The Goodlands

Pennsylvania / Dec. 6, 2012 / by The Team

“How is anyone going to want to invest in this community if all we're presenting are the bad things that are happening here?”

The Fairhill neighborhood of North Philadelphia is one that has been stigmatized by the media and labeled ‘The Badlands’. But residents of the area don’t want the bad to be all that anybody living there, or not, knows about. 

The Goodlands is a project aimed at completely changing the views people have of their own neighborhoods, starting with those members of the community who have the most power and energy to change the way everyone sees their neighborhood: children. 

Angela Jubinville is the Executive Director of Centro Nueva Creción, the nonprofit under which The Goodlands operates. She explains that the program “started as a photography program for elementary aged kids. We do digital photography with children, usually neighborhood based photography but it spans all kinds of genres.”

Created as part of the New Creation Lutheran Church in 1995, Centro Nueva Creación was the reaction to a survey conducted by the church that asked “What is the thing you want for the community?”

Jubinville explains that, “a huge resounding answer was 'we want to make the neighborhood safer, we want to make it more beautiful, and we want to engage the young people. So that's how the out-of-school-time program started, the after-school, and the summer camp.”

In 2000, “The then director of the Center, which was also the pastor of the church, decided to create The Goodlands in response to this labeling of the neighborhood as The Badlands.” 

The name itself was chosen as a direct opposition to the stigmatization of the area with the aim of highlighting the positive qualities of the neighborhood. 

Now its own nonprofit since 2005, Centro Nueva Creación was extremely pleased by the success of The Goodlands and as such, decided to keep the program going. 

The program serves “a very poor community,” says Jubinville. “Most of the children receive free or reduced lunch. That's how we gain our information. Most families receive some sort of benefit ... Most of our kids are struggling academically either in reading or writing or just across the board and that's typical of [their] school.”

The families the children come from are often single-parent ones of a Latino background where the language spoken between family members is Spanish. This means that parents are sometimes unable to help their children with their homework.

The programs at Centro Nueva Creción aim to support the children for whom this is a problem by working on their literacy skills both by helping with their homework and by using photography as a way to explore vocabulary and visual literacy. The children also have a poetry class once a week that helps them exercise putting their emotions into words. 

The Goodlands works with “sixty kids in kindergarten through fifth grade,” says Jubinville. The group is split into more manageable class sizes who each participate one day a week.  

The after-school program runs from “3 to 6 pm Monday through Friday during the school year,” explains Jubinville. “They have a snack for about a half hour then they run around a play for maybe 15 minutes and then depending on the day, they'll either start by doing their homework for an hour and then have an enrichment activity afterwards or they'll do the enrichment activity first and do homework afterwards.”

Photography might seem like an odd choice for an enrichment activity for children, especially when one of the aims is to improve literacy, but it is the perfect medium through which the children can see and capture the positive aspects of their community. 

“When you give a kid a camera, they have a different perspective from adults both literally and figuratively,” says Jubinville. “So they have a different perspective because cognitively, their brains work differently than ours do.”

There’s also the fact that, “A lot of adults can become bitter or jaded through their experiences whereas children still have this wonderful innate ability to bounce back from their hardships, or a resiliency. They have lots of resiliency.”

Giving a child a camera is giving them the ability to capture what they see as being the good in their neighborhood, from their friends and family, to a decorative gate or even some artistic graffiti.  

Jubinville says that, “Also, they're shorter than us so they can just see things so differently. We have some really great pictures of just nooks and crannies that they've gotten into and captured really cool images of things that me personally, as an adult, I probably wouldn't see them or find them or maybe didn't think they're beautiful.” 

The Goodlands is trying to give Fairhill, as well as the rest of Philadelphia, a different perspective on the area and what better way to do that than by showing it from someone else’s eye, someone who sees the world, quite literally, from a different angle.  

“It's about ... that different perspective of height and mind, and giving them the camera and just seeing what they can produce, and it's very awe-inspiring for me,” says Jubinville. 

The photography not only has the power to change the way the children and their families see the neighborhood, but it can change the way they see themselves. 

Lindsay Sparagana, the photography teacher at The Goodlands, says that, “It's been proven through research that, especially with younger children, as they have an opportunity to take photographs and then speak about them, their sense of visual literacy is increased. Also their sense of self-confidence is heightened and their ability to articulate their ideas is more thoroughly thought through.”

She goes on to say that, “the whole concept of the curriculum that we run here aims to help kids read and write more efficiently in school ... we're really able to do writing with our photography and just by even having the youngest kids label camera parts, helps to reinforce vocabulary.”

