#thx2 - GALEWiLL Center for Opportunity and Progress

About the project:

We are partnering to create two #thx2 projects utilizing photography as a means to reflect on our station in life, those who helped get us to where we are and where we hope to go. Research suggests that if people personally connect by reflecting on their own life experience or that of someone they respect or admire, their attitudes and behavior will change. This is the nexus of the #thx2 project.

It manifests itself in two ways. The first project is our #thx2 social media campaign where participants thank people who helped make a difference in their lives by posting photographs and sharing stories.
A second project emphasizes deep communication and mentorship by going deeper, in schools and major organizations, to utilize the empathetic power of pictures and the reflection on life experience from someone further along.  This process connects people deeply on a number of levels and inspires them to gain a better appreciation for the people, events and many influences that impact their lives. Participants then synthesize and discuss the process plus outcomes gained which can ripple outward to others achieving a further understanding of the power of mentors or influencers.



#thx2 School Program Overview

If we want our youth to have a better understanding about what success is and how some are able to achieve it while others are not, then we must find new ways to bring them into the conversation. We believe, and research suggests, that if people personally connect to these issues by reflecting on their own life experience or someone they respect or admire, their attitudes
and behavior will change. This is the nexus for the #thx2 school program.

The #thx2 school program uses the empathetic power of pictures to allow youth to connect at a deeper level and gain a deeper appreciation for the people, events and programs — things that are commonly “behind the scenes” or “in the shadows” — that impact a person’s ability to move up or down in the world. Through the program, students research the stories behind an individual who has achieved positive outcomes in life, giving special focus to the “invisible” or behind-the-scene forces that may have been instrumental in their success. They collect pictures to design a collage that tells the individual’s “thx2” story – why that individual gives “thanks to” certain people, places, events or programs that had a positive influence on their life.

Students then share their stories (via pictorial collages) to larger audiences describing the many behind-the-scene influences (people, events, programs) that contributed to the positive life outcome.

Pilot Engagement

We piloted the #thx2 School Program at a high school in New York. The following is some feedback received from the educators who participated:

  • “The presentations can be useful for students to reflect on the topic of social mobility, but a key component seems to be them needing context.  I can speak most authoritatively on the demographic type that I teach in, which is fairly affluent. And it seems many students have never actually wrestled with the idea before.”
  • “This type of learning is hugely important. Unfortunately the current zeitgeist for education is trending away from meaningful learning and discourse like this and more towards standardized testing and standardized learning.”
  • “I was surprised by many of the not so subtle connections [students] failed to make regarding certain advantages in people's lives and how they ultimately changed outcomes.”
  • “I think the potential for the use of images is significant.”


Subject Matter

We focused on a diverse set of issues in our posts to see which prompted the most reflection and engagement from audiences. The subject matter that tended to be the least polarizing ended up garnering the biggest reach and engagement. This included posts about education, student loans, veterans and Sesame Street. The month of November 2015 saw a lot of heated discussion nationally about the refugee crisis in Europe, and posts about immigrants and refugees – no matter how they were framed in the context of being grateful for our nation’s history as a “melting pot” of immigrants – did not attract wide engagement or reach. This also applied to food stamps, which as we know, still have a very negative stigma. While there is a growing trend for “equality” in social movements, messages about equality for women and the LGBTQ community also did not receive much engagement or reflection.

Here is a summary of the subject matter addressed in #thx2 posts:

  • Voting
  • Veterans
  • Student loans (Pell grants, Sallie Mae)
  • Education/teachers
  • Food stamps/social services
  • Immigrants and refugees
  • Philanthropy
  • LGBTQ community
  • Equality (women, minorities)
  • NASA and long distance communications
  • Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers


Social Media Overview

The #thx2 campaign uses the power of imagery to reflect on our individual station in life while connecting us to those who have helped us get to where we are today. The social media campaign on Facebook* and Twitter recognized individuals, programs and places that have helped people move ahead in life. For example, a photograph of Claiborn Pell running around the track in an old business suit described the brief history of the man who founded Pell grants and thus made it possible for millions of kids to go to college, including our founder. The picture alone was enough to make someone stop scrolling through their feeds to learn more; the story prompted audiences to pause and reflect on people who have helped them along the way in life. The unboosted post on Facebook garnered 121 likes, 24 comments and 29 shares and reached nearly 5,500 people. Behind these numbers we saw true engagement with people candidly thanking Mr. Pell and recognizing his role in their education. One commenter wrote, “Thank you, Mr. Pell for helping me with my education. Hats off to you.”



Related Video:

Suzie Katz – The Healing Power of Photos

Legacy: Reasons to Care About Family Photos

Grantee Biography:


Bob McKinnon is Founder and President of GALEWiLL Design, a company that designs social change through programming, communications, advocacy, and action and the Founder of GALEWiLL Center of Opportunity and Progress

He has worked on issues ranging from childhood obesity to climate change, partnering with change makers within the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Clinton Foundation, National Geographic, The Food & Drug Administration, and many other organizations to help millions of Americans overcome obstacles on their way to a healthier and happier life.

In addition, among others, the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Health, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Governors Association and the U.S. Congress, have called upon Bob to provide honest perspective on the many issues facing us today. He has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and other media outlets on to comment on issues facing our country. 

Bob is the creator and editor of Actions Speak Loudest: Keeping Our Promise for A Better World. The book is a collection of ideas, images, and actions designed to inspire us to keep our generational promise to leave the world a better place than the one we inherited. It is a collaborative effort that features over thirty contributors and one hundred and thirty organizations. Bob’s work has also been published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Preventing Chronic Disease, and is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post. In addition, he has produced two short documentary films.

For three years, Bob has also been an instructor for the School of Visual Art’s Impact!: Design for Social Change certificate program. Bob focuses on leading students to conceive, design and execute large-scale projects that affect real world change.