Honorary Ambassador of Sunshine (and Giveaway!):: Hollen Reischer of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance
Hello, dear readers. Inherent in the mission statement of The Bright Side Project is the unspoken belief that to “Do What You Love, Love What You Do” is an absolutely essential component in creating a happy and healthy lifestyle. Every now and then, we will bestow a person with the title “Ambassador of Sunshine” and ask them to answer a few short questions on the ideas of happiness, creativity and sunshine. We hope these rays of light help inspire you to find the sunshine in your day, today and everyday.
Please introduce yourself to our readers and explain a little bit about your business.
Hi! My name is Hollen Reischer and I have the pleasure of serving as the Assistant Director of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance . We are a non-profit that runs free, weekly writing workshops in underserved neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Our mission is to provoke dialogue, build community, and promote change by creating opportunities for adults to write, publish, and perform works about their lives. Workshops are totally open to any adult who wants to participate—we have writers who have been with us since 1996 (when we were founded), writers who’ve been with us for a couple of years, and new writers find us all the time!
Writers may join us because they’ve been writing in secret for years and want to explore writing in community, or because they’ve never picked up a pen but have a story inside that’s itching to get out. Young people in their twenties write alongside folks long retired and those who aren’t working because of the economy or personal struggles. Many of our writers deal with the effects of poverty, discrimination, or disability on a daily basis. All of our participants have amazing stories to share—about their lives, their family histories, and their dreams for their communities. We publish their stories in the Journal of Ordinary Thought (JOT) and on our blog, Every Person Is a Philosopher. I have the privilege of editing JOT and managing our blog. I also help with communications, development, administration…and everything else that goes along with a staff of three working hard to amplify the voices of people who aren’t heard nearly often enough.
We believe that one of the ways to achieve happiness is to “Do what you love, love what you do.” How does this philosophy apply to your life?
My background is in both social justice and writing/editing, so when I found the Neighborhood Writing Alliance two-and-a-half years ago, I felt like the luckiest girl in Chicago! I am incredibly grateful to work for an organization whose mission I believe in 100%, and with such capable and determined coworkers and volunteers.
Also, in a world where not everyone is lucky enough to do what they love for their day job, spaces like the Neighborhood Writing Alliance allow people to carve out a place and time to immerse themselves in a creative, fulfilling, and supportive environment where expressing one’s authentic desires and ideas is validated.
Our mission here at The Bright Side Project is to spread sunshine on a daily basis because we firmly believe that life is (still) beautiful. Where do you find beauty and inspiration?
I am so inspired by the thoughtful and beautifully crafted words of our writers, who articulate their stories and beliefs in so many different ways. A poem we published in our Summer 2011 issue, “Testify: JOT Writers on Creative Resistance,” really speaks to the power that art has to expand people’s minds. NWA writer Jill Charles wrote:
JUSTICE FOR ALL
It’s easy to vote no
when you cannot see their faces:
the child wheezing with asthma
the woman with cancer like a ticking bomb
the old man seeing fewer stars each night
as cataracts cloud his eyes.
It’s easy to vote no
when you cannot hear them crying:
the father risking an electric fence
to reach the orange groves
and send a few dollars each month
to his wife, sons, and mother.
It’s easy to vote no
when you refuse to see
two old women holding hands
in a hospital bed
after fifty years of love
you insist is illegal.
But there is a higher law
and a judge who hears all evidence you deny.
Remove your biases
Like litter you never needed
Learn your neighbors’ names
Let your hopes whirl like windmills
And vote yes.
To me, Jill’s piece imagines a brighter world where each of us cares for each other in a holistic and authentic way, and reminds us of the responsibilities we have as members of society to work toward bringing that vision into reality.
Thinking about the answer to this question was so fun and challenging, I have also curated a few of my other favorites in a special “Bright Side” post on our blog today. I hope you enjoy!
Outside of work, I draw my inspiration from nature. Nothing makes me happier than spending time outdoors: hanging out with animals, biking to the farmers’ market, going to Lake Michigan, or just looking out my window at the birds in the trees.
On a dreary day, what do you do to infuse your life with a little bit of sunshine?
It’s raining as I type this, and the rain is desperately needed here in Illinois! So it’s actually quite nice to admire the leaves trembling in the rain against the bright white sky.
And when I’m feeling exhausted or disconnected from my work, I flip through back issues of the Journal of Ordinary Thought, or watch a video on our YouTube channel. These videos of writers Earlene Strickland (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4twq89m69k&feature=plcp) and Betsy Benefield (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyX_nSiESNg&feature=plcp) remind me how special and important the work is.
At this very moment, what are you most grateful for?
I am so grateful for my family, my boyfriend, my friends, and my health. Right now I am on crutches due to a little accident, and all the support from my network has been so awesome.
And I’m thankful for the chance to introduce NWA to The Bright Side Project community!