Photo program helps homeless kids picture their dreams

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Detroit - With the smooth stroke of a black marker, Jerronica on Saturday wrote down her dreams and aspirations - unearthed but delayed given that she and her family live in a homeless shelter.

The 13-year-old shared them with her assigned mentor, Carolyn Clifford, one of the lead anchors on WXYZ-TV, as she encouraged the teen to open up. Her thoughts came out rapidly: Be a lawyer. Go to a good college. Have a mansion. Do more for my parents. Be a photographer and photograph the world.

Clifford and other TV and radio personalities like Taryn Asher and Amy Lange of Fox 2, Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin and radio personality JoAnne Purtan and other prominent volunteers in the region participated in Pictures of Hope, a program started by photojournalist Linda Solomon to help homeless children illustrate their dreams through pictures. And have hope.

So to achieve one of Jerronica's dreams, Clifford donned a rain poncho, arms spread out like eagle wings, with a world map on it as she took the news anchor's picture.

"It's an opportunity to meet people who have good careers and I want to be like them," said Jerronica. "It's a good feeling to be able to meet with them and sit down and talk with them. Basically, you meet people that inspire you to want to do things like they do."

Clifford, who had participated in the program a few years ago at another Detroit shelter, said she's always been touched by the program and what it does for children in need.

"So many people in Detroit have problems and sometimes somebody like Jerronica can meet somebody like me and think that me as an anchor that we haven't had our own struggles," she said. "I just wanted her to know that we've all had struggles and she can overcome it, and it's beautiful to help young people like this and to let them know even though she's homeless right now, even through her family may be going through troubles, her Dad has heart failure, she can overcome it. My family overcame it. I grew up in the city of Detroit."

Fox 2 reporter Taryn Asher views images with Kevin as famed photographer Linda Solomon provided a lesson for homeless children in Detroit on October 20, 2018.

The national program sponsored locally by the Eugene & Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation awards children ages 5 to 17 a new digital camera to capture images they want to chronicle as part of their dreams. Then on Nov. 28, those pictures will be featured in an exhibition at the Charles H. Wright African American Museum.

For some of the kids, their dreams are grandiose as they wish for a sports car or a big house. But for most, the basic necessities such as a lamp to do homework, Solomon recalled about one child she encountered, or a bed or refrigerator for the family is what they dream about and desire.

Rev. Faith Fowler, the executive director of the Cass Community Social Services that helps the homeless children and their families in Detroit, said the program organizers approached her group "to engage kids from the shelters, including ours, who get a chance to use their imagination to talk about what gives them hope and then they will use cameras to capture that."

"You don't really think about kids sitting in a shelter. It's not a very stimulating environment," Fowler said. "So this is a chance to get out and get away, have a mentor, and to do something creative. And it's all really good. And the fact that they can produce pictures that will be turned into cards. They will sort of like celebrities, that's even better."

Solomon said she's seen so may lives changed just by participating in the program with the public donating money, sending kids to college on full-ride scholarships and inspiring greatness in kids who seemingly have no hope. She's brought the program to 53 cities such as Flint, Tuscon, El Paso, across the country since 2005 - usually with the highest numbers of homeless children.

"I think we all know this in life: If you have one person believe in you, it's life changing," she said. "The dreams are right there in front of them. It's empowering because it's not just something they are thinking about. It's like, oh, there's my dream. This is a way for them to see a better future."

For five-year-old Kevin, who was super shy when he met Detroit City Coucilman James Tate and Fox 2 Anchor Taryn Asher, he slowly began to share his dreams with them - to go to the zoo, to play with a lion, to make a car.

"His needs seem to be simple: Breakfast, a house, a car, a puppy, things that maybe we take for granted everyday," Asher said of Kevin. "It just puts things in perspective and why it's so important that we're here today helping to go on a proper journey and get what they need."

Tate, who joked and brought a smile to Kevin's face, said he understands his plight in life and wants to give back.

"It's kind of intimidating when you have all these new people around you and you don't know folks to try to open up," he said. "It's helping me to work and bond and identify things in him and help him adapt to different and new challenging situations in life that are going to come. At five years old, he's already going through some difficult situations."

Aniya, 12, who worked with Purtan, just wanted to go to Disney World, have a hoverboard and color pencils but most importantly to have a home and achieve her dream to be an artist someday.

After Purtan noticed Aniya wanted to take a picture of a nearby blue, tiny house, they darted in her car to the home where Aniya snapped photos.

"It makes me feel happy, excited, because I get to talk to somebody about what I love and what I want to do," Aniya said. "And what I want to have."

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