The immediate rewards of digital photography work very well with children who have spent seven or eight hours in school all day. It means that they can put what they have learnt about photography to immediate use and see the results of their work as soon as they have taken the photo. 

The outings around the neighborhood during which the children practice their newly taught techniques are also the perfect chance to interact with members of the community. 

Sparagan says this “is really exciting because their sense of self-confidence changes, their ability to formulate a question, to ask a stranger or a member of the community changes.” 

Their confidence in their own abilities and the potential of sharing that with others are things that the children learn more and more each week. 

“They have a better idea of how to teach one another, which is really exciting too because in an after-school setting, we have kids coming and going all the time so if we have a child who jumps in halfway through a lesson, our kids are now able to show them how to use a camera, use the proper vocabulary to do so and help engage them in the neighborhood around us when we walk outside to take pictures.”

The work Sparagana teaches the children can vary from learning about the technical aspects of photography in the classroom – all the children are very pleased to be able to point out the foreground, middle ground, and background in photos – to going on a photographic scavenger hunt. 

The scavenger hunt involves the children taking photos of each of the elements on a list. One on such hunt, the list includes, “Looking for light, reinforcing the idea of shadow and highlight. We're going to be looking for subjects being placed in the foreground, middle ground, and background of a picture, and we're also making environmental portraits of animals and people.”

Not only do the participants learn more about the elements of photography, but they get the chance to examine their neighborhood with very critical eyes, exploring in a way they never have before. 

Sparagana wants the work they do together to stay with the children for years and in order to help that, she explains that, “We're making hand-crafted books ... so they have a pocket guide as a photography resource and I’m planning on printing all of these out so they have their own photographs in their book as well as photographs from magazines and other pop culture sources.”

These books, along with their photographs, would be something to be proud of, something on which they spent time and creative energy, and a guide by which they can mark their improvement.

The potential for that improvement was highlighted when, in Spring 2011, The Goodlands partnered with the University of the Arts. Jubinville explains that Sparagana “created a undergraduate course for photography majors called Community Engagement Photography and her group of U Arts students would come here one day a week and work in small groups with the same kids week-to-week during photography projects.”

The inclusion of the students gave the children a more concrete example of what they could achieve with their hard work. Though still a generation removed from the children they were working with, the students were young enough to be able to build relationships with the children that had a great impact on them. 

“Our students got to work in a ratio of 1:3 with a colleged-aged photographer,” explains Jubinville, “and that was probably one of the coolest things we've ever done because the relationships that they formed with the young photography teachers who are just so incredible and that relationship kind of overtook even the process of making photographs” 

One child in particular who had been struggling was especially inspired by her relationship with the photography student she was partnered with. Jubinville says that, “I just saw her grow so much in being able to make that connection with someone ... her self-esteem just went through the roof and was like 'I love my photography teacher so much.'”

Another unique of The Goodlands is that the children’s work is put on display in a gallery for members of the public to enjoy. Far from being photographs that only they and their families will see, they become pieces of art that many of the guests at the exhibition are surprised to find out are taken by children. 

“It's one thing to just to give the kid a camera to have them take pictures, to say 'great job', this is a beautiful photo,” says Jubinville. “It's another step entirely to have that photo printed and framed and put on a gallery wall with all of these other photographs and invite strangers to come.” 

The children themselves are at the exhibits, ready to discuss their own photographs with pride. “They go up to strangers and they go, 'Come look at my photograph'. So it's a way for them to advocate for their community and for their art and for them to feel like they are part of the community of artists through exhibiting their work.”

The work Centro Nueva Creción does is not always easy and Jubinville often spends her time working on the day-to-day grind of the organization. But despite this, she says that the children make all the negatives worth working through the negative, an appropriate parallel to the work Goodlands does highlighting the neighborhood’s positives. 

“Seeing the kids everyday and seeing them have so much fun and get to have the opportunity to engage with art, just makes my job worthwhile, it makes my commute worthwhile, it makes the fact that last year I saw someone get shot outside of my door, it makes that all worthwhile and it makes it so … that's just a blip on my radar.”

It’s “their amazing abilities and their shining faces that are so awesome,” she says, and she hopes they feel as inspired about working together as she does. “I'm hoping that 20 years from now I'll run into one of these kids and they're like 'that program was so awesome and this is how it changed my life.’ That would be really cool.”

To find out more about The Goodlands, and to see some of the children’s photographs, please visit their website