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Won't You Be My Neighbor? Bend kids meet new friends through the Hello Neighbor program

photographs from caldera's hello neighbor project grace the source weekly headquarters.When was the last time you talked with your neighbors? Maybe they're your best friends,

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photographs from caldera's hello neighbor project grace the source weekly headquarters.
  • photographs from caldera's hello neighbor project grace the source weekly headquarters.
photographs from caldera's hello neighbor project grace the source weekly headquarters.When was the last time you talked with your neighbors? Maybe they're your best friends, or perhaps more likely, you've never even really gotten to know them beyond a simple wave. Somehow, we seem more likely to seek out friends on MySpace than we are to take the time to understand the individuals who make up our community.

 
Caldera, a non-profit organization that mentors students in Central Oregon and Portland schools through artistic programs, has brought to town the Hello Neighbor program, a project meant to encourage kids to get out and meet the people in their neighborhoods.

The murals are hanging from the Boys and Girls Club on Wall Street, on the side of the Merenda restaurant, the Des Chutes Historical Museum, and of course, on the brick façade of the Source's Bond Street headquarters. The photos are hard to miss, given their seven feet by five feet size, and it's likely you've already seen a few at the aforementioned locations.


Julie Keefe, a Portland-based photojournalist who has worked with Caldera for 12 years, came up with the idea of Hello Neighbor after her experiences in her own North Portland neighborhood, which has undergone a major gentrification in recent years.

"The people moving in there want to make it a community. I wanted to make this a community because I don't want to be an outsider all my life," Keefe says.

So, Keefe started the Hello Neighbor project with the idea of addressing gentrification from a human standpoint while also allowing kids the opportunity to learn about their community in a way they would probably never consider.

"Kids are really afraid of their neighbors because they're told to be afraid of strangers," Keefe says.

The project sent kids into their neighborhoods knocking on their neighbors' doors and then sitting down for an interview with their subject. Keefe photographed the interviewing children while the kids took the pictures of the interviewees.

"These kids were asking wonderful questions. Like, 'when you were little, what was your best memory of the neighborhood you grew up in?'" Keefe recalls.

The project included middle school students from Portland, but also the sixth graders from Lauri Peters' language arts class at Bend's own Pilot Butte Middle School. All of the artwork found around Bend is the result of these student's efforts.

"This project kind of brought everybody back into making new friends. The kids deserve a lot of kudos for getting out there and learning so much about people they didn't even know," Keefe says.

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