The Welcome Project collects first-person audio and video stories and pairs its stories with facilitated conversation to foster curiosity about difference and to forge stronger communities as those communities become increasingly diverse. All of the stories gathered by the Welcome Project are first-person accounts in which participants describe how events mattered to them. We value these accounts for the perspective they provide on experience even when the stories do not reflect the views of the Welcome Project staff. First person stories derive their power from the specific location of a particular individual. By valuing each individual perspective, we hope to provide a space where a collective portrait begins to emerge.
We began collecting stories in the spring of 2009, stories that we hoped would provide entrance into each others’ lives and illuminate the complexity of living together amidst increasing diversity and difference. We relied heavily on the Center for Civic Reflection’s model of civic reflection to enrich our understanding of self and community, and developed a practice of using Welcome Project stories to lead conversations on campus – through presentations, student organizations, faculty and staff meetings, MLK Day, and diversity/inclusion workshops. Within two years, we extended our reach by forging initial connections with interested civic partners through a 30-minute presentation, and in 2014, we partnered with the Porter County Museum to host a exhibition of our work.
Much of our time has been spent working and training students to participate in the Project through for-credit, internship, and volunteer opportunities. We have worked with students through a one-credit service learning course, which we’ve tailored to teach students how to interview others for the Project. We’ve implemented service learning assignments in courses such as Introduction to Creative Nonfiction where students are trained to interview people for the Project and responsible for producing two- to three-minute stories from the material they gather. Through the work of the students and our own endeavors, we have accumulated over 300 interviews and posted over 250 stories to our website for use in classrooms, exhibitions, study circles, workshops, and other artistic and pedagogical endeavors. Since our start in 2009, our project has grown considerably in size and scope:
The Invisible Project
What does it mean to have a home? What happens to an individual, family, or community when faced with homelessness? Homelessness in Porter County does not conform to traditional assumptions about who experiences homelessness and why it occurs. The Invisible Project, an innovative traveling exhibit, makes visible local stories of homelessness through first-person stories, infographics, and art.
In 2015, we were approached by the Porter County Coalition for Affordable Housing, Housing Opportunities, Gabriel’s Horn, and Dayspring Women’s Center to collect stories on homelessness in Porter County. Together with the Porter County Museum and Prof. Yeohyun Ahn’s 598 Graphic Design course in the graduate digital media program at Valparaiso University, we developed a mobile exhibit that is touring Porter County. You can find The Invisible Project stories here.
Flight Paths: Mapping Our Changing Neighborhoods
In 2015, we embarked on a digital humanities initiative centered on the changing racial and economic demographics of Gary and Northwest Indiana, beginning with the rise of black political power and opportunity in the 1960s, the “flight” of white residents and businesses to the suburbs, and the automation and consequent underemployment of the steel mills. Eventually, Flight Paths will be a multimedia initiative to help participants, both regionally and nationally, engage and analyze factors contributing to de-urbanization and the fracturing of neighborhoods, communities, and regions in post-industrial America through the specific example of Gary, Indiana. Stories and texts will also help participants consider the opportunities residents found and continue to find in the face of de-urbanization. We hope to launch cross-county conversations about what it means to be good neighbors by looking honestly at our past. Flight Path team members consist of faculty from Valparaiso University, Indiana University Northwest, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Pacific Lutheran University. In December 2016, we received the NEH’s Digital Projects for the Public discovery grant to create a design document for the website. Find Flight Paths stories here.
This interview by Purdue University Calumet’s Communications Department gives a great introduction to our history and our practice as well as our latest initiative collecting stories in Gary, Indiana.
In the news
- The Post Tribune mentions Flight Paths after co-director Allison Schuette presents on it to the Gary Common Council. “Valparaiso University hopes to help document Gary neighborhoods, history” (2 May 18).
