© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Stories We Hold: Roanoke Exhibit Sheds Light on Those Seeking Care in Times of Crisis

Laura Weeks

Speaking with people who spend their days in shelters throughout cities can yield powerful, heartbreaking, and sometimes surprising narratives. One Roanoke photojournalist did just that for a project aimed at depicting those going through a difficult time in a different light. 

"I was never the type to judge a book by its cover. I was always the book that got judged. Everyone is fighting their own battles."

Laura Weeks is a Roanoke native and 24-year-old JMU graduate. She became involved with the Rescue Mission, a ministry that aids the homeless, hungry, abused, or addicted – those seeking care in times of crisis. After being given a tour, she realized that an abundance of stories must exist within the Mission's walls – and made it her own mission to give a voice to the voiceless. She points to a quote from Rescue Mission CEO Joy Sylvester-Johnson as inspiration:

“The homeless are the only people defined by what they don’t have.”

For a few months, Laura interviewed guests at the Rescue Mission – and paired each story with a photo of the subject's hands. She say hands can convey a story as much as eyes can.

“When all you’re asked as a person in that situation is ‘why aren’t you working?’ and ‘why aren’t you doing this and that?' ..To have different questions asked – questions that aren’t judgmental, and it’s ‘tell me about yourself’ and ‘what are your dreams for your children?’ and ‘what’s your favorite memory of them?’ To have that set of questions asked – people are going to be more open.”

 The stories she gathered detail lives affected by mental and physical health, spanning all ages – and even spanning the globe. She spoke with one Iraqi refugee:

“He’s Sunni, and when he was in Iraq he helped Shiites because he says we all have the same God. So, he wanted to help them. And because of that, his village turned on him, and they attacked his house and his family. So he came over here to try to build up a life, so he could take his children with him and bring them over here.”

Laura Weeks reads some stories she gathered:

“It seems like the more help you try to get, the harder people push you away and consider you a joke….I guess you could say I’m a mama’s baby. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to talk to people, so thank God for mom.”
“The last several years have been rough dealing with this mental illness. A lot of people don’t understand mental illness, even my own friends…there’s not a lot of compassion out there, and I’ve found that out the hard way.”
“I value each day that I’m alive, and that’s what I scream every day that I’m alive until that dreaded day when I will go. But I always give God his space for miracles.”

The Rescue Mission's2nd Helpings Gallerywill feature the exhibit Project Hands: For the Stories We Hold Friday, May 15th from 6-8 PM. The portraits, as well as a book containing the photographs and stories, will be for sale at the reception – all proceeds will benefit the Rescue Mission.  

Related Content