Jess Chermayeff ’04 “Searches for Home”

Jess Chermayeff ’04 shared the experiences of many low-income Lawrence families, as well as the problems associated with low-income housing during her Abbot Scholar presentation the Monday before last. The presentation, entitled “Searching for a Home: Viewing an American Crisis Through Stories and Photographs,” addressed the problem of low-income housing. She wrote a series of stories about specific families in Lawrence that were accompanied by photographs. Chermayeff became interested in her project while she was volunteering at the Greater Lawrence Habitat for Humanity this summer. “I was moved by the lives of the families and their struggles with housing, as well as the families’ generosity toward me,” said Chermayeff. Workers at Habitat asked Chermayeff, who was working to develop fundraising materials, to work on a book of photographs accompanied by the stories of Lawrence families helped by Habitat. Chermayeff worried that she would not have time to work on the stories of the families, but discovered that she might be able to explore the project through the Abbot Scholar program. In addition to writing the stories and taking the pictures for her project, she also researched the problem of housing in Lawrence and in the United States in general. Chermayeff focused on the advantages of low-income home ownership over renting. Many low-income families, said Chermayeff, are “left out and unable to access housing benefits” because of their financial situation. Financial, psychological, and social factors also play into home ownership. Those who are unable to attain home ownership are, according to Chermayeff, “left out of the ‘American Dream.’” Director of Community Service Chad Green served as Chermayeff’s faculty adviser, helping her in the research aspect of her project. Instructor in English Nina Scott and Instructor in Art Stephen Wicks helped her to complete the photo-essays, some of which she showed during her presentation. Speaking on what she gained from her experince, Chermayeff said, “I am not only more knowledgeable, but I also feel much more connected to the people and the town of Lawrence and the importance of the housing issue.”