The Future Is Now

A brand-new partnership elevates the voices of young people in our community.

by Doug and Eileen Leunig, Big Picture Initiative
Graduating Richwoods High School senior and Giving Voice contributor Adeline Ferolo at the Scottish Rite Theatre. Photo by David Vernon
Graduating Richwoods High School senior and Giving Voice contributor Adeline Ferolo at the Scottish Rite Theatre. Photo by David Vernon

The voice of the future is within the pages of this magazine. We are excited to announce that beginning with this issue, Giving Voice students will now be contributing to Peoria Magazine.

For the last nine months, Big Picture Initiative has published Giving Voice, a digital magazine written, illustrated, designed and published by area students under the mentorship of Dr. Mae Gilliland Wright. That learning opportunity for students is now further enhanced with a collaboration between Peoria Magazines and Big Picture Initiative.

By joining together, Big Picture and Peoria Magazines will provide students the opportunity to be mentored in written and visual communications, enhance their resume, and be paid for their contributions. For the community, we are given the chance to learn what’s on the minds of area students. For Big Picture, this is a very big step in the journey of the arts helping to transform our community. 

A Vision Supported 

Big Picture is seen by many people as a visual arts organization, so the decision to start a magazine may have seemed like an unusual change of course. But for the Big Picture team, we felt it was a natural extension. We believe the arts give students a voice—one that is often hidden in the quest for test scores and metric achievements. The arts fill a void for students, giving them a platform for self-expression and a way to contribute to their environment. Starting a digital magazine by students during the pandemic was a way for us to keep the dream of art alive. 

From Big Picture’s early days, the Gilmore Foundation understood and supported our vision of enlivening the community and the lives of children through the arts. The Gilmore Foundation believes in central Illinois communities, and the lives of thousands have been improved through Bob Gilmore’s generous philanthropy. In 2020, the Gilmore Foundation supported our dream of giving students a voice and provided Big Picture a generous charitable contribution to launch an online magazine.

With that gift, Big Picture publishes articles every month submitted by students on topics ranging from racial equity, the environment and electronic sports, to empathy in medicine, sexual harassment and global vaccine inequality. Their passion for our community and the world is expressed within the digital pages of Giving Voice.

Issues of Giving Voice
Giving Voice contributors submit articles which are reviewed by the publishers to ensure they align with the magazine’s vision of connecting people through their stories to foster empathy, equity and community collaboration.

Encouraging Growth

When we launched Giving Voice, we created a mentor/teacher and apprentice/student learning model as the foundation of our work. From its earliest days, Dr. Mae Gilliland Wright has acted as the editorial director and mentor for our student writers. “Dr. Mae,” as the Giving Voice student writers call her, is responsible for creating development opportunities for the students, as well as working with them one-on-one to hone their articles and improve their communication skills. 

“I have learned so much while writing for Giving Voice—especially receiving feedback from a professional writer and learning how to improve my writing style to effectively communicate my ideas,” says Adeline Ferolo, a Richwoods High School senior. “I have also learned how to manage my time better, alongside studying as a full-time high school student. 

“More recently, Giving Voice has opened me to new opportunities by allowing me to venture into photography and video,” Ferolo adds. “I have been supported by people and mentors who have encouraged me to write, create and share my ideas with confidence.”

We should note that Big Picture has not left its visual roots behind—we include visual artists in Giving Voice as well. Our April and May 2021 issues showcased portraits by visual art students at Peoria Notre Dame and Peoria High School, and many of the monthly articles are illustrated by college and high school students. 

Giving Voice has allowed me to showcase my artworks and build confidence in my skills,” notes Adrien Vozenilek, a Notre Dame High School senior and one of those illustrators. “It's a real joy for me to be published in a magazine with so much diversity and inclusion!”

How Giving Voice Works

Giving Voice contributors submit articles which are reviewed by the publishers to ensure they align with the magazine’s vision of connecting people through their stories to foster empathy, equity and community collaboration. Upon acceptance, Dr. Mae works with each student to strengthen their article and hone their skills. Students are paid at half of the professional rate for local magazines.

Those who are published in Giving Voice are eligible for consideration to be involved in Peoria Magazine articles. The students are mentored by Dr. Mae and visual professionals, and they are paid for their time—giving them professional experience that is practically unparalleled at that stage in their early careers. 

We believe the Peoria Magazines/Big Picture collaboration shows by example that communications and the arts can be worthwhile careers—and the pandemic has proven that more and more communication will be done virtually and online, even when offices and public spaces are fully reopened. By teaching students to be more effective communicators and giving them a public audience, we are preparing the next generation for the workplace of the future.

Left: Jamie Wunning, Big Picture Initiative’s Bradley intern, is the digital magazine’s art director. She learned publishing while designing and laying out the first issue of Giving Voice. Wunning turns the students’ articles and illustrations into a digital magazine with attention-getting visual appeal. Right: Trent Miles recently graduated from Richwoods High School and has been working with Big Picture Initiative since May 2020. Miles regularly contributes to Giving Voice and is part of their core team.
Left: Jamie Wunning, Big Picture Initiative’s Bradley intern, is the digital magazine’s art director. She learned publishing while designing and laying out the first issue of Giving Voice. Right: Trent Miles recently graduated from Richwoods High School and has been working with Big Picture since May 2020. He regularly contributes to Giving Voice and is part of their core team.

Elevating Student Voices

Big Picture Initiative invites more area students to join their team of contributors. Interested college, high school and middle school students should contact us to become involved. Student writers should include a writing sample and a brief paragraph about why they want to participate. Student photographers and illustrators should send small JPG files or links to their work online.

Reflecting on her experience, Jenin Mannaa, a Dunlap High School senior, says that Giving Voice has provided a platform for her to express her thoughts—and feel as if her efforts to implement change in the world are feasible. “Not only has writing articles for Giving Voice made me feel more in touch with my community,” she adds, “but I’m so honored to have connected with the numerous people in Big Picture Initiative.”

We are confident that Jenin and the other students of Giving Voice will change the future. The arts can change perceptions and that, in turn, can change the world. Big Picture Initiative and Peoria Magazines are excited to support and encourage the passion of the Giving Voice students. We hope you take the time to share their journey by reading Giving Voice at bigpicturepeoria.org. PM

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