By JoANN PILEGGI
Just past the crack of dawn several days a week, Pim Van Hemmen can be seen running at a good clip through Fair Haven. But he's running a little faster than usual these days as he heads back to his third-floor home office.
"I have a certain amount of anxiety about this," he says. "For about an hour each day, I freak out that I'm not making any money for the first time in my life."
He's not making any money because he recently took a buyout from his 25-year employer, the rapidly shrinking Star-Ledger, where he headed the newsroom photo and online efforts, and hasn't yet turned his full attention to a photography business he plans to launch.
And what's keeping him from the startup is Do1Thing.org, a national non-profit he co-founded to call attention to teenage homelessness.
Tomorrow, Valentine's Day, dozens of Do1Thing professional photographers, videographers, writers and editors including a passel of Pulitzer Prize winners will fan out across America's large cities looking to document, in images and words, the plight of kids who've been kicked to the curb.
One of the short videos on the Do1Thing site.
How does a surburban dad and husband go from a successful career in photojournalism to an all-consuming unpaid role as advocate for some of America's neediest?
"It all started with the Heart Gallery project," says Van Hemmen.
Founded by Van Hemmen and Najlah Feanny Hicks, a photographer for Newsweek and other newsmagazines, the Heart Gallery of New Jersey was a photography-based effort aimed at raising awareness of foster-children's issues and boosting the adoptability of foster kids.
How? By a simple but transformative act: replacing the ugly mugshots used by the state agencies with photos that showed the kids as they really were.
Since 2005, the Heart Gallery has helped place 150 kids into permanent homes, says Van Hemmen. Many of them had spent their entire lives in the foster care system. Some were considered unadoptable.
"We think that the Heart Gallery helped to find them permanent homes and stable familes," Van Hemmen says.
The success of that effort led Hicks and Van Hemmen to ponder what happens to foster kids who become young adults without being adopted.
Answer: they "age out" of the system, and are set loose into the world on their own.
Each year, 25,000 foster kids in America age out, and about a quarter of them end up on the streets, says Van Hemmen.
"It shouldn't be that way," he says. "It doesn't have to be that way."
Hicks and Van Hemmen decided to amp up the Heart Gallery approach. Wouldn't it make sense, they asked, to have professional photographers take quality pictures to document and shine a light on an often overlooked problem?
In five months, Van Hemmen and Hick, recruited 100 top-notch photographers and other media pros in 20 cities across the country.
"We have 30 Pulitzer prize-winning photographers who have been and will be taking their best shots of homeless teens to show who they are and why they live the way they do" on Feb. 14, says Van Hemmen.
"Then we'll put these pictures and videos on our interactive website so that people, everyone, can see their hardship and do something about it."
Van Hemmen and Hicks partnered with Covenant House, the largest non-profit organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless teens through facilities in Newark, Atlantic City, New York and other cities across the
"What most of us don't realize is that there are nearly a million teens and young adults out there in this country who are homeless homeless," says Van Hemmen. "The foster system takes care of them until they are 18, and
then they age out, they're on their own. They don't have a support
system. We can try to help them, and Covenant House will be the link for
By coincidence, Covenant House's new president is another Fair Haven resident, former New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services commissioner Kevin Ryan. He and Van Hemmen live just blocks apart, and each has a child in the nearby Sickles School, though the two men have only met in passing.
Ryan tells redbankgreen he's "elated" that Hicks and Van Hemmen chose to focus on Covenant House's work.
is taking the most disempowered and voiceless kids and young adults
whether they're living under the boardwalk in Atlantic City or in a box
in public park or train station and inviting the world to pay attention
and do something about it," he says.
"What they're doing reminds me so much of what the Heart Gallery did: creating a moving portrait of kids using the gift of professional photography to depict our kids and help them get adopted by forever families."
And what about that income Van Hemmen is supposed to be generating for his family? His wife, Jeanne-Marie, an attorney in Red Bank, is patient.
"Can we afford to do this, live on one salary? I don't know," she says. "But in the big picture, it's really cool that someone, my husband, in the middle of a successful career, is stepping out and doing something more meaningful than making money."
Do1Thing isn't solely about the efforts of media professionals. Organizers hope many Americans will take notice of the teen homelessness issue.
Tomorrow, in particular, they're hoping people will donate money or items that teens might need by bringing them to the organization's Newark office. The public's outreach will be documented in the photography and writing effort, says Van Hemmen.
Pictures and video taken tomorrow will be uploaded to the Do1Thing website. Updates will also be available on the group's Facebook page.