Community, Compassion and Comfort Zones: Proven Lessons from The Front Steps Project

July 15th, 2021
family posed on stucco porch

Photographers capture life as it happens, whether the subjects are families, professionals, events, locations and more. Wherever you were when life felt like it stopped in March 2020, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about The Front Steps Project

The local fundraiser that we created in our Boston, MA, suburb on March 18, 2020 went from a little idea to support our community to a massive grassroots social mission overnight. It spread so rapidly we’re still sometimes reeling from the experience. And it happened all thanks to the generosity and passion of photographers from around the globe.

We’re here to say a heartfelt, “Thank you, photographers.” Your combined selflessness not only created a movement that made meaningful and significant impact, you created a camaraderie among yourselves that we have never seen before in the photography industry. Thank you for coming together. You proved that people with a shared, positive goal are, indeed, stronger together.

couple toasting wine glasses while sitting on porch steps
Photo credit: Jillian Carruth
family laughing, posed on stone steps
Photo credit: Amanda Whitegiver

The Results of TFSP

During the past 16 months, we have had the pleasure of connecting with many of the photographers who jumped on board this project. Many were looking for a way to unite their communities during crisis, others wanted to put their skills to work to sustain local organizations, and some were looking to funnel their pandemic fear and overwhelm into a positive activity. Our estimates show that photographers who donated time to The Front Steps Project collectively raised more than $4,000,000. Yes, four million dollars for food pantries, frontline workers, hospitals, animal shelters, senior centers, and more. 

To say the spring and summer of 2020 was overwhelming in so many ways would be an understatement. Explosive interest in The Front Steps Project led to hundreds of emails, texts, and Facebook and Instagram messages every day for weeks. Thousands of people wanted to get involved and asked us how to do it. Like us, everyone was looking for a way to lend a hand. Families were home and searching for ways to stay engaged with their own communities. People wanted to do their best to stay positive in a frightening and unchartered time. Every single day we had to step out of our comfort zones to answer questions, support our peers as they brought The Front Steps Project to their communities, and keep our own fundraiser growing.

Family posed on fire escape balconies, New York City
Photo credit: Adina Lerner Photography

While we’re proud of the impact our local photography team made in our own Massachusetts town, witnessing the global reach of The Front Steps Project by peers in other states, regions and countries was, quite simply, astounding. Choosing to spend several weeks connecting with photographers – through messages we received, the hashtag #TheFrontStepsProject and Go Fund Me listings – was the best decision we made. We asked ourselves, “Who were our peers who also chose to step up? Why were they doing The Front Steps Project? What were they supporting?”

By reaching out to other photographers, we measured the impact of our local-idea-gone-viral, got a glimpse into the many similarities and differences in our communities and the photography industry itself, and made many new friends.

Celebrating the photographers who stepped up to donate their skills, time and talent to give back to their communities became our motivator. When the United States started to slowly open back up in June 2020, as mothers, wives, and daughters ourselves we so desperately wanted to get our lives back. But, we knew we had only uncovered a small portion of The Front Steps Project story. We needed to keep going. And, West Margin Press provided us with that opportunity. 

We can’t thank West Margin Press enough for giving us – and hundreds of photographers around the world – a physical, printed platform to showcase the joy, compassion, kindness and courage we experienced during a trying year.

LGTBQ family dancing and wearing rainbow colors
Photo credit: Sarah Esposito
family posed sitting on cement steps
Photo credit: Cara Soulia

Answering Our “Why?”

Why did we agree to curate and participate in the design and writing of a photo book about The Front Steps Project? We wanted to ensure the story of The Front Steps Project was told accurately. Like any viral movement, the roots and intentions of The Front Steps Project evolved quickly, much like the old game of telephone, and in some cases were misconstrued. We were the only people who knew exactly where, when and how the idea started. While we couldn’t control copy cats, photographers who chose to replicate the idea but in a for-profit manner, or criticism that volunteering for social good would cannibalize a post-lockdown client base, we knew it was our job to represent our idea – and the thousands of people who connected with that positive energy – as authentically as possible.

We aimed to give photographers a book that would forever cement their selflessness. We aimed to create a visual keepsake of the joy, courage, sacrifice and perseverance that occurred in communities everywhere during the early days of the pandemic. We aimed to showcase the many different faces, families and communities that participated. All thanks to photographers who chose to turn a difficult time into an opportunity to spread some smiles and goodwill in the world.

Managing The Front Steps Project was a daily full-time commitment for us through the end of 2020. Six months later, as we write this post, we’re grateful the difficult days of the pandemic seem to be behind us, but we do miss the amazing energy, the wonderful people and incredible opportunities that The Front Steps Project created.

family posed behind window with tree reflection
Photo credit: Isabella Dellolio
black and white dog in front of house steps
Photo credit: Lindsay Parker
family posed with Lego rainbow on stone steps
Photo credit: Jaye McLaughlin

When we look back, here’s what we learned and will always treasure in our hearts:

  • Giving back will always pay off. 
  • When overwhelmed or faced with choices about how to act, engage or connect with those in need, embrace your personal values and let them lead the way. 
  • Support – and celebrate – each other. 
  • Be kind, brave and confident. 

To those who spread positive energy, thank you. The Front Steps Project would never have become such a motivating story of community, kindness, and connection if it weren’t for the photographers and people who participated. We are so proud to be part of an industry that jointly created something so meaningful. 

Meet the Authors

Kristen and Cara headshot

Kristen Collins and Cara Soulia are the creators of The Front Steps Project, a grassroots social mission led by photographers who connected thousands of people across the globe and raised over $4,000,000 for vital, nonprofit organizations and local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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