The Front Steps Project in Marin County

The Front Steps Project started the day shelter-in-place took effect in the Bay Area on the other side of the country, in Needham, Massachusetts. Boston photographer Cara Soulia and her friend Kristen Collins wanted to highlight the faces of their community during a time when they would otherwise not be seen — within 24 hours, over 100 Needham residents asked to participate. Soon after, hundreds of photographers from around the country followed their lead and took to the streets. The project, which bears the hashtag #TheFrontStepsProject, currently has more than 35,000 photos associated with it on Instagram. This isn’t just navel gazing either. So far, the project has collectively raised over $1,250,000 for local organizations and nonprofits throughout the country including food pantries, hospitals, animal shelters and more. In Marin, photographer Scott Ellison captured dozens of families who shared stories behind the portraits with us.

Binay, Jonathan, Aylin and Devin Curtis; Chewy and Dragon (dogs), Mill Valley

Binay Curtis

What do you do for a living? 

Binay: Nutritionist, Fitness Instructor and Media Trainer. Jonathan: Finance. Kids: Students.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and the people in the photo with you. 

During COVID-19, my zoom HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) fitness classes have taken off so the family has all chipped in. Aylin, my daughter (15), is the social media manager, camerawoman and attends four classes per week. Devin, my son, is director of finance; he does many jobs behind the scenes and attends classes. Jon works full-time on his own finance business. The dogs are not allowed in the bedroom that has now become our home studio. We are “normal” Marinites and hike, bike and hang out with our dogs.

Why did you decide to have a photo session? 

We wanted to document this time in our lives — isn’t it crazy? We chose this pose because this class has taken over our household.

How have you found moments of joy?

Many! First of all, it’s incredible that my children are working out with me — health is my passion and it makes me feel so happy to see them getting healthier with me. On Sundays, it’s Quarantine Partner HIIT Day on Zoom, so my entire family participates. The kids demo with me in front of the camera. My daughter has been baking up a storm — all healthy, delicious gluten-free treats. We have definitely bonded over health. What other times would a mom and her teenagers connect so much? I have found an incredible community online through my fitness classes and have reconnected with old friends and expanded well beyond Marin with new friends and clients. During my classes, I have people from Chile, Argentina and Zurich (a mom in San Anselmo virtually works out with her son in Novato and in Zurich during my class!). So many silver linings. As for our family, we all come together at dinner and play a game after dinner. We used to eat together every night, but then we would go our separate ways. Now we play games or charades.

Anything else you would like to mention?

In the photo you will see Dragon, the black dog, rolling his eyes. We thought this was particularly funny because it’s like he’s saying, “Enough with you people, and where did we get the other animal from anyway?” Chewy, “the other animal” was recently adopted, about 2 months pre-COVID-19.

How has COVID-19 and the lockdown impacted you? 

We all need to chip in more than we ever had — financially, emotionally and domestically. It is a hard time but we are all helping to make every inch of our house work for us which isn’t always easy.

Shannon, Simon, Sebastian (13), Sullivan (11) and Porter (dog), Mill Valley

Shannon Gillmore

What do you do for a living? 

Shannon: Advertising Strategist/Consultant. Simon: Managing Director of WebEvents Global.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and the people in the photo with you.

I’m Shannon, mother to two wonderful boys, wife to an amazing husband and human to a giant cuddly goldendoodle. I was raised in Texas, but Northern California has been my home for decades. During shelter-in-place, I’ve gone through all the emotions, but I appreciate the slower pace and the time we have together as a family. My husband, Simon, was born in England and raised in Sydney, Australia. When he’s not working, he is an avid runner and fierce Scrabble player — he is adapting to staying home. Normally his busy job has him traveling the world. His passport is unusually dusty. Our sons, Sebastian (7th grade) and Sullivan (5th grade) are adjusting to remote learning, missing their friends and soccer teammates, and sneaking in extra video game time. Porter, our lovable golden-doodle, is enjoying all the family time, having everyone home, multiple long walks a day and endless playtime.

Why did you decide to have a photo session?

It’s a moment that is important to document and remember the sacrifice so many are making and the resilience of us all.

How has COVID-19 and the lockdown impacted you?

I work in advertising and my husband works in events, two industries that have taken hits. But despite the professional challenges, we are fortunate in so many ways. We are healthy and we are together.

How have you found moments of joy?

We are finding ways to enjoy this unusual time with family movie nights, lots of walks, cooking and playing board games. I would like to think we will look back on this time, and remember the positives of being together.

