It feels good to be taken seriously, according to 19-year-old Alexandra Lewis of San Francisco.
Lewis is a volunteer with S.F. Strong, a new poster campaign that started as a conversation between friends at Congregation Beth Sholom but is now giving college students the chance to learn what it’s like to run a community project. It’s empowering, Lewis said.
“We can actually change something about our community, and people believe in us,” she said.
S.F. Strong was started by two women who are members of Beth Sholom with the aim of making colorful, graphic posters that residents can print out and put in their windows to show solidarity and encourage compliance with health ordinances during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the end of March, after Talmud study, Juliette Hirt and Lisa Berkelhammer were chatting online about the “Orlando Strong” movement that came in response to the mass shooting in Florida of 49 people at a gay bar in 2016.
With the San Francisco community rallying to support one another during shelter-in-place regulations, Berkelhammer said she felt the need for some kind of visual expression of that community spirit, Hirt recalled.
“She said, ‘I wish we had some kind of a poster,’” Hirt said. “‘Something we could put in our windows’.”
Hirt said she got inspired. “I tend to get excited about a new idea,” she said.
She began thinking about what such a poster for San Francisco would look like and how to make it happen. That’s when she contacted fellow congregant Susan Stanger, a graphic designer and artist, to create the brightly colored posters, which show handwashing and social distancing with cheerful figures.
“We wanted these to be accessible, especially for kids,” Stanger said.
As excited as people were about the project, Hirt realized S.F. Strong could be something more. For young people like her own daughter, 19-year-old Miriam Streicker-Hirt, home from UCLA because of the pandemic, it could be an opportunity to gain practical skills while learning about how to run a community project.
“There are aspects of what the interns are doing that are the same skills and thought processes people bring to running a business,” Hirt said.
The first step was recruiting interns (there are four so far) and handing over operations to them. Then Hirt, a lawyer at the Sierra Club, began bringing in outside experts to talk to the students; so far they’ve had calls with an executive coach, a marketing director and the head of digital innovation at a large corporation.
“I’ve realized how much effort and how many different skills go into making such a project work,” Streicker-Hirt said.
In six weeks, the college students have built a website and started posting on Instagram and Facebook. PDF versions of the posters can be accessed for printing here. Next is figuring out distribution to people who don’t have printers at home.
“I think one of the most interesting things I’ve learned is how much work goes into it, and how passionate you need to be,” Streicker-Hirt said.