• Chronicle Coffee • Website: http://chroniclecoffee.com/
• 1235 Blumeyer Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63106
Since its inception in 2004, the UMSL Public Policy Research Center’s Photography Project has documented over 30 organizations in St. Louis who address community revitalization, historic preservation, and social services. A teaching artist — like me! — lands in the organization and develops a curriculum that fits the partcipants, and trains them to document the work they do to make life here more beautiful. As a result of this creativity and breadth, the Photography Project’s website database feels to me like a multifaceted, diverse ‘family photo album’ of STL.
In 2008, I’d first worked on the Cherokee Street photography project with Mel Watkins, the project’s director, and Jean Durel, who commissioned the project on behalf of Incarnate Word’s “Heart and Soul” Community building efforts in Benton Park West. Our project bloomed into the “yOur voice yOur neighborhood” banners and the initial rendition of the cherokeestreetnews.org neighborhood blog, as well a community digital photo archive. In 2011, I enjoyed getting to know the volunteers at City Greens Produce whose vision is squarely set on the issues of health and food safety, illustrating the way that gardening and sharing food unite and empower a community. Getting to know the Angelbaked teens and volunteers this year was as much a delight. And, very delicious. Good thing I was biking there.
BROCHURE ESSAY // Today the basement of Saints Teresa & Bridget Church smells like fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Students giggle and complain as they mix giant batches of dough in the church’s kitchen, package individually wrapped treats, and plan giant holiday shipments. Angel Baked Cookies, established in 2007 with three teen-chosen, taste-tested recipes, was the brainchild of North Grand Neighborhood Services in collaboration with local youth who needed jobs. In implementing this idea, a small and delicious enterprise was born that employs teenagers while giving them on-the-job training in how to manage a small business.
It’s not your typical first job. As the teens, or Angels as they are called, trickle in from school, one Angel might get help with homework while others nibble from the much- beloved bag of broken cookies while sharing a YouTube video of a step performance or a short story. A normal workday begins with “circle-up,” a ritual met with overt groans
that thinly veil the teens’ enjoyment. Dubbed the sharing of “roses and thorns”, each person shares a joy and a challenge currently present in their life. After this, the ‘pulse
prayer’ is offered up––purported to be the Angel’s “secret ingredient”––a chance to speak out for issues or friends who might need support. Finally, tasks are lined up for the day’s work and then they’re off! A spirit of creativity, camaraderie, and community pervades the whole process, and goofing-off merges seamlessly with go-mode focus.
This spirit that defines the Angels’ success comes from tiered mentorship, blending leadership and learning at different levels. Carla Jones patiently and expertly manages
the overall process; interns from Wash-U‘s Brown School of Social Work provide a charismatic presence; SLU-core volunteers amp up the human-power with skill and caring; and the teenagers bring the soul and keep everyone laughing. Teamwork is not just a word on the wall.
The natural, exuberant curiosity and creative expression of the Angels informed this Photography Project curriculum. Portraiture flourished under their playfulness and
style, capturing moments ranging from the silly staging of flour fights to sacred hugs in the sanctuary of Saints Teresa & Bridget church upstairs. Checking out such advertisement superstars as the “Got Milk?” campaign, we painted on our own milk mustaches and constructed unique cookie-centered still life settings, while noticing the
power of the image to create successful marketing. Conversations about how we source ingredients led to a field trip to Windcrest Farm, a local family-owned dairy farm
(and the chance to milk a cow!). Dialog about what it means to be relevant to the place where we do business led to documentary photography of the adjacent blocks as
well as an info session with entrepreneur Jason Wilson, who provided a history lesson on what was formerly the nearby Blumeyer Housing Project and a heads-up on the
intersection of race, class, real estate, and social justice – and how to integrate these issues mindfully into a business plan.
SLU-core volunteer Lexi Varvares can attest to the Angels’ power. “Ever since that first day I look forward every week to their smiling faces and the smallest remarks asking
how my week has been,” she said. “They notice when you are not there and always ask how you are doing, making you feel that your presence was missed . . . there was
always a sparkle in the Angels eyes and you could tell that they wanted to be there.” Sugar cookie, chocolate chip, or oatmeal raisin, the confidence, hope, connectedness,
and caring the Angels share is part of the labor of love you taste.
Artist/Photographer, PPRC Photography Project
The mission of North Grand Neighborhood Services is to promote the dignity of low-income persons and the community they share by developing affordable housing, employment and training opportunities for adults and youth, along with other community initiatives.
WHAT IS THE PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT?
The Photography Project is modeled after the pioneering community photography programs of Wendy Ewald and is sponsored by the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri St. Louis and directed by Mel Watkin. Each year PPRC’s Photography Project teaches volunteer community groups how to photograph their work to improve the quality of life in St. Louis. The resulting exhibition is displayed at two locations, the PPRC Photography Project Gallery on the UMSL campus, and in neighborhoods where the volunteers work. Through these partnerships, the Photography Project strives to bring art directly into St. Louis neighborhoods while also highlighting the undertakings of local organizations working towards the greater good and inspiring people to get involved with their communities.