“Transforming lives for 30 years”: a photo exhibition tells the stories of LitNet

A photo exhibition of LitNet learners and tutors, “Transforming Lives for 30 Years,” is on display at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield from January 4 to February 1, 2022. Photo courtesy of Lichtenstein

Some people learn for life.

For those who sign up to work with a tutor at South Berkshire Literacy Network (LitNet), there might be an end goal in sight, like earning a GED or becoming a U.S. citizen. But for many, including LitNet learner Sylvana Proaño, reaching one goal only seems to reveal the next goal. Proaño has no plans to graduate from tutoring any time soon.

“If I come back and ask for help, they [LitNet] will help, ”said Proaño, who has been studying with tutors at LitNet for 20 years. “Staff never ask, ‘Why do you want to have a tutor?’ They never say, “It’s your limit, let’s make room for another student. “

Sylvana Proaño
Sylvana Proano. Photo courtesy of LitNet

Proaño first arrived at LitNet, an organization with a mission to “transform the lives of adult learners, whether immigrants or born in the United States, through the power of literacy, education and learning. advocacy ”, to work on his English after moving to the United States. from Ecuador in 1996. Then she stayed with the organization to receive tutoring for her US citizenship test as the recipient of the Matthew and Hannah Keator Family Scholarship for New Americans. Now an established citizen and fluent in English, she still meets a tutor to work on writing, grammar and speaking skills. These days she is employed by the Pittsfield-based family service organization 18 degrees and often sends its clients to LitNet. She said she now works on a different level with LitNet, more as a partner than a client.

Proaño describes his evolution with LitNet in a story captured in “Transforming Lives for 30 Years,” a photography and story exhibition that debuted at LitNet’s summer gala in 2021 and is now touring the county. It will be presented at Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield for the month of January and month-long screenings are planned at other venues throughout 2022 including Berkshire Medical Center, Berkshire South Regional Community Center, Berkshire Immigrant Center, 18 Degrees and Libraries Lenox and Lee. (See the entire exhibition program hereProaño’s black-and-white portrait is one of 17 in the series, and she beams warmly towards the camera, her black hair textured in a way only a movie can capture. There is an undeniable sense of satisfaction on her face that comes from working so hard for something and making it happen.

In a special collaboration with LitNet to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary, the Stockbridge-based photographer Julie mccarthy took the portraits of the learners, tutors and leaders of LitNet. Each featured person wrote their own story of how their life was transformed by working with LitNet, whether they learned English, became literate, or achieved their goal of becoming a U.S. citizen. . When all of the portraits are hung together, the exhibition shares a collective story of the transformative nature of literacy.

You can feel the relief in stories like that of Bruno China, who cried of “joy and happiness” when he finally became a citizen. His immediate family joined him in his portrait – a testament to how a person’s transformation impacts the lives of those close to them.

The portrait and history of Weiwei, as presented in the exhibition. Image courtesy of LitNet

There is the quiet pride of Maggie Curtin, who learned to read at 40 after losing her job when the factory where she worked closed. Without LitNet, she might never have been diagnosed or worked on dyslexia. Curtin and his tutor Andrew Pincus are LitNet’s longest-serving tutor-learner couple, true lifelong learners, having worked together for the 30-year history of the organization. The fact that some learners wrote a story is a testament to the transformation they went through in their lives.

“Much of my work focuses on people who are often not seen or recognized by society,” said McCarthy, whose fine art photography has been exhibited throughout New England and beyond. “It seemed important to me to show the commitment and hard work of the learners and the dedication of the tutors, to give them a face and a voice. As a portrait photographer, McCarthy often gets to know his subjects in fleeting but intimate ways. She was “impressed by the motivation and perseverance of the individuals” she photographed.

LitNet Executive Director Leigh Doherty and Founder Zoe Dalheim at the organization’s 30th anniversary gala, held at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in September. Photo courtesy of LitNet

“The exposure of portraits combined with the stories of the participants allows us to see those around us more clearly and understand their lives,” said McCarthy. “LitNet is a small organization with a big goal and a big heart. LitNet and everyone involved deserve to be seen, recognized and celebrated for their work and achievements.

Jen Glockner, director of cultural development at Lichtenstein, said that as a city-owned gallery, the Pittsfield Arts Center strives “to exhibit what is best and most educational for the community.” This exhibit has it all, ”she said. “It’s artistic and highlights those who have worked so hard over the past 30 years to make our community a better place. “

the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts is located at 28 Renne Ave. in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. “Transforming Lives for 30 Years” will be exhibited there from January 4 to February 1, 2022. The gallery is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 11 am to 4 pm. For more details on the exhibition, contact [email protected] or 413-499-9348.

To learn more about LitNet and how to become a volunteer tutor, visit organization website or contact them at [email protected] or 413-243-0471.

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