Dave Bullock: Bringing cameras to Skid Row residents

Dave Bullock is a co-founder of the Skid Row Photography Club, which provides digital cameras to Los Angeles’ Skid Row residents — the club’s members — and through their pictures allows outsiders like himself a chance to see their lives in another light. Bullock raises the funds to buy the cameras, and he collects used ones for the project, as well. 
“It’s given them, members of the club, an outlet and a way to express themselves artistically and also to document their day-to-day lives,” Bullock said of the club, which he co-founded in 2007 with Skid Row resident and homeless advocate Michael Blaze. “They have access to the community that only someone who is part of the community can have. Any photojournalist or outsider like myself can never hope to capture the stuff that they do. It’s amazing what they get.”
Bullock, a freelance photographer, says when he’s had time, he would spend time with the residents and offer classes on photography, as well as help them organize their photos and create shows. These days, as he juggles several paying jobs including being lead developer at the crowd-funding charitable website CrowdRise and on the faculty at Art Center College of Design, he’s mostly doing fundraising for the club, and Blaze distributes the cameras to the community, working from a list he maintains of people he trusts will put the cameras to good use. 
The residents’ photographs have captured a variety of subjects, including ash on the street, piles of trash and even flowers — images visitors to Skid Row might never think to photograph. Some of them have been displayed publicly and have been sold for money.
“They find the beauty of everyday things,” Bullock said.
A Reform Jew who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bullock began to learn about Skid Row when he moved into a nearby neighborhood in downtown L.A. roughly 10 years ago. He and Blaze, whom he met at a gallery exhibition, launched the club with the help of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. 
Most recently, in an effort to purchase additional cameras, Bullock launched an online campaign on CrowdRise that has raised nearly $2,000 for the club. It costs $100 to buy a Canon point-and-shoot camera as well as an 18-gigabyte memory card and a tripod, Bullock said. To date, the club has provided 50 digital cameras to Skid Row community members, Bullock said.
Somehow, he’s also found time to document Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s recent restoration and to serve on the San Bernardino Cave and Technical Rescue Team.
“It is the whole tikkun olam thing,” Bullock said of his volunteer work. “It wasn’t a conscious choice. I didn’t go out and say, ‘I am going to … help out the world,’ but I think it’s part of our culture … tzedakah and all that stuff,” he said. “I think it’s part of our duties to help out any way we can, and I happened to land on a path that has allowed me to do that.” 

JVS vying for $150,000 in national contest

The Great Recession is technically over, but for many job seekers — particularly in the Los Angeles area — it certainly doesn’t seem that way.

Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate stood at 10.2 percent in December, higher than California as a whole and far above the already steep 7.8 percent national average. And despite some signs of a hiring uptick at the end of last year, jobseekers nationally have, typically, been out of work for 35 weeks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So, when officials at Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) — a local nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people find work — heard about a nationwide fundraising contest for groups like theirs, they jumped at the chance to get involved. 

The JobRaising Challenge, organized by the Skoll Foundation, which supports social entrepreneurs; The Huffington Post; and online fundraising site Crowdrise; allows selected nonprofits to compete for $250,000 in cash prizes from the Skoll Foundation by raising as much money as they can on their own. 

As of Feb. 12, JVS had raised more than $51,000 and is in second place on the fundraising ladder out of 65 organizations across the country. The competition began Jan. 21,

The money, provided by more than 80 donors as of Feb. 11, puts the 82-year-old organization on track to win the contest’s second prize of $50,000. If JVS overtakes the current organization in the lead — New York-based Venture For America Inc. — before the contest ends on March 1, it would win $150,000.

“I’m an eternal optimist. I feel hopeful we will continue at this pace,” said Randy H. Lapin, JVS’ chief philanthropy officer. “We do have some good competition out there, but we’re doing all that we can.”

The money JVS raises, along with any prize money it secures, will be used to support its career counseling and job creation programs. It will hire more staff to network with local businesses and find employment opportunities for job seekers, Lapin said. 

JVS helps a wide variety people find work, including veterans, refugees, at-risk youth, seniors and downsized professionals. Its services include training programs that allow participants to obtain entry-level jobs in the health care and banking fields. Altogether, JVS delivers services at nearly 30 sites across Southern California and helps about 30,000 people a year. Although some programs are targeted toward Jews, JVS serves people of all faiths, Lapin said.

Fundraising through an online contest is unique for JVS, Lapin said. Even though some donations are small — just $10 or $20 — the sheer number of people pledging means the money adds up to a substantial sum. This has been supplemented by others who have donated amounts as large as $10,000. Those interested in donating to JVS through the contest can go to crowdrise.com/jobraising or jvsla.org.

Robert Wolfe, co-founder of Crowdrise, said in a video announcing the JobRaising Challenge on HuffPost Live that the contest is designed to generate more money for the cause of job creation than could be achieved with a straightforward foundation grant. 

“The idea is if [organizations are] going out to their own constituents and asking them to participate as both donors and fundraisers, that we can leverage that money and turn it into … hopefully millions of dollars so these awesome nonprofits can go out and help create jobs,” he said.

The contest has also generated publicity for JVS. Participating organizations are invited to blog on The Huffington Post’s Web site, which attracts 50 million U.S. visitors a month. Arianna Huffington herself has mentioned JVS on Twitter, Lapin said. 

With the publicity and fundraising dollars generated so far, Lapin said, JVS is already feeling like a winner.