Awesome photographer shoots grandmas in band t-shirts; blows the doors off his own stereotypes

This week on Idealists in Action, we’re exploring the concept of Home.

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Photography by Jay Hynes

Jay Hynes didn’t set out to prove that grannies rock, but he definitely did.

By photographing grandmas in their homes wearing punk and metal t-shirts in a photo series called “Grandmas Rock,” the Melbourne-based photographer aimed to contrast the rebelliousness represented by rock n’ roll with the more prim and proper lifestyles he expected from his subjects.

A former advertising art director, Jay recently switched career paths to become a full-time music and portrait photographer. He wanted a photo series in his portfolio that would combine his interests in portraits, domestic spaces, and bands—and look really awesome.

As he went out to meet the women he’d be photographing, his assumptions and opinions about what “normal” grandmas do and how they live started to unravel. For starters, their interest in participating in such a conceptual art project was a delightful surprise.

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Photography by Jay Hynes

“I think this part is almost cooler than the actual photos—the fact that all of them said, sure, I’ll do that!” he says. “It showed me that they were trusting and supportive, but more than anything that they were interested in doing something out of the ordinary.”

Before the shoot, Jay sat down with each of the women—strangers that he’d connected to through friends—over a cup of tea to get a sense of their personalities.

“That time spent with them made me realize how much I miss my own grandma,” he says.

Although his project started out as a way to contrast rock n’ roll with the straight-laced exterior of grandmas, he came away from the project inspired by how rad these golden girls really are.

“They don’t take life as seriously as people assume they would. I think if I had asked a bunch of 40-to-50 year old women to do the same thing, the answer would have been no.”

Right on, Jay! We think grandmas are pretty punk rock, too.

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Photography by Jay Hynes

See the complete photo series here.

Have you ever started a project and ended up surprised by how it changed your perspective? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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This new year, shake the world with a new dream

Today’s inspiration: activist, author, and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs.

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The fierce and graceful Grace Lee Boggs.
(photo courtesy boggsblog.org)

Civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs is still at it. At 98 years old, she continues to be an impassioned voice for blighted urban communities, empowering them to rise up.

How? By “putting the neighbor back in the ‘hood.”

In this video, Grace is with her neighbors in her hometown of Detroit. What I love about this footage is how unassuming Grace is. She’s a legend — and the subject of the upcoming documentary American Revolutionary — yet here she is, wearing a sweatshirt and having a low-key chat about bettering the community. This is grassroots activism at its core.

I could listen to her talk all day. She says:

“Whatever your walk of life, race, or class, you have the right and duty to shake this world with a new dream. Because the world is waiting for a new dream.”

It’s 2014. What’s your new dream?

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Colorado Snapshot: Senior volunteers continue to make a difference

Meet three sprightly Southern Colorado septuagenarians who won’t stop.

After a long teaching career, Rhoda Cordry still has a spring in her step

Rhoda Cordry, now 78, retired from a satisfying career as a public elementary school teacher in the mid-1980s with no particular plans to take on another big job. But after a friend asked her to attend a community meeting about restoring the town’s unique cold mineral springs she found herself intrigued by a new endeavor.

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Cheyenne Spring, one of Manitou, CO’s prized cold mineral springs. Photo courtesy of the Mineral Springs Foundation.

“Manitou is right in the mountains; we can’t grow physically as a town,” explains Rhoda. “And there’s no industry, so we have to do something to keep the economy up as a tourist attraction. The springs are the thing, but they’re hard on the pipes and fountains people put them through—they clog, corrode, eat through them. They need maintenance.”

In 1987, Rhoda and a handful of other concerned locals started the Mineral Springs Foundation to restore, protect, publicize, and document Manitou’s springs. So far, they’ve succeeded in working with private landowners and the city to restore eight of the area’s approximately two dozen springs, and are working toward more. Rhoda left the foundation in 1995 due to health problems, but stays involved.

