Last week I spent another day making images at the ICC in Roger’s Park. I spent most of the day in the basement area photographing in the common area, kitchen, storage, pantry freezer and walk in refrigerator. I made a few images that felt like they would say something or add to the idea that the space in which I’m making images is a place where people are taken care of on a large scale. Much more important than any of the images I made during that visit was the conversations I had with my chaperone Maria who is one of the teachers at the ICC. I’m further convinced that incorporating the staff into the project to hear their experiences with the children, what it’s like working there and their own related life experiences will bring an important element to the work that’s currently missing. While there’s no children currently at the ICC I’ve often found myself looking at and making images of things the children made (art and letters), earned (like sports trophies) or where they left their mark on the space. Towards the end of my visit Maria took me up to a classroom where she pulled out a folder full of handwritten notes and letters thanking her for everything she did for them. Many of the children refer to her as a second mother and often thank her for teaching them English while remarking on how when they arrived they may not have spoken very much English at all. The letters really kinda hit me this time even though I had seen some of them before. I think it was the total volume of letters, it really started to make me feel how many kids have come through this place. It’s hard to remember that when I first visited the place was full of kids because I’ve experienced it mainly empty this year. I’ve reached out to Maria Kenney to see if I can get permission to photograph the thank you letters that teacher Maria and other people have at these shelters. Unfortunately many of the letters are laminated and scanning them would not likely work as well as making a copy stand to document the letters. While initially my mind began down some immediate pathways towards how these letters might be incorporated into some kind of exhibition or online presentation of the fellowship work (that’s so completely my natural instinct) it pretty quickly dawned on me that I do in fact need to spend some time with the words on those pages think about what these kids are saying. I’ve not read them all yet and I’m sure there’s a multitude of experiences represented there. As Judy has so patiently been reminding me, this fellowship is not about the end product but about the journey and engaging with people and the issues at hand. I think I’m untangling some wires in my brain with how I work and while I don’t think I can or want to get rid of those impulses completely, I think there’s ample opportunity to add some layers and nuance to my practice. So assuming Maria can get me the green light on photographing these letters I’ll be adding that to my list of new things I would like to engage with at the UC shelters. I don’t envision this being a huge problem as it seems like a particularly small ask compared to the interviews of staff. What I think would be most compelling about incorporating these letters into the project is that each letter is both the literal words of each child who wrote it but also a visual stand in for a child who can’t be there and couldn’t be photographed anyway. The different color paper, the choice of including a sticker or a drawing and the idiosyncratic nature of handwriting all makes for individuals expressions of gratitude. Lastly, while I know that these kids go through a lot getting to the US, being away from their families and having to navigate the immigration system (including at Heartland’s UC Shelters) when I see stacks of notes thanking teachers, paintings given as gifts to youth care workers and other tributes to the staff it’s pretty apparent to me in those moments that whatever the challenges and hardships the work that’s being done at these UC shelters is a net positive on the lives of most if not all of these kids.