Anything else?

Scott is an amazing photographer and we applaud him bringing #thefrontstepsproject to Marin.

Ashley, Adam, Fiona Oesterle (baby) and Martha (dog)

Ashely Oesterle

Where do you live? 

Sausalito.

What do you do for a living? 

Adam: Consultant in cannabis industry. Ashley: Partnerships at The Mascot — a Harlan family wine.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

First time parents.

Why did you do this?

To support the #thefrontstepsproject.

How has COVID-19 and the lockdown impacted you?

My doctor recommended inducing me a few days early to get me in and out before the hospital saw a spike in COVID-19 cases. Hospitals in SF at that point had stopped allowing partners in and we wanted to get in before this might happen to Marin.

How have your found moments of joy during the lockdown? 

I am lucky to be on maternity leave and my husband works from home even before quarantine life. Our parents have not been able to meet our baby yet and we had plans for help, but just doing things on our own. We are loving it and learning as we go.

Anything else you’d like to mention? 

We feel very fortunate to have a newborn during this time as we wouldn’t be doing things much differently. We are cherishing every moment with her.

Benefitting: San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and Feed The Frontlines Marin.

Zachary, Rachel, Ava, Ellie, Liv and Gabriel Felson, Mill Valley

Rachel Felson

What do you do for a living?

Commercial Real Estate (Zach).

Tell us about family. 

The photo includes our crazy gang of 6: Zach; Rachel; Ava (the 9-year-old budding fashionista, book-lover and believer in girl-power and talking things out); Ellie (the sweet, second child with an endless sparkle in her eye and a huge heart of gold); Liv (the savvy third child who is independent and hilarious and ready at 5 to conquer the world); and Gabriel (the smile-y little caboose who his older obsess over non-stop).

Why did you decide to have a photo session? 

We felt lucky to have the opportunity to do something to help our community—those that are struggling and food-insecure—while getting the gift of a professional photo to capture this moment in time. It will certainly be an experience we will never, ever forgot, and feel lucky to have some beautiful photos to capture that craziness, the light, the goodness or being together during this lockdown.

How has COVID-19 and the lockdown impacted you? 

Thankfully we have not been impacted in the devastating ways that have touched many people’s lives. We are healthy. We have food, shelter and general stability. We have each other. So, have we been impacted? For sure: Zach working from home; dusting off my own masters degree in literacy to attempt to “teach” four kids; being in each other’s personal space from dawn-to-dusk every-single-day. It’s all been a change from the norm that we’d gotten so accustomed to. And yet, there has been so much good: time for long family bakeries; lots of child-led play that felt akin to a pretty awesome four kid summer camp; the strange pride that comes from conquering Zoom; the opportunity to cook new recipes, fueling my family with nutritious and a time for some memorable dinner conversations. This lockdown has been weird, for sure: so uncertain and strange and anxiety producing and incomparable to anything we’ve experienced before. But, the rays of sunshine peeking through? They’ve ben pretty powerful, too.

Moments of Joy? 

Yes! through our four kids: their resilience and positivity; their ability to power-through the unknown, propelled by open hearts, wide eyes; their love of each other and willingness to band together to lift each other up. Oh, and desserts. The constant homemade desserts have brought lots of joy, too.

Benefitting: No Kid Hungry.

Daniel Seidel, Jon Caswell, Mark Jackson and Enrique De La Huelga

Jessica Kaplan

What do you do for a living?

Pediatrician.

Tell us about the photo. 

My family and neighbors on the occasion of my son’s zoom bar mitzvah. It was an opportunity to capture a moment in history and a milestone for my son. This day was indeed a celebration and a milestone.

What do you do for work?

I am an essential worker, my husband is on chemo, my son learns from home…it is very hard. Many challenges fears and disappointments but we are lucky to have the resources we need to persevere.

Who did you contribute to? 

I posted my photos and a link to San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. I think we raised about $250.


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Kasia PowlowskaKasia Pawlowska loves words. A native of Poland, Kasia moved to the States when she was seven. The San Francisco State University creative writing graduate went on to write for publications like the San Francisco Bay Guardian and KQED Arts among others prior to joining the Marin Magazine staff. Topics Kasia has covered include traveltrendsmushroom hunting, an award-winning series on social media addiction, and loads of other random things. When she’s not busy blogging or researching and writing articles, she’s either at home writing postcards and reading or going to shows. Recently, Kasia has been trying to branch out and diversify, ie: use different emojis. Her quest for the perfect chip is a never-ending endeavor.