“I spent all my working years teaching elementary school, so that was child- and parent-focused,” she says. “But this was a whole new world. I learned a whole new set of skills, met wonderful people, and benefited greatly from it. I loved teaching, but I loved this, too. People asked what I wanted to do in retirement, and I said ‘I don’t know!’ So I’m glad this happened.”

Eagle Scout badge, black tie, and choir robe: some of Arthur Benson’s many uniforms 

“Being an Eagle Scout is probably worth $50,000 over a lifetime in terms of preference for schools and jobs,” says Arthur Benson, a 71-year-old retired plastics industry manager who now spends between 40 and 50 hours a month volunteering for five organizations in Colorado Springs. One of his favorite roles is as a leader and committee chairman of a local Boy Scout troop.

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Arthur Benson presents the Theodore Roosevelt Medal of the Navy League of the United States to a junior ROTC cadet. Photo courtesy of Arthur Benson.

“When I was in my 30s, I mentioned being a Scout leader in a job interview and the first question was, ‘Were you an Eagle Scout?’ and I was able to say yes. And I’ve read many college admissions deans say that all things being equal, they’ll choose the Scout,” he says. “It’s because scouting drills integrity into boys—teaches them about trustworthiness and loyalty, and how to live those traits out. It’s the right age to teach them, too, because then at 16 or 17, two kinds of fumes draw them away from scouting: gas fumes and perfume!”

Arthur is also a retired Navy officer with 23 years of service. He’s now active with the Navy League, an international, 50,000-member civilian organization that educates the public and Congress about the value and needs of the country’s sea services—”a mission especially important in a landlocked state,” says Arthur.

As treasurer of the local board and Navy Ball committee, Arthur helps to raise about $20,000 a year to support the League at the annual black-tie-or-uniform Navy Birthday Ball they sponsor for hundreds of active military and the public in Colorado Springs.

In addition, Arthur sings in two choirs and volunteers as treasurer for the small foundation that owns the real estate assets of his church, as well as for a charter school building corporation. “Those commitments don’t take a lot of time now, but I have a feeling they’ll snowball!” he says.

Bob Baker takes on many roles as the roll winds down

“Serving at the soup kitchen is really neat; it’s humbling,” says Bob Baker, 70, of the monthly volunteering he does with his wife in Colorado Springs. “Serving at that level is really valuable.”

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Bob Baker of Colorado Springs. Photo courtesy of Bob Baker.

But Bob has served at many levels for a long time, including in his professional life as CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southern Colorado for 17 years. Prior to that, when he was president of a local bank, he also dedicated time to the United Way, first as a campaign solicitor and eventually as chairman of the board of their local chapter.

“The United Way was a very vibrant organization at that time,” Bob says. “They had a ‘give once’ philosophy—you’d give once, to them, and they’d distribute your donation to worthy organizations in the community. It was very effective.”

Since retirement, among a host of other volunteer pursuits, Bob has joined the board of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, a Catholic organization that provides health care and other services to those in need.

“The connections I’ve made—as a nonprofit CEO, board member, and volunteer—they’ve been very important,” he says. “I’ve maintained a lot of them. But life is that roll of toilet paper, right? And now, it’s winding down, so I want to make good use of the time I have left. There’s great fulfillment in all types of community involvement. We’ve been fortunate, and giving back is important to us.”


In Colorado and want to volunteer? Search hundreds of opportunities on Idealist. Or check out Metro Volunteers, a Denver-based organization that promotes volunteerism in the community.

Learn more about Colorado month at Idealist!

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Idea File: Geezer Gallery paints new picture of ‘old’

Artists who happen to be age 60+ make money and feel good at a gallery just for them.

The idea
Frank Springer is a retired vice cop who lives alone. Every day he goes down to his basement kiln and creates plates made from colored fused glass. It provides a sense of purpose and helps him get up in the morning. He’s 99 years old.

