WASILLA — A large number of participants from the community mingled with an even larger crowd at the Mat-Su Health Foundation during the Photovoice Exhibition Thursday, Feb. 6.
The Photovoice Exhibition was the culminating event which displayed the efforts of 11 different community groups representing 11 different demographics, all answering two questions, “what in your community or life helps your health?” and “what is a barrier to good health?”
This mosaic collection of artfully taken snapshots offered a glance into the daily lives of Valley residents. Participants worked to visualize their environment, assets and challenges that they face as individuals and as a community.
“These are people that live in our neighborhoods and want to improve our community,” MSHF CEO Elizabeth Ripley said.
The Mat-Su Health Foundation is using the Photovoice project as a supplemental tool for their most recent Community Health Needs Assessment. The foundation collects data for the assessment by polling the community every three years to inform future grants and projects to meet the people where they’re at.
“This is a chance for people to tell their stories… It enables us to be more effective,” Ripley said.
Cammryn Pokryfki, a 14-year-old Teeland Middle School student, , was one of several Photovoice participants who attended the exhibition. Pokryfki and several other local students submitted photos representing the R.O.C.K. Mat-Su Youth Leadership Council.
Last April, Pokryfki was in this very building participating in her first community event, the Foundation’s Community Baby Shower where local, expecting mothers and new families received free gift bags loaded with essential items.
Looking back on the last year, Pokryfki said that she was glad that she joined the youth council.
“I feel like I’m making a difference,” Pokryfki said.
Pokryfki said that she enjoyed working on the Photovoice project. She said that she wanted to “keep the positive” by focusing more on solutions to problems than the problems themselves.
For example, one of her photos displayed a soccer ball, musical instruments and other items related to school sports and activities, symbolizing the need for funding to support local families who want to enroll their children in programs but are unable to due to financial strain.
“Sports are really important in kids’ lives, not only just because it’s fun but it’s good for health, just being physical; and it’s hard to do so when you can’t afford it,” Pokryfki said.
Pokryfki said the positive solution for lack of funding is to go out and raise funds. She said they can support local school programs by developing more fundraising events.
“...We can definitely help with funding, especially for children in need, homeless and foster kids,” Pokryfki said.
Pokryfki said that her grandmother is on the R.O.C.K. Mat-Su steering committee and encouraged her to join the youth program, which encourages its students to take on leadership roles and participate in community projects such as these.
She said that it’s important to include both youth and adult voices in these community discussions because they bring different perspectives and experiences to the table.
“It’s good to know we have a voice in the world and we’re not just kids,” Pokryfki said. “We have our voice and we have our opinions which is really beautiful because I feel like we’re changing the world in every way that we want to just by letting people know what we can do to help it.”
Ripley said it was a fairly large turnout with about 60 total attendees throughout the day. She said the overall response has been overwhelmingly positive. She said many of the participants formed meaningful connections through the Photovoice project and people at the event.
“It’s a hit,” Ripley said with a laugh.
She said many of the participants really enjoyed the project. They expressed interest in keeping the momentum going and wanting to see additional voices from other groups across the community represented.
“They became more empowered to change their worlds,” Ripley said. “It was very moving.”
The Photovoice Exhibition will be on display Thursday at the Mat-Su Health Foundation’s building, located at 777 North Crusey Street in downtown Wasilla. For more information, call 907-352-2863.
To view the MSHF Community Health Needs Assessment, visit their website at healthymatsu.org.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org