Volunteering is Fun | Sunday Everyday

Since Ken and I moved to Chicago, I’ve been involved with a couple of really awesome organizations. In May, I volunteered my photography services for a fundraising event by the Lincoln Park Community Shelter (LPCS). I loved being able to help the shelter out and, since then, I’ve continued to offer my services for their events. I’ve also been volunteering with the Chicago Photography Center (CPC). The CPC has a program in which photography experts and hobbyists spend time teaching photography basics to some of the residents and graduates of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter.

We critique each other’s work, have seminars, and go on photography walks together at least once a month. In just a few sessions, I’ve already had the privilege of seeing some of these people exploring and pushing their artistic boundaries. It’s wonderful to watch people grasp onto art as a form of self expression, particularly people like the residents and grads of LPCS — people who are (or have been) homeless, marginalized, without a voice in their community, and often without a creative outlet.

There’s one issue; the volunteers lament that the program can’t afford basic SLRs or DSLRs for the participants to use. They’re learning the basics of composition, lighting, and subject matter, but unfortunately they can’t always create what their increasingly sophisticated photographic eyes long to capture. Often, they shoot with disposable film cameras. This isn’t to say that they don’t make outstanding images, because even with their basic tools they are able to put together truly fantastic pieces. Still, it’s not a great feeling to see them being held back by what is essentially a lack of money — something that’s held them back in other areas of their lives as well. (The CPC is working on grants to remedy this problem but, in the meantime, such is the situation.)

At the last session I attended, Stephanie, a graduate of the LPCS and a member of the CPC’s photography program, had run out of film on her disposable camera, so I handed her my DSLR to play around with. We were at a cemetery, with some really interesting mausoleums and stained glass windows. Stephanie was a little intimidated, but happy to get her hands on a camera with worlds more range than the disposable she’s used to. I fixed up the camera’s settings, and she took some pretty incredible pictures. Here are a few of my favorites:

This next one is very cool. It almost looks like a composite. Because of the reflections, you can see both inside and outside of the monument. The framing is also top notch. Really impressive stuff!

I love the use of line and shadow in this one.

If you’re considering helping out a non-profit foundation by volunteering your expertise, in whatever field you’re in, I definitely encourage you to give it a try. If it fits into your schedule, and you’re able to do a bit of unpaid work, it can be a pretty rewarding experience for you as well as for the organization you’re helping out. Here’s a phone picture of a thank you note that Meghan from the LPCS wrote for me, after I photographed their Metamorphosis Party. I think it sums everything up pretty nicely.



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  • Murray Manus - It’s so great to have such dedicated volunteers like you Tennile. I am a case manager at the shelter and I know how valued your contributions are by our homeless guests. It’s such a wonderful thing that you are willing to share your time and talents (and equipment) to help out. Thanks a million.ReplyCancel