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Miki Johnson: How did Do1Thing start?
Najlah Hicks: Back in May, 2008, after 25 years out of school, I went back for my master’s degree in multimedia. Do1Thing is actually my master’s thesis at Parson’s. I was planning to create a long-term documentary on what happens to kids who never get adopted.
Pim and I had co-founded the Heart Gallery of New Jersey, where professional photographers take pictures of children in foster care, in hopes that people will be drawn to the pictures and seek out these children and adopt them. We shot about 350 kids in 2005, and in 2007 and 2008 we shot another 100 of what the state calls the “hardest to adopt.” They have lived in foster care the longest, they have multiple siblings, or they are older kids. We were wildly successful. Over 150 of those kids have now been adopted. Today a third of all inquiries for foster care adoption in New Jersey come through the Heart Gallery of New Jersey website.
Then, our last project that we shot, we were seeing that a lot of the kids were older, 15, 16, or 17, who were about to age out of foster care. And there are 25,000 kids nationwide aging out every year, and about 40% end up homeless. That’s where Do1Thing started. That initial idea to document homelessness turned into: We can’t just document it, we have to do something. How about if we do just one thing? And that’s how Do1Thing was born. We launched Do1Thing on February 14, 2009, but it wasn’t just a one-time thing. We are currently working to get official non-profit status, create a traveling gallery, continue to raise awareness, and find funding. So while the fury of our launch is over, that was just the beginning.
Our larger goal is to put together this multimedia, multidisciplinary group that will tackle the big nagging issues that are affecting teens and children. They’ll go in there and come back in a very short time with a comprehensive focus — that’s exactly what we did with this first project. We targeted teen homelessness and within eight weeks we put up a massive amount of quality content documenting teen homelessness around the country. We feel like, there are all these social dilemmas that people just don’t know about, until someone brings them to the forefront.
Another good thing about Do1Thing is that we recognize that we can’t solve the problem alone. We’re not smart enough. We don’t know enough about it. We don’t make the legislation. But what we can do is raise awareness. I hope we change the face of what a lot of people think homelessness is. It’s not fifty-year-old drunks on the side of the street. Today more people are homeless than any other time in history, even the Great Depression. And 1.3 million of them are children.
The results of this first project varied by location. A lot of it depends on how much the local non-profits were working to get the word out. Some worked feverishly — they understand the value of being able to use Do1Thing as a vehicle to spotlight the issues they’re working on. Others are leery because they don’t know us. But the first project was a great success. Our website is now averaging six to eight thousand hits a day. A lot of national homeless associations are linking to us, and asking us to link to them.
MJ: What are you and the Do1Thing volunteers doing on a daily basis now?
NH: We’re editing –- we recieved over 125 gigs of JPGs in 48 hours, which is tens of thousands of images. We have six or seven editors who are editing every day, and we’re adding new content to the site every day. We want to get the word out there, so we’re considering festivals and traveling galleries. Anything that works. We also want to print images for each one of the non-profits that we partner with so that they can have this work on their lobby walls.
Of course identifying sources for funding is a constant process. We would love to be able, five years down the road, to fund independent projects for photographers. Five photographers to work on AIDS; five photographers to work on cancer; five to work on water-borne diseases. To produce great work that will create significant social change, that’s our long-term goal.
Non-profits need this kind of powerful visual content, if they’re going to succeed. For organizations like the Covenant House, 80 percent of their funding comes from direct mail marketing and 80 percent of their donors are over 65 years old. Before Do1Thing, the Covenant House knew very little about social media. They didn’t Twitter. They had a small Facebook crowd. In the 48 hours after the Do1Thing launch, the Covenant House’s YouTube channel was the most-watched non-profit YouTube channel in the world. But they didn’t know about any of that before working with us. They had no concept of blogging, Twittering, Digg, del.icio.us, and all the social networking sites. I think non-profits need to start utilizing those tools and exploring their potential for fundraising.
Do1Thing is not yet a non-profit. We’re applying for non-profit status, and we’re partnering with non-profits, like the Heart Gallery. Right now we’re a project of the Heart Gallery. But it will become its own non-profit, hopefully in the coming months. And then we imagine Do1Thing becoming a kind of consulting agency for non-profits. Again, we’ll shine a light on a cause we believe in. Then we partner with non-profits and take over the multimedia from them. Like with Covenant House, in a very short period of time we can put together a comprehensive multimedia presentation on any social dilemma.