- The Northwest IN Times‘ Joyce Russell interviewed co-director Allison Schuette about receiving Valparaiso University’s Kapfer Research Award, which will support our Flight Paths initiative. “Valparaiso University professor using personal stories to tell Region’s history” (16 Nov 17).
- Stories are now being aired regularly on Lakeshore Public radio (Aug 2017). Listen in on Tuesdays!
- Keith Kirkpatrick interviewed us for his show Lakeshore Focus. First aired 24 Feb 17.
- Co-Director Allison Schuette gives a TEDx Talk at Valparaiso University based on her experience with the Welcome Project. “The Art of Building Relationships for Social Justice.” (23 Dec 16.)
- The Post Tribune’s reporter, Jerry Davich, wrote about us interviewing him! “Oral history project maps ‘Flight Paths’ of region residents” (16 Dec 16).
- Valparaiso University’s student paper, The Torch, featured the opening night of RE/FRAMING HI/STORIES in “Accounts of Porter County Told in a New Way” (4 Nov 16).
- “The More the Obstacles Fall Between Us: An Interactive, Multi-Media Performance to Develop Empathy and Prompt Action,” a chapter co-written by Liz Wuerffel and Allison Schuette in From Research to Action, edited by Littleford, L. N. & Alexander, C. A.
- Coverage of our exhibition, RE/FRAMING HI/STORIES, in the Northwest IN Times: run up to the event (19 Oct 16); opening night (27 Oct 16).
- Slag Glass City, a creative nonfiction and multidisciplinary media journal engaged with sustainability, identity, and art in urban environments, published co-director Allison Schuette’s audio essay,”Busy Enough to Take in the Likes of Me,” on her experiences researching in Gary, Indiana (22 Sept 16).
- Lakeshore Public Media’s Regionally Speaking interviews Elizabeth Allen of the Porter County Coalition on Homeless and Megan Telligman of the Porter County Museum about the Invisible Project (17 Aug 16).
- Northwest IN Times article describes the NEH Enduring Questions course that co-director Allison Schuette will develop, “Who’s My Neighbor?” (2 June 16).
- The Welcome Project partnered with area non-profits to raise awareness on homelessness in Porter County, creating an exhibit called “The Invisible Project.” The Post-Tribune reported on the exhibit opening (22 Mar 16)
- Northwest IN Times article highlights the Welcome Project’s Flight Path initiative in their Campus Spotlight section (19 Nov 15).
- The Welcome Project received the 2015 Urban League of Northwest Indiana’s community relations award, as reported in the Northwest IN Times (19 Mar 15)
- Valparaiso University highlights the collaboration of co-director Liz Wuerffel, Sarhang Sherwany, and Saddam Al-Zubaidi on the documentation of Syrian refugees in the Kurdish region of Iraq (21 Nov 14)
- Porter County Museum hosts the Welcome Project exhibit, “The More the Obstacles Fall Between Us” (Apr-May 2014)
- Northwest IN Times interview with Liz and Allison on the history and work of the Welcome Project (23 Jun 13)
- Northwest IN Times promotes its Diversity Summit and Job Fair at which the Community Outreach committee presented “The Changing Faces of Our Communities” (23 Jun 13)
- Northwest IN Times reports on the Welcome Project’s community outreach presentation to the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce (11 Apr 13)
- Valparaiso University recognizes the Welcome Project and Holly Singh as MLK Day Award recipients (11 Jan 13)
- Northwest IN Times reports on the Welcome Project’s first community outreach presentation to Valparaiso’s Human Relations Council (23 Oct 12)
- Valparaiso University’s student newspaper, The Torch, reports on the background of the Welcome Project (28 Sept 12)
Our work on the Welcome Project has been enriched and equipped by so many people. We’d like to thank Elizabeth Lynn for teaching us how to ask good questions, Aimee Tomasek for photographing participants; other faculty and staff at Valparaiso University for support and use of the project including Yeohyun Ahn for leading students in design work for The Invisible Project initiative and Phil Powell for his video support; our community volunteers including Tina Porter; the many students who have produced thought-provoking clips; and, most of all, our storytellers.
