Ad campaign says children should be heard, not just seen
A billboard for the Hear Me project, which seeks to give voice to area children's thoughts, dreams and fears, along Second Avenue in Hazelwood.
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The new billboards began cropping up last week. By Monday, the Hear Me project had finished installing 50 of them across six counties in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Some have fragments of text:
"I still get called names ... -- Chrystal, 16"
"I was scared when I heard the gunshot ... -- Sherdina, 12"
There's a number to text to hear children's stories and the address of the Hear Me project's website, www.hear-me.net, where young voices are collected in an expanding database built to take children's thoughts, hopes and fears seriously.
"We listen to what they're talking about," said Heide Waldbaum, Hear Me director. "They do have a voice, and they're capable of producing newsworthy content, and we should be listening to them."
The Hear Me project is based in the CREATE Lab of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute and seeks to use innovative technology to allow children to express themselves in new ways.
More broadly, it focuses on "the importance of the media, and using the media for good, and promoting [children's] voices to effect positive social change," Ms. Waldbaum said.
Three thousand local children already participate, and the billboard campaign is drawing more viewers to the site, she said. "Billboards reach a lot of people in a quick way."
The people behind Hear Me made the move to billboards when they received a special deal from Lamar Advertising -- and best of all, they had the youngsters' support.
"The kids all chipped in and that's what they had an opinion about," Ms. Waldbaum said. "They wanted to see their stories on billboards."
She hopes to expand Hear Me first across the state, then nationally, and to create radio and TV shows that feature children's voices.
For now, media on the Hear Me site is mostly audio, children's illustrations, and text -- some typed, some scrawled in a child's hand. Children speak up in four broad categories: community, education, health and wellness, and the environment. They speak of being bullied -- or of wanting to be a hero.
Darien, age 8, wrote: "I dream of doing a hero when I can save people and they would say thank you and I say you're welcome."
First Published July 16, 2011 12:00 am