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News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Student photog uses talents for charity

A Pittsburg State University student is using his passion for photography to help rebuild his tornado-devastated hometown.

Aaron Anders, a sophomore in commercial graphics, was at his home near Chapman, Kan. when a tornado hit the rural town of about 3,000 on June 10.

“At first you don’t really believe that something like that happened to your town,” Anders said. “And you really don’t think it’s going to be that bad, until you actually see it. That’s why the pictures really help describe it.”

Much of Chapman was destroyed by the half-mile wide tornado that swept through the town, demolishing more than 60 homes. The American Red Cross estimated that 75 percent of homes suffered major damage. Miraculously, the storm only killed one person.

When Anders and his family decided to drive into town to see if anyone needed help, Anders, a Collegio photographer, decided to document the destruction.

“I grabbed my camera not knowing what I’d use the pictures for, but I knew if it was that bad it would be a day that everyone would remember,” Anders said. “We went there 15 minutes after the storm – before the National Guard started keeping track of who went in and who went out.”

Anders called up PSU Photojournalism Instructor Mike Gullett, who put him in touch with the Associated Press. Soon Anders’ photos were on the wire for use in newspapers across the country.

Anders took hundreds of images, the best of which he made into a slideshow.

“Even when I started the slideshow, I just kind of did it for myself, because I had so many memories… of the town I grew up in,” Anders said. “I showed the slideshow to my journalism teacher and my friends, and they told me it was great. That’s when I thought people might want to see this.”

He was right. Anders decided to make DVDs of the slideshow and sell them to raise money to rebuild the Chapman schools, which were largely destroyed by the tornado.

“Once we started selling them, I started getting phone calls from all over the place,” Anders said, noting that people called from as far away as Massachusetts.

One mother bought a DVD to send to her son in Iraq. A Salina woman who graduated in the 1940s also called about the DVD.

“That’s when I started realizing it wasn’t just my memories that were there at the school and the town,” Anders said.

So far, he’s sold over 500 DVDs for a minimum donation of $10. All told, he raised over $7,000 for the Chapman school district – and that number is still growing.

He presented the superintendent with a giant check he designed and printed himself, using the graphic design skills he learned at Pitt State.

“They’re using that to rebuild the schools and buy school supplies,” Anders said. “The whole town’s hope is to rebuild stronger than ever before.”

---Pitt State---