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Grassroots fundraiser spotlight: Celine Bennett

Grassroots fundraiser spotlight: Celine Bennett

Celine Bennett is a freelance photographer living and working in Tokyo. Celine regularly organizes benefit photo shoots, with proceeds going to non-profit organizations. To find out more about Celine’s photo shoots, check out https://celinebennett.myportfolio.com/.

TELL: Can you explain the concept of a charity photo session?

CB: I choose a location for each session, and we do 30 minute sessions for each participant. It’s a one on one experience and we just take photos during the 30 minutes. If people have themes or props they want to use we make sure to include those. And we just take photos and try to make memorable photos from the session. After the session is finished, I will donate all of the money I’ve raised and then send out the donation confirmations to people, and then I edit the photos within about two weeks and send them out to people. 

TELL: What draws you to photography?

CB: My love of photography comes from my mom. She’s a retired art teacher now. Growing up, I was raised to be very creative minded. I bought my first camera when I came to live in Japan. And that’s when I started taking photos. It was mostly just going to be kind of a self-journal to really memorialize my time in Japan. But it ended up being something I really enjoyed. I ended up starting to do online courses and studying photography and really getting into it. Now it’s something that I find great joy in, and I particularly love portrait photography because I feel like I’m doing a stone rubbing of somebody’s life, and I’m capturing that moment from their life because it’s not going to ever happen again, that exact same thing. That’s a really unique opportunity that photography provides.

TELL: How did you first put photography and charity together? 

CB: When I came to Japan in 2018, I was living in Fukushima Prefecture. It took about a year for me to really get accustomed to the area and at that time Fukushima really became a second hometown for me. I really love it there. Because I cared so much about it, I saw the way the stigma of its past really affected its local tourism and its ability to support its residents and its local charities, and I really wanted to support the community I was living in. I put together this makeshift craft fair. Unfortunately, that craft fair ended up not breaking even but I was happy that everybody raised money together. And after that, I thought, how can I raise money without spending so much money? Art raffles worked out well because I’m a crafty person. Eventually, my thought process started to go toward photography. Maybe I could monetize my photography skills to raise money for NPOs. That was April of 2021.

TELL: Tell us a little about the causes you like to support. 

CB: I always have two NPOs for each benefit and I split the money that we raise between them. 100% goes to the charities, nothing goes to me. I always have an animal shelter in there. They are really close to my heart because they combine my love for Fukushima with my love for animals. My family was always very animal centered, and animal welfare holds a dear place in my heart. Other than that, I usually pick another NPO based on a current event or cause that I find interesting or important. We supported the floods that were happening in India, an initiative for supporting Afghan women when the US withdrew from Afghanistan, multiple fundraisers in support of Ukraine. We supported Rebit, an LGBT+ organization, etc. I try my best to find local organizations who would benefit the most from the amount of money that I can raise. 

TELL: You’ve found a way to put your creative talents together with your desire to make a difference. Do you have advice for others who want to do something and don’t know what to do?

CB: I think everyone has something they can do to support the community they’re living in. It just takes the motivation and the effort to go forth and actually do it because I think a lot of people get stuck thinking about barriers. There’s all kinds of things you can do. You don’t have to organize fundraising because sometimes the thing that organizations need is not necessarily money, but help. I know TELL has a hotline that people can volunteer to support. It is time consuming, but it’s also heartwarming. In Japan it’s not always easy to find opportunities to volunteer in English, which is kind of why I chose to do my own fundraisers. In places like Tokyo, there are more English speaking opportunities.

I find it really motivating to have a goal in mind. Now every year at the end of the year I add up the total to keep me going. I can see that my hard work paid off. The first year my goal was 100,000 yen. I thought, if I can raise 100,000 yen for NPOs this year, that is such a win. And every year I’ve tried to raise it. I pushed myself to do at least seven photo fundraisers to make this happen. Goals are very helpful.

TELL: Thank you so much, Celine, for all you are doing to support your community and causes that are close to your heart! 

To see Celine’s beautiful photos and find out more about her latest fundraiser, check her out at @celineb_photography on Instagram and https://celinebennett.myportfolio.com/.