Photo Finish: A Passion Project Story

A Maryland native with supportive parents, Matt’s life seemed to have all the ingredients for success. Unfortunately, experimentation with drugs at age 16 led to a long and costly battle with substance use disorder (SUD). Eventually arriving at Green Hill via another treatment program, Matt was reintroduced to an interest he thought he’d left behind.

Initially introduced to photography in a high school class, any passions Matt might have had fell by the wayside as his addiction deepened. “In my active addiction, I knew no passion or ambition,” says Matt. “These were entirely foreign concepts to me. The idea people could love doing something with no ulterior motives or have the energy and attitude to pursue something they loved seemed preposterous.”

Matt’s potential skills in photography were spotted early on by Program Facilitator and in-house photographer, Caleb Barnhart. Caleb, as part of our Passion Project initiative, coordinated with the rest of the Green Hill programming staff and Matt’s parents to help foster Matt’s interest. Giving him weekly assignments in a variety of formats, making equipment recommendations and taking him to interesting locations to shoot, Caleb’s hard work and dedication turned Matt’s passing interest into a true passion. 

“Caleb has done more than I ever expected,” says Matt. “His advice is often interchangeable between photography and living sober. He’s shown me that life has so much more to offer than getting high everyday, to the point where my previous need to find enjoyment in substances seems laughable.”

More than just a hobby, Matt’s passion for photography has added an extra dimension to our programming opportunities. Whether it’s a trip to the skate park, a day trip to the Eno River or any of our many outdoor athletic activities, Matt can often be found posing residents, capturing the action on his camera, and giving friends tips and tricks to better capture images for their social media accounts. 

It’s not unusual for staff to find Matt constructing a lightbox or editing images on his computer in his free time. Matt’s passion and dedication to a creative activity have inspired not just residents, but programming staff as well to more constructively use the time they’ve gained through freedom from substance use.

Perhaps most exciting of all, Matt’s photographs have gained acclaim not just from our own community, but businesses and institutions in the area. The North Carolina Museum of History, upon seeing an image Matt shot of residents there, asked to utilize the photo for their own social media marketing. Most recently, Matt has landed his first paying gig as a photographer, shooting menu items for an up-and-coming North Carolina-based restaurant franchise.

Whether it remains simply a healthy pastime or develops into a full-fledged career, at Green Hill, we’re simply proud to have been a small part of this man finding himself in something other than damaging behaviors. It’s our sincere hope that through clinical support, our programming staff and the Passion Project initiative, every participant in the Green Hill Model of recovery can ultimately reorient themselves down a healthier, more holistic path of passion and service.

Click here for more information about the Passion Projects initiative at Green Hill.