Browsing Tag

Social Work

You can make AWESOME Images | Photography Workshop | + Debra

People always ask me how to take better pictures. I used to, and still do, ask Mark and Leah how to take better pictures. In a shutterbug society, we all want to take better pictures. It’s a common mantra around here that ideas are more important than equipment. It’s a mantra, and a truth. By now we all know how Leah and Mark picked up their entry level DSLR’s, and with ideas and alot of work made a thriving business, an internship program, and continue to turn out beautiful pictures ALL the time. As an alumni intern, and a plus, I have been through the Make Better Pictures bootcamp, and am a better photographer for it.

Last Saturday, Alumni Intern Jo and I went out to teach a small workshop on how to take better pictures, or as I would think it, make better images, to the Red Hots. The Red Hots are a group of youth affiliated with Refugee Family Services who meet weekly to learn new cool things, and focus on education and enrichment. I was very excited to meet the students, and thrilled to be able to teach about my own passion in photography.

There’s so many things to be said for making better images, thousands of theories, and ideas, so it was a challenge to focus on simple concepts with broad impact.

We started with discussing why we ask people if we can take their pictures. How it is polite to ask “may I take your picture/” and then once we have permission, to take pictures and have fun. By connecting with the people we are photographing we are able to take more meaningful pictures. A photograph shows how well we can communicate with the people around us, whether through words, eyes or body language. A photograph that is good and meaningful will hold a conversation, and the viewer will be a part of that conversation.

The most important things to making better, more exciting images are: (drum roll)

1) ZOOM with your feet.  Move around.   Look at the scene from all angles, and distances.

2) Focus on PEOPLE or focus on DETAILS.

3) Use ACTION to make pictures more exciting.

I also took lots of pictures, and didn’t try to get the “perfect”shot, it was fun, and relaxed.

ZOOM with your feet

Focus on People 

 When I am taking a ‘power portrait” I am focused purely on the person, their energy, their story.  Before I take the picture I speak to them, I am open, I want them to be comfortable.  I ask them to look into the lens, straight into the lense.  They don’t have to smile, or frown, or anything.  They just have to be themselves.

Focus on Details

Focusing on details tells us about the environment where the people are.  We can tell the season, the time of day.  We can show pretty leaves and shadows. Objects can convey ideas.

Ideas are always more important than equipment.  Always.


Portraits with multiple people are fun, having action included in the portrait can be interesting to look at.  Its very common for me to have people jumping in pictures.  Jumping gets the blood moving, and keeps us having fun.  it makes us forget that we are having our picture taken, and keeps us relaxed so that we can look into the lense with ease.  

Jo and I will be returning to the Red Hots in early December to help them select images for their very own show at an Art gallery. More details to come!

Graduation Celebration

Wow.  The past two years have been intense.  Filled with so many changes.  I moved twice. I worked 4 different jobs and 2 different internships.  I went to school. I took 18 classes.  I got married.  We started a business.  The business grew (and grew!).  I found my birthmother… and a bunch of awesome new relatives.  I made 60 new friends.  I graduated.

And that brings us to today.  May 3, 2010.  My life is richer and more full of love than ever.  I have credentials!  I have a basic understanding of various tools for facilitating social change.  I am even more passionate about advocating for social justice, standing up for those in our society who are treated, directly or indirectly, as less deserving, less worthy, less… human.  I am more self-aware as a result of this.  Regularly checking in with myself to make sure I am living the ideals I promote, that I am making my own microcosm a better place by treating myself and those around me with the love, respect, and compassion I believe everyone deserves.

Life is so good.  I have a job I love and care about deeply, working with talented, intelligent, kind people who I look forward to seeing every week.  I have a fun and successful business, with my amazing, artistic husband and a team of passionate interns and a boatload of ridiculously awesome clients and supporters.  I have an ever-growing circle of family and friends who surround me with love, support, and inspiration.  Other than world peace, marriage equality, an end to racism and poverty…what more could a person want?

I have to give a huge a shout out to Mark for being so supportive of me these past two years.  From cooking me breakfast, to doing tons of laundry, to working ‘round the clock so that we can pay our bills and still donate to various causes – he has been incredible, untiring, and unwavering in his support and encouragement…  and I really couldn’t have made it through these two years as happily or sanely without him.

Now I have free time!  I can blog!  I can see people!  Let’s go out!  Call/comment/tweet/email/FB me!  Oh happy day.

My Letter to Congress


Dear Congress,

I am a 28-year-old graduate student living in Atlanta, GA. I grew up reading books – hundreds of books, because I loved to read. My family was middle-class, but not wealthy. They couldn’t afford to buy all the books I wanted to read, so I got my books at the public library. I could check out up to 10 books at a time, and I could even get movies and music and foreign language tapes!

