHI launched an art workshop in partnership with the Chicago Sinai Congregation. Our group often joins this workshop and engages in other media (painting, sketching and knitting). We have also joined this group for several outings, including an architectural tour by boat this past August. The informal partnership we’ve fostered with the art group has led to our joining forces to plan the first gallery exhibit of participants’ artworks, and our group’s photography will also be featured. The exhibit will be held during CHI’s annual holiday fundraiser, a special screening of “Miracle on 34th St.,” on November 29, at Chicago’s iconic Music Box Theatre. We expect several hundred people to attend and view the exhibit. We also plan to make the artworks and photos available for purchase, with proceeds benefiting the individual artists.
The funding we’ve received from Harvardwood will enable us to cover the costs of quality printing and framing, and to create a photo album using picaboo or another online service. We also plan to use a portion of the grant to create printed cards and a calendar featuring our workshoppers’ photos.
Jeanie has volunteered with CHI since 2016 and is a member of CHI’s Board of Directors. She is a writer/editor and communications consultant based in Chicago.