His work is exhibited in the Geezer Gallery in Portland, OR, a space exclusively dedicated to senior-created professional art. You won’t find any macaroni designs here – everything from bronze sculptures to jewelry to acrylic paintings and pastels is on display and for sale. The artwork also appears in retirement communities and businesses around town, and owner Amy Henderson has also started bringing art programs to homebound and low-income seniors.

“Big Bang Theory” by Harriet Levi. “I am always growing and changing as an artist and as a person. Stagnation kills the soul,” she says.

Why “geezers”? Henderson frames it this way: it’s all about showing seniors like Frank that the aging process is full of creative possibilities and not to be feared. The gallery also helps combat ageist stereotypes.

“I love when younger people come in and go ‘Oh my gosh, I was expecting ducks and doilies,’” she says. “They’re starting to challenge in their own minds the paradigm we put forth about aging and the reality of it.”

Intentions to action

Henderson specifically recalls three experiences that helped her move from an abstract image in her mind to concrete paintings on the walls:

  1. A survivor of domestic abuse, Henderson started to see the striking parallels between the messages sent to the older population—that they’re worthless, a burden, and have no purpose—and domestic abuse victims after visiting a 96-year-old family friend in a nursing home.
  2. Every year Nike works with a handful of terminally ill children at a Portland hospital to design tennis shoes, which are then sold regionally. Henderson was struck by the tremendous positive impact the project had on the kids emotionally, physically, and mentally. If creativity and entrepreneurship could be so powerful at one end of the life course, why not the other?
  3. At a low-income housing project she visited one day, Henderson was incredulous at all the amazing artwork decorating the walls. Turns out it was all found in homes after elderly residents had passed away: yet another instance that showed that older adults aren’t just sipping on prune juice all day long.

After the idea was seeded, Henderson went to a local college and devoted her studies to developing a savvy business plan. A few years later, armed with a Master’s degree in gerontology, she collaborated with local nonprofits such as Loaves and Fishes and Elders in Action to bring the gallery to life.

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“Night Club Argument” by Martin Anderson. ““I have done art my whole life and becoming a senior doesn’t change that,” he says.

Replicability factor
The gallery isn’t without its challenges. Funding is a huge one, as is educating the public about just how beneficial art therapy is for seniors. Getting the word out about the space can be difficult as well.

Despite the challenges, the gallery has been a success in Portland so far. Henderson would love nothing more than to see geezer art wowing people everywhere. If you think you might want to try something like this where you live, here’s her advice to get started:

  • Float the idea to your community first. Who’s going to be supportive? What’s going to be a challenge?
  • Have a business plan. Foundations especially want to see this if they’re going to dole out cash.
  • Create a board. It’ll give your nonprofit street cred, not to mention potential avenues of funding.

Henderson is also willing to be a consultant. “We’ve done the legwork, we know the pitfalls,” she says. “We could really assist someone with this model. It would be easy to replicate somewhere else.”

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If you’re in the Portland area, the Geezer Gallery is currently looking for social media and administrative volunteers. They’re also seeking board members. Not in Oregon? Check out the 400+ volunteer opportunities listed on Idealist related to seniors and art.

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Free Event for Adults 50+ in New York

On June 19, Baby Boomers and seniors are getting together in New York City for the Volunteer Ventures Expo. The Expo is a free one-day conference about volunteering put on by the Jewish Association of Services for the Aged (JASA), in collaboration with UJA-Federation of New York, New York City Department for the Aging, ReServe, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and Idealist.org.

If you attend, you’ll have the chance to meet with representatives from over 60 local nonprofit organizations to find out about opportunities to volunteer. You can also attend an array of workshops to learn about different ways to volunteer, how to find these opportunities, and what to expect from them.

Idealist.org will be leading a workshop called “The World Wide Web of Volunteer Opportunities,” where you can learn how to search for and evaluate volunteer opportunities on the internet, and find out about some volunteer projects that can be done entirely online.

Click here for more information and to register for the event. We hope to see you there!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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