A story of great NEED

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Happy anniversary! In the year since we last talked with NEED, the Minneapolis-based humanitarian magazine has chalked up some mightily deserved successes. The 25,000-issue quarterly has secured distribution at Barnes & Nobles and co-ops like the Wedge and Mississippi Market. It won a gold Ozzie for “Best Use of Photography” at the Folio Awards, and rumor has it, a copy of the latest issue wound up in the hands of an impressed Bill Clinton at a recent conference. NEED also was named one of 15 finalists in Min magazine’s one of the 15 “Hottest Launches” of 2007, a year when some 700 to 900 new magazines debuted; the winner will be announced Nov.13. And this Thursday, the magazine co-founders Kelly and Stephanie Kinnunen will learn if they won an Excellence Award from the Minnesota Magazine & Publications Association. It’d be a particularly sweet prize for this powerful magazine: The awards banquet coincides with NEED’s first anniversary.

I caught up with NEED magazine’s Stephanie Kinnunen via email in advance of the Minneapolis-based humanitarian magazine’s one-year anniversary on Nov. 1. On top of industry accolades, I asked where on-the-ground successes were found these past 12 months. She offered these amazing anecdotes:

Remember the Mercy Ships story in Issue 1? Well, Scott Harrison (the photographer from the story) told us that volunteers that were going into the villages in Africa always had a hard time convincing people to come and see the doctors on the hospital ship. Now, this seems weird to me, because they are told that it is free – and they have no other access to health care. But then you understand that people in the village only go to the hospital when they are on their last leg, meaning they are dying, so they never come back. So it has been embedded in these people that you only go to the hospital to die.

Here comes the cool part – the volunteers started bringing copies of the magazine with them to reach out to the people, they show them the story and voila – people come to the ship happily. No need to read the story, just seeing the before and after was enough.

Another cool story. A teacher at a juvenile detention facility told me that every time she pulled the magazines out in class the boys fought over them. I said, “I’ll give you a copy of each issue, for each boy.” She was amazed; then she asked if I would come and speak at the facility. Well, if you know me, I will never turn down a speaking opportunity. I arrived with hundreds of magazines for the kids. All of these kids are convicted felons, and most of them have been there before. The teachers and the administration gently warned me that the kids would probably not pay attention.

When they all walked in, I could see that they were all pretty hard-core kids. I started talking, and the majority of them did pay attention – which shocked me. I am a middle-aged woman; we had nothing in common. Then, I passed out the magazines and you could visibly see the boys transform into empathetic, thoughtful human beings. They asked meaningful questions like, “Why are these girl’s faces blurred?” I explained that they were still in danger and that we needed to protect them. That they were once held as sex slaves, that they have now been rescued but that the people that enslaved them want them back. Some of their comments were “You mean people buy little girls for sex? That is SICK!” and “Why on earth would anyone enslave a child?!” and so on. Then the tumor photos, we ended up discussing poverty around the world, and they could not believe that people live on less than one dollar a day. It was amazing. You could see their wheels spinning, their worlds opening up. That was special.

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