|Laura Vazquez (r) and Diane Nilan spent countless hours|
in the NIU Avid Film Lab. (Photo courtesy NIU)
Since 2006, Vazquez, an accomplished documentary filmmaker, has collaborated on stories of homeless women, children and youth with Diane Nilan, president of HEAR US Inc., a Naperville, IL based national nonprofit "giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth." The 2 women, relentless social justice activists in their own fields, were connected by a friend/colleague Tom Parisi, Media Relations Specialist at NIU, a former beat reporter for the Aurora Beacon News where Nilan ran a shelter for many years.
"I’ve spent hundreds of hours sitting next to Laura at NIU’s film lab with eyes glued to the editing screens. She’s put me at ease—me, the former shelter director with no film experience—and she’s given me the opportunity to shape our video tools in a mutually respectful process," stated Nilan. "She’s encouraged my fledgling documentary making efforts, and has willingly helped in ways far beyond what I’d feel I could ask. And she’s worked hard to learn about homelessness."
Among Vazquez's accomplishments, her efforts led to the PBS airing on the edge: Family Homelessness in America, a powerful documentary featuring stories of seven women from across the country sharing their gripping accounts of homelessness. The film took top honors in the prestigious Broadcast Education Association's 2011 Festival of Media Arts competition.
Nilan, who nominated her colleague for this award, points to the rare legislative success for homeless students, passage of the FAFSA Fix for Homeless Kids Act, sponsored by Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL-13). Vazquez traveled to DC to film homeless youth lobbying their legislators to remove barriers to their attending college. Tom Parisi suggested they meet after Nilan returned from her maiden backroads voyage filming homeless kids in 2006. Vazquez and her students took Nilan's footage and compiled it into an acclaimed heart-breaker, My Own Four Walls.
Anti-poverty activist and journalist Pat LaMarche offered an observation about the impact of Vazquez's work, "Laura’s body of work gives the average American a chance to witness the lives of folks without having to leave the comfort of their homes, churches or civic organizations." Her films are available through HEAR US, http://hearus.us.
"The biggest obstacle to ending homelessness in this country," Nilan stated, "is ignorance. Laura's incalculable contributions to eradicating ignorance and creating compassion have done more than any of us will ever know."
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