Dave Strong’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Picture This…..

When I started to think about ordinary people who are making a difference in people’s lives my first thought went to a group that I volunteer with as a facilitator.  But my story is not about me or my involvement but rather about somebody I observed with this group who on the surface seems to have a minor role but when you dig a little deeper you see that their impact is much greater.  First a little about the organization.   It is a Newfoundland based organization that provides services to adults who face barriers to fully participating in their community.  These barriers could be due to addiction, mental health challenges, poverty, homelessness, low literacy, long periods of unemployment or involvement in criminal justice.  They help by providing counselling, jobs, housing and a sense of place in the community.  While they get some government funding much of their revenue comes from operating several social enterprises and private donations, both financial and in-kind, from the public.  My story is about a photographer and the profound impact that he’s had on the organization and most importantly the people they serve.  

For many years now they’ve had a choir that meets regularly to sing solely for the love of singing.  The choir members are program participants, staff and some volunteer instrumental accompanists from time to time.  Anyone who sings in a choir can speak to the impact that being part of it can have.  Sure there is a chemical reaction in the brain that releases hormones that are pleasurable but it goes well beyond that.  The sense of being part of a group that is willing to put themselves out there to sing, even if you aren’t particularly good at it, is powerful.  This choir did some public performances in the past but on a limited basis as they exist for their enjoyment, not for show.

A few years ago a group of locals were organizing a Christmas fundraiser for the local food bank as part of a national tour that singer and actor Tom Jackson does known as the Huron Carole.  The show was booked in the best performance space in the province and was a top tier billed gig.  They started looking for an opening act and after throwing out several high profile local artists who wanted to take part somebody said “how about a choir and they can do a big closing with Tom…how cool would that look?”.  There were many local choirs to choose from but it didn’t take long for somebody to suggest getting the choir of the this organization.  At first the choir was hesitant to take part.  They never did anything this big.  Would people feel intimidated by the space and opening up for such a big act?  Would there be enough time to practice?  Organizers assured them they wanted the choir because they were a great choir, a great fit, and they would be given the same treatment as every other artist on the bill.  After much consideration they agreed.  Show day came and the choir was brought to their private dressing room that, as with all other artists, included the VIP experience with food, comfortable seating, and rehearsal space.  They were delighted with their star treatment and their performance brought the house down.  It was a highlight of the tour for Tom and the other performers.  

A professional photographer, David Hiscock, was part of the event.  He was there capturing the show before, during and after for all of the performers.  He shared some photos he took of the choir with the organization who in turned shared them with the choir.  They were over the moon with the results!  They always took pictures of their events, mostly on phones as people do these days, but having a high quality photo taken through the creative eye of a professional made all the difference.  The participants saw things they didn’t see before.  How they looked on stage, how they interacted with each other and the absolute joy of singing and being part of this group was captured for all to see.  Suddenly how they viewed themselves in the context of the choir, and likely how they viewed themselves as individuals, changed.   When this was told to the photographer he was modest and just said “I’m only taking pictures” but what he didn’t realize is that most of the people in the choir never had a professional picture taken before and certainly not in a performance setting.   As a result of that first event with Tom Jackson David has become a volunteer with the organization photographing all of their happenings. There has been a marked change in the level of participation at their events and the pride that participants have in what they do and in themselves has grown, in part, from the simple act of having a photographer present who was able to show people what the rest of the world sees.  As the CEO of the group said “I have seen how someone smiles brighter because their photo is being taken and how thrilled they are to receive a good photo of themselves.  That is something most of our folks never get”. 

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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