By Catherine Hinrichsen, Project Director, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness
This is always one of my least favorite tasks — saying farewell to a student team at the height of its camaraderie and success. This year, it happened in a blur. There was just too much going on at the end of the 2017-18 school year. In the final days leading up to graduation, we:
- Co-hosted a major event — Ignite Project Homeless with The Seattle Times, June 7
- Finished up final edits on the documentary our student team produced for Affordable Housing Week, “Central Division“
- Completed the infographic for the 2018 Count Us In point-in-time count of homelessness, for All Home (the third year in a row our student designer has created this piece)
In the midst of all this, the goodbye to our incredible team of students felt inadequate and hasty.
So it’s time for a more fitting farewell as we post our annual tribute to our graduating students and the incoming team — Happy Hellos and Hard Goodbyes. Part One is the hard goodbye, a look back at some of the incredible work by our student team Katie Bradley, Tess Riski and Madison Vucci.
A staggered but high-powered start
Let’s start with some words from the first student to join the team, Tess.
“When I first started at the Seattle U Project on Family Homelessness, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d gotten myself into. I knew I was hired onto the project to help combat family homelessness in the region, but I wasn’t sure how to go about creating those solutions. And I don’t think I was alone in that feeling. In fact, I believe that many in our region – Seattle, King County, the broader Pacific Northwest – feel a sense of powerlessness at the thought of ending homelessness. How can one person, after all, solve an entire crisis? I see my fellow residents in Seattle internalize this belief. For some, it is expressed through anger at the homeless, guilt within themselves or dismay for the government. (Seattle City Council is a notoriously easy scapegoat, though I think many still struggle to point out what, specifically, our elected officials – who we voted into office – are doing wrong.) It is, after all, a lot easier to blame others for the homelessness crisis than to reflect internally and ask oneself:
1) How have I or the systems from which I benefit exacerbated this crisis?
2) What can I do personally to make a positive impact?
This internal reflection is what I spent the last twelve months doing. And during these twelve months, I learned that, while there are many naysayers out there, there are also dozens of wonderful organizations – particularly our partners – who strive to answer those two aforementioned questions on a daily basis.” — Tess
We got off to an unusual start this year because our team was somewhat patchwork till January 2018, due to summer internships and a study abroad. Till then, individually or in pairs, they produced some great work in summer and fall, including:
- The Voter’s Guide on Housing and Homelessness website, a partnership with Solid Ground, Housing Development Consortium and Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness. Tess worked long hours building the site, where we posted responses from 12 of the 21 (!) Seattle mayoral candidates. The site drew more than 3,000 views before the primary.
- A Get Out the Vote video that Tess and Madison put together right before the primary, garnering more than 1,200 views in one day.
- Promotional pieces for our mayoral candidate debate in September, designed by Madison.
- Katie’s reflection on the acclaimed Pongo Poetry training, which she and Madison attended in preparation for our Pongo Poetry at Schoolhouse Washington project.
And then there was The Florida Project — our favorite film about family homelessness! Madison and Katie attended the screening in October, and Katie wrote an insightful review, in which she addressed issues like overcoming the judgments that start to creep in while watching this challenging young mother try to keep her family afloat.
The team comes together just in time for HHAD
It wasn’t till January that Katie, Madison and Tess came together to work as a team — but then they were unstoppable. Here they are in January as they started planning their incredibly successful events in winter and spring 2018.
From the day they first started finger-painting images and slogans about homelessness for postcards, stickers and posters, it was clear this would be an unprecedented campus event for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day (HHAD). It culminated in a visit to the office of Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, where they presented more than 500 postcards from the SU community urging action on homelessness in Washington. They even got mentioned in Sen. Rolfes’ constituent newsletter.
To document their experience, they created unique reflections; Katie created a flipbook, Madison wrote about the design project and Tess reflected on the “imposter syndrome” she overcame as a first-time advocate. Check out their projects here.
No senioritis: Taking on their biggest project
Our usual capstone event each school year is a campus and community event for Affordable Housing Week. This team decided that their event would be a screening of a documentary about gentrification in the Central District, which they set out to produce themselves. It was a massive task, but they handled it splendidly, interviewing five leaders (including our project alum Ashwin!) and filming throughout the changing Central District.
On May 15, with moments to spare, they finished the film, “Central Division: A documentary exploring gentrification in the Central District,” and screened it for about 50 students, staff and community members. The event included a post-screening conversation with community leaders, which they facilitated. Here’s their recap and reflection on what they learned.
L-R: Madison, Katie and Tess facilitated a discussion with guests Miriam Roskin, Patience Malaba and Sean Abdul.
While most students would then focus on graduating, they decided they wanted to go back in the editing room and polish up the film. It’s now available to watch on YouTube.
All this great work was set against a highly stressful spring marred by tragedy.
Tess, in her role as investigative editor for campus newspaper The Spectator, broke the story of the theft of stacks of our student newspaper because a faculty member deemed the cover inappropriate. It led to some painful campus-wide conversations about inclusivity. (But it also earned The Spectator and its adviser, Prof. Sonora Jha, an award from the regional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for their courage.)
We also lost one of our co-workers, Adrian Mayorga-Altamirano, our department’s student assistant who died unexpectedly in April. Taking time to grieve was important for our team, and we will always feel the loss of Adrian, a business student who we remember for his brilliance and helpfulness.
What’s next for the team
Some parting thoughts from Madison.
“From brainstorms, to crunch-time, to celebrations, to overtime, and all in between, we were the best team of three I could have dreamed to be. Together, we pushed one another to new levels and always inspired the further development of our ideas. We had one another’s backs and always gave equal commitment and partnership, even though we were all full-time students with at least one other job commitment each. I feel honored to have worked with these ladies and wouldn’t change anything about our time together.” — Madison
Clearly, saying goodbye was also bittersweet for these amazing young women, who truly enjoyed and were inspired by each other.
With graduation behind them, our trio joins the pantheon of distinguished project alumni and sets forth into exciting new ventures:
- Katie Bradley, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs graduate, will start a job at Amazon in marketing later this summer.
- Tess Riski, Journalism graduate, starts grad school at Columbia School of Journalism this fall.
- Madison Vucci, Digital Design graduate, will be freelancing as a designer and flinging awesome pies as she plans her next chapter.
Congratulations to all three of them and many, many thanks for their stellar work this year for our advocacy partners, our university and our project!
A Look Ahead from Katie
“The experiences you will gain by working on the Project are seriously impressive. Take note of all that you do and have pride over what you accomplish. I was able to develop so many new skills – like videography and making a flipbook — by working on the Project. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and push beyond your boundaries. You will gain more skills with the challenge and will have way more fun as you learn. I am so excited to see the work that you do and what is ahead for the Project!” — Katie
Coming this fall: Part Two — Happy Hellos, as we welcome the new students to our team.