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'Humans of New York' Inspires Chicago-Based Anti-Poverty Project

By Justin Breen | August 31, 2014 8:12pm | Updated on September 2, 2014 9:22am
 Heartland Alliance, the leading anti-poverty organization in the Midwest, launched a photography/visual storytelling project called "Questions that Matter."
Heartland Alliance
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DOWNTOWN — Everyone has a story worth telling, which is the idea behind "Questions That Matter."

The project created by Downtown-based Heartland Alliance, the leading anti-poverty organization in the Midwest, focuses a "humanizing approach to talking about poverty that focuses on both the triumphs as well as the challenges people in poverty face," said Heartland Alliance content manager Melissa Spear.

Justin Breen says the group found inspiration from a similar New York project:

"I’m excited about this project because it gives us the opportunity to honor the hard work of those who fight their way out of poverty inch by inch, day by day," said Spear, of Logan Square, who began publishing the once-a-week pieces online Aug. 12.

Questions That Matter is similar to the "Humans of New York" photo project, which has nine million-plus likes on Facebook, but is more specific to those connected to Heartland Alliance, which helps people throughout Chicago — including Englewood, Uptown, Hyde Park, Ravenswood, Lakeview, Rogers Park, Lincoln Park, Austin and East Garfield Park.

"The face of those in poverty is one many people don’t see — poverty is a concept, a statistic, but not a mother of two, working two jobs to support her family. We shine a light on that and help people make that human connection," Spear said.

Spear writes the articles, which pair with photographs taken by Heartland Alliance's staff, including digital strategy manager Ally Stewart.

Stewart, of the South Loop, said an important part of Questions That Matter is profiling people all over Chicago who have overcome a great deal.

"We're giving a voice to people whose stories aren't often heard," Stewart said. "You get insight into who these people actually are."

People like Menuka, who fled her native Bhutan and lived 18 years with her family in a refugee camp before coming to Chicago in 2008. She now grows a garden that looks like the one she had in her homeland.

Or Lamont, a high school senior who took a class called GreenCorps on how to build bicycles and gardens.

Spear said the best aspect of the project has been hearing from the story subjects.

"Many of them have had the door shut in their face more times than they can count. They’ve tried to find a good job, stable place to live, healthcare they can afford and time and time again it hasn’t worked out," Spear said. "Through their constant hard work, and with support from Heartland Alliance, they’ve finally come out on top. To hear them say that being selected for this project makes them feel like they’ve finally succeeded is the best part."

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