Thanks to all this reading, I did fairly well in school. I went to public school, which my parents really appreciated, because it didn’t cost much money to send me there. I took A(dvanced) P(lacement) classes in high school and received over a semester’s worth of college credit…for free! My parents were also happy about that, because it saved them some money when I went off to college in Massachusetts. I was able to graduate a year early and join the AmeriCorps program.

Since I got all these free books and education, I thought I should give back. So for a whole year I worked 50+ hours per week for a nonprofit agency in Arizona, and only made $800 a month. It’s not easy to live on that amount of money, but I met so many other low-income families who somehow managed to make ends meet, that I figured I could do it, too. And I managed, with some a lot of help from friends and family. AmeriCorps provided me with health insurance for that year. It wasn’t great coverage, but at least I didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it, because there is no way I could have afforded insurance on only $800 a month.

After my year of service ended, I worked for nonprofits for a few more years before I decided to go back to school for my social work degree. I had just started grad school full-time when the doctor found some pre-cancerous cells that needed to be removed. I had two quick outpatient procedures, each lasting less than 30 minutes. I had really good insurance, so I wasn’t worried. Insurance would cover 80% of the cost, and for two short procedures, I figured the cost couldn’t be that high.

I was wrong.

The hospital bills (just the portion I owed, after insurance covered its 80%) totaled over $5,000. I was a full-time student. I received a $500/month stipend for being a research assistant. How was I supposed to pay $5,000 in medical bills? I had to beg and plead with the billing staff to let me pay just $50 a month – and even that was more than I could afford to pay. I thought I was going to have to drop out of school and just work full time.Except the economy tanked and no one was hiring. Luckily, I was written off as a charity case, after months of threatening letters from the hospital, tearful phone calls, faxes of bank statements, and letters from my school.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.  I know my story is nowhere near as sad or infuriating as many of the stories out there – and I’m so thankful for that… but this whole ordeal was such an eye-opening experience for me. Up until last year, I just assumed that should I or any of my loved ones need medical attention, we’d just…. get it. Without having to go into serious debt, have our credit scores threatened, or have to stress out about how to pay for it. We have insurance, and that is supposed to cover our health care costs.


So please, ladies and gentlemen of Congress, please, please, please listen to the PEOPLE you are supposed to be serving. Hear our stories. We need affordable health care. We need our insurance companies to be kept in check. We need you to pass legislation for health care reform. And we need you to do it NOW. We don’t have lots of money to sway your votes or lobby aggressively. We’re too busy trying to find jobs that will pay for our insurance and health care costs. You have been elected to serve us, and, excuse my rudeness, but – I’m talking to you Senators Chambliss and Isakson – you’re doing a piss poor job of it!

We need a public health insurance option. We need regulation for private insurance companies.

The public library and my public school education have served me well. Extremely so. Can I please get public health care, too? I will gladly and willingly pay more in taxes for this service. And all you tea-party folks – well, I will save that letter for another day.


Your displeased constituent,

Leah T.

Introducing…my classmates!

I’m really enjoying my Social Work program, in spite of the supreme busy-ness of life these days.  My classmates are a great bunch of people and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them over the past month.  One of our professors lost his house and everything in it in a fire last weekend.  This particular professor videotaped each of us on our first day of class so that he could watch the video at home and learn all of our names.  He bakes cookies for us EVERY week.  And he always shows us YouTube videos in class (ones that relate to what we’re studying, of course).  Our class feels awful that his house burned down, so Mark came to school on Thursday and filmed us so that we could make our own YouTube video for our teacher to hopefully cheer him up a bit.

So, meet my classmates:

Weekend and a New Year

So, I turned 27 on Monday…  I like my birthday, and I like the month the August.  It’s a time of new beginnings and reflection for me, so I’ve been doing a lot of that.  And this year – well this year is a really new beginning!  I am so excited to be embarking upon the GSU Master of Social Work program.  I’m working part-time, I have a Research Assistantship and a field placement, so I’m going to be pretty busy these next two years.  But it’s a good busy, and it’s exactly what I want to be doing.

Still, I had some challenges this week in the terms of unexpected fees that had to be paid by Friday.  I got used to having a paycheck that would cover all the bills and still leave room for savings and fun money.  That’s definitely not the case anymore.  But, I’ve got this new part-time job, and I’ve also got some babysitting jobs lined up, so we should be okay.  Just no more going out every week for drinks, dinners, etc.

But that’s okay…it’s only two years, and we’ve got plans.  Other plans.  Awesome plans.  And we’ll be fine.

Lauren’s Graduation

Woohoo- fun weekend in Baltimore with my loooooooong-time, super awesome friend (and Maid of Honor!), Lauren. She just graduated from UMB with her Master’s in Social Work and I’m so very proud of her. We had a great time celebrating with her family and her boyfriend, Silas. Check out the slideshow!