Phillips Scholar and Concordia student Medora Frei's project, Hope in Focus, will help children with chronic conditions gain confidence through photography.
When she was 18, Medora Frei '17 was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic condition that, for her, mainly affects the function of her pancreas. On the day of her diagnosis, Frei's father shared a quote that greatly influenced her path: "You get to choose the color of your own sky every day." Frei has used that quote to remind herself of the importance of perspective and positivity.
Now, she's applying that perspective to help others.
Each year, the Phillips Scholars Program awards six scholarships to students attending a private Minnesota college. These students receive funds to develop a project that will address an unmet need in Minnesota. As a Phillips Scholar, Frei spent the past year developing and preparing a project that is deeply rooted in personal experience.
While in the diagnosis process, Frei spent a lot of time at hospitals. She noticed that while her physical health was excellently cared for, there were not the same resources to meet her mental and emotional health needs. In need of an outlet, Frei found herself turning to art.
"I discovered that art was something that helped me process everything that was going on at the time," she says. "With time, art became a way for me to heal and gain a different perspective."
Frei's project, Hope in Focus, used photography to help children with chronic conditions define themselves in a way that is not controlled by their disease. The program ran at St. Mary's Children's Hospital in Duluth, Minn. Frei will combine concepts of photography and mental health. The sessions included crafts, lessons, photography time, and snacks. Children also learned about setting up a mini gallery in the hospital and create a photo journal of their work.
"My main goals are that participants will not let their conditions define who they are, inhibit them from loving others and themselves, or stop them from doing what they are passionate about," Frei says.
Throughout the process of developing her project, Frei has heard others' stories that are often similar to her own. People tell her they wish a program like Hope in Focus would have been available when their loved one was facing the trials of a chronic condition. Frei finds great meaning in these stories.
"Sharing each others' stories helps us heal, so it's been really quite extraordinary to hear about other people's struggles and heal together," she says. "It makes me extremely excited to meet the kids and get to work!"