Memphian James Bonds has worked with children at Caritas Village as a "neighborhood dad" for five years, helping with homework, discussing current events, and teaching the basics of photography and graphic design.
"If I can get the kids shooting a camera, I don't have to worry about any of them shooting a gun," Bonds says. "That way they will have something to do, something to work toward — a goal."
And now, thanks to $5,000 from Target and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, the Vietnam veteran plans to buy cameras for as many of those kids as he can.
In the October issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, editors announced that Bonds and fellow Memphian Lesslie Clark were two of the five winners of the magazine's "Big Give Contest". The contest, announced in May 2008, asked entrants to answer the question: "If you had unlimited resources to help your community, what would you do?"
O readers from around the world submitted proposals.
"Our winners gave us a clear idea of what they wanted to do with the money," says Sara Sugarman, editor of O. "They were passionate, and we felt there was a need for their projects."
Along with the cameras, Bonds plans to purchase a computer and photography programs to teach kids how to manipulate digital pictures.
"I want to get as many cameras as I can, so we can all get out and walk through the neighborhood," Bonds says. "Like I tell the kids, once you shoot something, it's captured in time. What you see now, capture it, because it's history."
Bonds says his love of children and the desire to help them inspired him to enter the contest.
"A lot of these kids come from single-parent homes, and no one takes time with them. I have this knowledge, and it's free to them," Bonds says. "If I can pass it on before I leave this world, I figure I've accomplished something."
Clark also has plans to use her Big Give grant to work with children in need. Her proposal, "Operation Backpack," will supply children in several schools with necessary school supplies.
"Children shouldn't have to deal with issues that the parents or guardians are having with finances," Clark says. "It creates problems for the kids, and it makes a difference with how they are treated and how they treat each other."
Clark also is planning two spring fund-raisers, including a "Satin and Sneakers" gala and a 5K walk, to raise additional monies for Operation Backpack.
"Yeah, $5,000 is a lot more than I had, but at the end of the day, it's really not that much, so I need to find a way to make that money work," Clark says.
Clark says she will select an elementary, middle, and high school each year, and instead of giving them a blank check, she will give them the supplies they need.
All winners will be teamed with experts to help make their big ideas happen. Representatives for O magazine are excited about the contest and the winners' plans.
"We hope this contest will inspire people who see a need to find creative ways to help," Sugarman says. "Not only will they experience the joy that comes with giving, but it also helps create a sense of community."