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Work To Ride (WTR) is a program for at risk and urban youth located in the Belmont Plateau section of Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. Founded in 1994 by Lezlie Hiner, WTR started as a refuge for the youth of West Philly who were willing to put in a little work to get off the streets. In exchange for doing barn chores, they were allowed to pursue an equestrian sport of their choosing. Following Lezlie’s passion, many of them chose Polo; and in 1997, they had the first African American Polo Team in America. Ever. Over the years the program has evolved from a mere handful to over twenty and owes much of its success to volunteers, who contribute to the program in various ways while also facilitating increased community support and involvement. The kids still have to work with the horses and now undergo tutoring to keep their grades up in order to participate in anything from Horse Shows to Steeple Chases. Today, against all odds, these kids continue to prove themselves both on the field & off.
The images contained within Work To Ride (a work in progress) seek to explore the very heart and soul of this program over a period of several years. In 2006, after volunteering with WTR for eight months, I began to photograph informally around the barn, with what the kids affectionately coined my “dollar camera”. Quiet and unassuming, the Holga is less intrusive than other, more sophisticated alternatives, allowing for a more immersive approach to the project. Using this plastic camera with all of its idiosyncrasies uniquely conveys the underlying socio-political implications of class and race inherent within this program from which a deeply touching narrative of impoverished youth and unparalleled opportunity arises.