Heather Ballmer Meyer, or “Mama Heather” as she is known widely in the Old Orchard neighborhood, launched the Front Porch Project in March when shelter in place orders were given by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. It has been hugely popular, bringing joy and togetherness to the neighborhood during a strange and difficult time in the country.
What inspired the Front Porch Project?
My friend sent me an article about a Massachusetts photographer just as the stay-at-home orders were issued here in Ohio. Before the day was over, I had the wheels in motion with two friends in the Old Orchard neighborhood. Pete Mowry, a professional photographer, and Morag Hastie, a writer and former partner with me in Love Letters to Toledo, who is our behind-the-scenes blog mistress for Old Orchard Love From Afar, where the photos live.
Do you think it contributes to a sense of community in this time of isolation?
Absolutely. I had one goal for this crazy idea: building community. Because we have such a strong organized family group in the neighborhood, I knew the first two dozen photos would be neighbors I am close with. The reality is that most of the folks being photographed I’m meeting for the first time. I try to learn something about each of them as I stand in their front yard or on the sidewalk with my camera clicking away. More often than not, I am told, “You have no idea how great this is! We had something to look forward to this afternoon!” What they don’t realize is that it has been that for Pete and I as well. It gives us a chance to be creative in this crazy time.
How many neighbors have been photographed?
As of yesterday, we have hit the 70 neighbor mark! All of the photos are live on our Old Orchard blog.
How have you been handling this difficult period?
Some days I handle it like a rockstar, while others not so gracefully. It seems to be an ever-changing ocean with no real warning on what days are going to be real bombs. I’m a planner by nature and having to release those reigns has been an experience! The single thing that always helps: getting outside either to walk or bike or dig in my garden, in spite of the super slow start to spring here in NW Ohio.
Are you going to continue the front porch project?
No. This had a distinct beginning and end when I set sail. That being said, we as a country are going to be dealing with this for months to come. Until we are back to our new normal, this ‘outreach’ will continue to keep us connected. Daily, I continue to get requests.
Does your faith help you get through difficult periods like this?
Ahh, the million dollar question! The short answer is yes, absolutely. The long answer includes my unique situation. I have been a member of my home church, Augsburg Lutheran, for 51 years and I’m the director of operations and community development for Trinity Episcopal downtown. I spend hours daily in one of those capacities trying to be the light in these crazy times of isolation and churches being closed. It is what sustains me and even exhausts me each day. In many ways, photographing our neighbors has been an extension of being the light.