Homeless kids illustrate ‘hopes and dreams’

Linda Solomon Special to The News

My life has been changed by the children. The homeless children.

I have been to shelters in 48 cities. I teach the children how to capture their “hopes and dreams” with a camera. The camera becomes something much more to each child and their photographs become “Pictures of Hope.”

The pictures share feelings not easily expressed verbally. But with a camera, the children — who are among the 2.5 million living homeless in America, or the 1-in-5 who live in poverty — reveal something deep within. They reveal their heart.

The camera lets the children see their dreams for a better life. It becomes empowering.

In our first meeting, I show the children photos I have taken of Beyonce, Will Smith , Justin Bieber ... but for the children, their favorites are the photos of my pooches Rambo and Chance and my cat Ozzie. Maybe the photos of my pets encourages the children to share their dreams. (One child’s “Picture of Hope” I will never forget had the words, “I dream to have my dog back.”

Awaiting the children at each desk during that first meeting is a blank sheet with spaces to complete the following sentences:

I hope to ...

I dream to ...

I dream for ...

The kids begin to write as we review a slide presentation on what makes a good photography.

At the end of the photography tutorial, each child is given his or her own digital camera.

I then explain to each child: “You are now a young photojournalist and your first assignment is to photograph the hopes and dreams you have written on your list.”

In each city, I invite mentors to the program to guide the young photographers and help them to express what’s in their hearts.

One mentor called me after she dropped a child back at the shelter and said, “I didn’t want my little girl I mentored to see me cry. We arrived back at the shelter, the child turned to me and said, ‘Today was the best day of my life, no one has ever been this nice to me.’ ”

“Linda, I didn’t do anything, we just visited a veterinary clinic since she dreams to be a veterinarian and we went to the park because she hopes to pick flowers.”

This mentor showed this 9-year-old that she cares. The feeling of knowing someone cares about your future is life-changing for a child. It builds confidence.

These children already know what matters most in life. They show us life lessons in the dreams they share. The hopes and dreams most often revealed by homeless children all over America are dreams for their mothers and families. They are so unselfish in their wishes. They dream to go to college, they dream to live in a home and they dream to help others who are homeless.

These children don’t dream for iPods. They show us what matters most.

“I have only two dreams,” said Darius, 10-year-old at the Salvation Army’s Denby Center in Detroit. “My first dream is to see my mother smile again, and my other dream is for my own bed.”

“I hope for people to not think I am a nobody,” wrote Marlon, a 10-year-old who lives in a shelter in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I hope to be nicer than the people who look down upon me,” wrote Issac, a 12-year-old who lives in a shelter in San Jose, California.

“I hope for a friend,” wrote Chauncey, a 9-year-old who lives in a Salvation Army shelter in Fort Myers, Florida.

Here are some of the “hopes and dreams” of the children:

“I hope for shoes.”

“I hope for food.”

“I hope for my mom to have fun in heaven.”

“I hope for hope.”

A success story

Brittnie Pemberton was a 9-year-old homeless girl in the summer 2007, living with her mother and baby brother in a Salvation Army facility for homeless women and their children, when she participated in the “Pictures of Hope” project.

Her photos became part of a collection of cards sold to raise money for the Salvation Army. The card featuring Brittnie’s image of a San Diego State University entrance sign came with a caption expressing her dream; “I hope to get a scholarship.”

Former university president Stephen Weber heard about the card and offered the then-fifth-grader a full-tuition scholarship if she could meet the school’s entrance requirements. Move-in day in September 2015 was the culmination of eight years of hard work.

Her story was told in a recent edition of the SDSU alumni magazine: http://www.sdsualumni.org/s/997/index.aspx?sid=997&gid=1&pgid=4235&cid=10199&ecid=10199&ciid=28211&crid=0

How to help

All proceeds from the “Pictures of Hope” cards benefit the shelters or organizations participating in the program.

Here are some of the shelters and organizations in Michigan that participated in 2015 and 2016, and their websites to see the pictures and cards produced:

Shelter of Flintshelterofflint.org

Detroit PAL One Thousand Kid Challengedetroitpal.org

Gateway Youth Services in Lansing childandfamily.org

For more information, on the “Pictures of Hope” program, go to crowdrise.com/pictures-of-hope.

Bringing ‘hope’ home

A segment on “Pictures of Hope” on NBC’s “Nightly News” featured a girl who said her dream was to get a scholarship to college. John Comerford, the president of Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, saw the story and contacted me. He said the school would like to help children who “dream to go to college” but could never afford it. With that, Blackburn College has agreed to grant several full, four-year scholarships to “Pictures of Hope” participants nationwide.

With the support of the Kroger Co. of Michigan, a group of Detroit public school students selected by their counselors will participate in the next program and two of those students will be selected to attend Blackburn College in the fall.

My dream has come true too ...

Linda Solomon