Even before the recent announcement that Middle Georgia College and Macon State College would merge to become Middle Georgia State College, I had heard rumblings about a project involving wallets. As the weeks passed, I would hear tidbits about it, a story on a local news channel or an invitation to “like” a Facebook page. When I was finally able to do some research, I tracked down the person behind it and found quite a story.
“Will Work For Empty Wallets” is a community service project conceived by Heather Hutton to bring attention to the many Americans unemployed due to the national recession. While she had intended to be behind the scenes, she soon found the most compelling component was her own story of being unemployed.
“I never really wanted to uncover my story,” she explained. “The idea was I would ask the college if the Student Art League could participate, and I would be a behind-the-scenes facilitator.”
As often happens, things did not go according to the plan, and Hutton had to step up to keep the project alive. She soon realized that telling her story was the most effective way to earn people’s trust. Hutton, who was homeless for about a year, beginning in 2009, was “caught up in the whole housing market thing.” She spent that year couch surfing and doing odd jobs to survive. She worked hard and finally found employment, but it meant moving away from her family and friends. She said that this project has helped her find a new community in her new home, and she hopes it will give others hope.
“I’m trying to capture all the untold stories because I feel like mine has been told,” she explained. “I’m not proposing that I have a solution to the recession. We’re trying to raise awareness about unemployment.”
She seeks to inspire people to think about those they know who are unemployed and to reach out to their neighbors.
“The little things can help cushion the path so much. Eventually the recession is going to recover, at some point, everything is (cyclical). The whole idea is that everything is temporary. Eventually it is going to get better.”
When she collects between 1,000—1,500 wallets, Hutton will take those empty wallets and construct a large sculpture of the American flag. The installation will be displayed at the Peacock Gallery on the Cochran Campus of the newly-named Middle Georgia State College this Fall. For my part, I’ve promised to help find a gallery to host the project in Macon as a traveling exhibit in early 2013.
Local businesses currently accepting donated wallets include Roasted Cafe & Lounge and Asylum Nightclub in downtown Macon. The project has also attracted the cooperation of the Georgia Department of Labor and all 53 GDOL career centers throughout the state are posting promotional flyers and serving as donations points to collect wallets. The Macon GDOL career center is located at 3090 Mercer University Drive.
For more information on the project or to donate a wallet, contact Heather Hutton at email@example.com or 404-805-1438.