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Students in WKU photo class tell stories of REACH HIGHER participants

WKU students in Jeanie Adams-Smith’s photojournalism class, Picture Stories, have spent a good part of the spring semester documenting the lives of 16 women as they go through the REACH HIGHER program.

Each student was assigned a woman and her family and the journey of telling the stories of these women, most of living in public housing, has been an eye-opening experience for these students.

“The further I dug into this woman’s story, the more I understood how many different aspects of her life REACH HIGHER was able to provide help for.  I now have an even bigger appetite to fight for someone without a voice,” WKU photo student Danny Guy, a Minneapolis senior, said.

According to their own description, the mission of REACH HIGHER is to “create opportunities for its participants to enhance personal abilities, assist with overcoming barriers to self-sufficiency, move successfully into the work-force, and retain employment, ultimately assisting these individuals with a hand-up not a hand-out.”

The program, operating under the Housing Authority of Bowling Green and funded by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, provides participants with paid on-the-job training and life skills education while they work 32 hours a week in their communities.

On April 13, the students met with the women and their children for a photography workshop at the Housing Authority of Bowling Green’s Learning Center and gave these families the opportunity to experience photography first-hand. The families received cameras, disposables for the kids and digital cameras for the women, on loan from Nikon, Inc. Over the following weekend they were asked to document their lives and what’s important to them—through their own eyes and lenses. The images that followed revealed the creative side of these women, empowering them in a new way.

“It was obvious to me, that having my students in their lives was a powerful experience,” Adams-Smith said. “Part of photojournalism is recognizing we make a difference. My students got to see that up-close and personal by working with these women in a different way than just taking their picture.”

The work of both the families and the students will be printed and placed side by side in the Children’s Gallery at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center. The opening reception, called “Reach Higher,” is from 4 to 6 p.m. May 3. SKyPAC Children’s gallery is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and before and after SKyPAC performances.

Contact: Jeanie Adams-Smith, Associate Professor of Photojournalism, (270) 745-6301; TJ Shockley-Hunt, Director of REACH HIGHER, (270) 467-7144; or Andee Rudloff, Education, SKyPAC Outreach & Visual Arts Director, arudloff@theskypac.com

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