Creative Generosity Builds Communities

Help-Portrait, an annual photography event, commemorated their eighth year December 5th, 2015. Though not an official Help-Portrait event, New Haven’s Mothers For Justice group members were invited to participate in a holiday portrait event the same day, organized by photojournalist volunteer, Margaret Wage, with the idea of giving back.

Help-Portrait was founded by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart and Kyle Chowning in 2008. Their mission is to empower photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists to use their skills, tools and expertise to give back to their local community.

The Mothers For Justice (MFJ) is a grass-roots women’s advocacy group that seeks to support one another and empower themselves and their families to improve their lives and their communities. MFJ was founded in 1933 and is dedicated to using their collective voice to change the systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice. Our issues and concerns are Welfare Reform, Prison Re-entry, Housing, Healthcare & Domestic Violence among many other things. A similarity MFJ shares with the Help-Portrait community is they both recognize giving back to the local community is one way to effect positive change.

There are great folks working with organizations year-round to make things better for those in need. Ginger Grant, a.k.a. Ginger Lee Originals, is a Connecticut art photographer and sees art as a way to enrich those living in Bristol, CT. Grant recently opened  The Studio, an art studio space where she hosts painting, stitching, stamping and numerous craft project classes. What’s the connection between creativity and hunger, you might ask. For Grant, the connection lies in building up an underserved community where residents might not have even considered taking a pencil or brush to paper to express feelings or life perspective. Grant advocates any growth must first come from willingness to try. It’s only then that a person can see possibility and from that, change can occur.

In October The Studio hosted a ‘Photo Feel Good’ event, inviting the public at large to have a photograph made, free of charge, and like Help-Portrait, a print was made and given to each participant. Nearby business neighbor Marisela Severino of Joamar Hair Salon volunteered her salon and services for the all day event. A photo session included  make-up by Dori Green and contributed to making each person ‘Feel Good’ for the occasion. Grant collected (business attire) clothing  donations and  in turn, participants selected  whatever they needed for a job interview. Sweaters, blouses, dresses, slacks, jackets and winter coats were made available free to take home. That generosity of spirit is what creativity is about.

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Many who attended were inspired as conversations began and people opened up about their situations. Some attendees were in transitional housing and the access to free clothing was appreciated as they took the time visit each table-full of gently used garments and racks of formal wear that were placed on hangers throughout The Studio. The clothing that remained was donated to Christian Fellowship Center on Prospect St. in Bristol.

Merryl Eaton, of MFJ, was gracious and allowed the use of the building space to do portraits. Eaton organizes monthly MFJ meetings and keeps members aware of legislative events for MFJ to attend and speak to issues they wish to impact.

Surprisingly, half the people who signed up didn’t come due to lack of transportation. The following images are of the members that came, some with their family. With hope and the strength that comes from support networks such as these, changes for the better can be made.

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