Our work is not without important influences. We helped bring to campus Claudette Roper’s other state, in conjunction with the Brauer Museum of Art. This multimedia installation exploring the vestiges of racism through the lives of forty African-Americans both provides one model for the Welcome Project and initiates the kinds of conversations the Project is interested in facilitating. We are additionally indebted to StoryCorps and First Person American for serving as models of how to collect and share stories, and to the Center for Civic Reflection in modeling ways to use stories to enrich our understanding of self and community through conversation. We have many community partners and community members supporting our work: the Porter County Museum, Lakeshore Public Media, Miller Beach Arts and Creative District, Indiana University Northwest’s Calumet Regional Archives and the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence, Gary Historical and Cultural Society, the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, United Urban Network and StoryCorps. We’ve been grateful to receive funding for specific initiatives from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts – Indiana Arts Commission – South Shore Arts. The Invisible Project mobile exhibit was funded in part through Valparaiso University’s Cultural Arts Committee, the Porter County Community Foundation, the Porter County Museum, and several local donors. Many thanks.
Students who have worked on the project
Vicky Liu, Jaleh Sadravi, Eric Billhymer, Ethan Grant, Kristine Clay, Daniela Godinez, Caitlin Doherty, Ben Taylor, Wendy Mallette, Tia Kolasa, Stephanie Burch, Kristyn Rein, William Milhans, Diana Stutzman, Brian Rajcok, Emily Bahr, David Cyze, Katie Joshua, AJ Bryson, Robbie Onofrey, Holly Peterson, Alex Moulchin, Stephanie Sepiol, Jasmine Williams, Hannah Bauer, Rebecca Werner, Liz Madary, Jorie Mulvihill-Burton, Patty Stellfox, Carmen Cordova, Tyler Gegg, Zach Phillips, Ather Ahmed, Eileen Foley, Nathan Albert, Xiaojun Liang, Calvin Li, Tori Brown, Maggie Christopher, Kirsten Goodwin, A.C. Marheine, Jill Pals, Rebecca Szabo, Taylor Wiese, Cory Williams, Rebecca Wolf, Kelsey Mitschelen, Logan Coan, Saddam Al-Zubaidi, Danielle Cantwell, Michael Hansen, Abigail Accettura, Caprice Balleweg, Jordan Bires, Rachel Borgo, Mychal Brim, Victoria Bruick, Maria Bruno, Carl Colvin, Bryn Cooley, Emily Doherty, Nicholas Dziubasik, Ashley Hornung, Jessica Jachim, Nicole Lambert, Caitlin Littlejohn, Heather Mende, Yusuf Rabbani, Scot Sawa, Alyssa Selig, Natalia Terzic, Linxin Liu, Kurtis Loukota, Eric Kurbyun, Alexandra Sumner, Rocio Pulido, Jessica Saavedra, Gabriela Martinez, Nick Ferrotti, Daniel Groth, Denise Cooley, Heather Burton, Lakisha Walls, Christina Crawley, Stacy McKeigue, David Sula, Shiqi Guo, Zhisheng Hao, Patricia J. Jarosz, Ge Qin, Zhiying Ruan, Ning Shen, Sarhang Sherwany, Zhen Tong, Yixi Wang, Jacob R. Wulbert, Chenchen Xu, Wanlu Zhou, Zihan Zhu, Neaz N. Mustafa, Robert E. Lee, Abi Bouwma, Lexa Alva, Abby Beavan, Emmy Bender, Emily Dolata, Jessica Galbreath, Sarah Geekie, Megan Gilliam, Katie Goldbranson, Rebecca Greaney, Calvin Henninger, Allison Ibholm, Kristen Knoerzer, Kal Pence, Monica Rodriguez, Narender Annaram, Jessica Sunblade, Samantha Holland, Willow Walsh, Reagan Skaggs, Brandi Cassada.