May 17, 2011

Empowering homeless people to tell their own stories

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Advocating for the homeless from JD Lasica on Vimeo.


Mark Horvath on &

JD LasicaIf you haven’t come face to face with the plight of the homeless, then you need to have Mark Horvath drape his arm around you and introduce you to and

Mark, who goes by the handle @hardlynormal on Twitter, is a former broadcast journalist who lost his home to foreclosure along with his production equipment. His site does a great job telling the stories of homeless people through classic man-on-the-street interviews, updated for the new era through his use of hand-held camcorders, such as the Flip cam.

“Authenticity has replaced production values” in importance, he says. He cautioned cause organizations not to create storytelling that’s so slick and polished that it becomes fabricated, leading people to become detached.

He says he “anti-branded” the site so it’s not about himself, but rather, “it’s about Jim and Sue and Popcorn and Grandpa and the story of the homeless people out there.” I’ve been so impressed with Mark’s work that I typically showcase it in our series of Socialbrite bootcamps on social media around the country. (The next camp: at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New Orleans on June 5.)

A citizen activist, Mark has a big idea that the nonprofit community ought to heed. “I think we need to get rid of the term ‘donor’ and call everybody ‘friends,'” he says. “We really need to think of our supporters as friends because it’s a relationship.” Social media is what has turned nonprofit-donor relationships into a peer-to-peer relationship of equal partners.

Watch, download or embed the video on Vimeo

Wearevisible: Helping homeless people empower themselves

“I never would have imagined a farmer would donate 40 acres of land to be used to subsidize food for low-income families in a public school system in Arkansas,” he says. Yet that’s one of the remarkable things that’s happened as more people are getting involved in the cause.

Last year Mark launched, a site funded by a Pepsi Refresh Challenge grant to help homeless people learn how to use social media in down-to-earth ways.

Mark and I chatted during a brief break at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, D.C. I’m sure I’ll see him soon, at an event or on a nearby street corner.

Check out the backstory of Mark’s efforts in this Invisible People Project Trailer on YouTube.JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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  • Mary

    Is there a way to connect with the people on Mark's website and help them directly? I'm just thinking to myself what an incredible connection you have created through your interviews and how many people you are reaching. Maybe if each story was tagged with the persons city/town and skills people could write in and offer jobs or try to meet other needs.

  • Monicasweet42

    I think thats nice people in a community sticks together im a volunteer,I come in help out in a shelter where i Vicksburg,MS.and it sad that our community want help the Mayor says, he rather spend 25,000 on a bridge to built then help the shelter…i think its sad and it makes me upset that people will think and fill that away

  • A citizen activist, Mark possess a big idea which the nonprofit community should heed. “I think you want to get rid of the phase ‘donor’ and call everyone ‘friends,’” he can say. “You want to think of our fans as pals because it’s a commitment.” Personal media is exactly what possess flipped nonprofit-donor commitments directly into a peer-to-peer relationship of equal lovers.