Photolanthropy: Appalachia Service Project

by Sharon Rentz

Sharon Rentz

April 01, 2010
Photolanthropy
(noun. the desire to promote the welfare of others through photography)

Photographer: Sharon Rentz (www.sharonrentzphotography.com)

Charity: Appalachia Service Project (ASP, www.asphome.org) provides one of the most rewarding structured service opportunities in the nation—bringing thousands of volunteers from around the country to rural Central Appalachia to repair homes for low-income families. The core mission of ASP is to make homes warmer, safer and drier.

How did you get involved?
My first year of service ironically landed me at a home with six children. Being a children’s photographer by specialty, I found it hard to keep a hammer in my hand instead of my camera. The six children shared one bedroom that had only a tattered tarp for a window, which became the iconic image for me of the week. When I returned home, I contacted the home office and offered my photos free of charge, that turned into a close relationship between the organization and myself resulting in a five-day photo journey across the four states of Appalachia this summer. I saw poverty that I never imagined existed in this country. I also traveled to the mountains of Appalachia this winter to capture images of the abject poverty in the snow, which was even more heartbreaking than the scenes in the summer.

How can other photographers get involved in your charity?
I have hosted portrait fundraisers at the studio to raise money for ASP and donated the proceeds back to Appalachia. I encourage photographers to adopt ASP as one of their charities and host portrait events to raise money and awareness for the very heartbreaking conditions in Appalachia. I hear comments over and over from people that are happy to support a charity that helps those in need in this country. They can also coordinate a group to volunteer and experience it firsthand.

What has this project given back to you?
It absolutely feeds my soul. To have the privilege of meeting the wonderful people of Appalachia, who wholeheartedly welcome you into their homes and lives, is one of the greatest experiences of my life. I think it is more life transforming for those of us that volunteer, than those whose homes we repair.

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