of the Helfman and Provost Fundraising Team
By: Heidi Poweii-Prera, iF Magazine Global Journalist
Pulling up to Provost Studios located on N. MacGregor Way on a beautiful summer day, I was looking forward to meeting the lady Alan Helfman had spoken about so highly during our interview. It was a beautiful historic house with a brand new Helfman Jeep in the driveway. I rang the bell. Ms Provost, with bright eyes looking at me above her mask, opens the door and says “I’m going to have to get you a clock.” I apologized for being late and got set up to talk a few minutes at her desk. Her tone was direct but good natured, and she made it easy to feel comfortable in her studio. Without losing any time, we launched into our conversation.
HeidiPP: For our cover interview, we interviewed Alan Helfman; and he mentioned you as his partner in fundraising for over 30 years. For those who do not already know you, tell us about yourself and Provost studios?
Provost: It started about 32 years ago at a fundraiser for Constable A. B. Chambers. He introduced us and said you guys are both always raising money for causes. You should just team up. We met that evening, and then established the Helfman Provost fundraising team. We have been working together since, doing two to three fundraisers a month. We’ve raised funds for TSU, Mental Health & Retardation; and twice a year, we raise funds for KTSU, plus many for HPD and first responders. He has given vans and a large fish tank to TSU. I told him I need to check and see if you went to TSU, because he has done so much. It has just been the best relationship. I met his father, and I could see exactly why he is such a giving person; because the whole family is that way.
HeidiPP: So you could see that it was something that was ingrained in him as a young person?
Provost: Yes because even father was the same. The relationship has been fabulous. We’ve done his photography services, and we work together on fundraising and even little things, like we have tennis courts. When my husband was coaching the team at TSU, there was nowhere for black people to play tennis so he built a tennis court next to the Studio. Recently, Alan wrote a check to repair the tennis court. I tell you he is an amazing person. That is why for years, my family and I purchase our automobiles from River Oaks Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram.
HeidiPP: Right, Houston has such a great history of businesses and communities working together. What do you have to say to people during these troubling times?
Provost: My two words are thank you and Love you. Every time I do anything I say, Thank you and love you. We need to fall in love with each other, and especially black people; because back in segregation, we had no other choice but to love each other. We need to start supporting each other. My business is 72 years old. Everyone needs photographs. When my husband came from photography school, he interned with old man Giddings. He did his commercial internship with Lawless and Sons. He studied and knew what he was doing. Still every year we have to go to school, conventions, etc. to stay current. You can never stop learning. I’ve gone from the darkroom to digital, and the technology continues to evolve. We have to keep current. You have to read. I keep telling these educators and these parents, you have to read. Jerome saw his parents reading. We have more books in this house than your average library. And me. I don’t drink. You know why I don’t drink? Because I’m nosey. I go around. I grab everybody’s newspaper, because I want to know what’s going on; so when I open my mouth, I want to be intelligent. If I’m somewhere and I’m quiet as a church house mouse, that just means I haven’t done my research. Money is about three things; Invest, Save, and Give. Until we learn that, that giving part, we don’t understand; so until we understand that. I told TSU we need to have a class in volunteering and giving. Teach these people what to do. We always have our hand out looking for something.
HeidiPP: You are absolutely right. A lot of people do not realize how much they could do. Many feel if they can’t write a check, what can they do?
Provost: What do they say, the three T’s?, Time, Talent and Treasure. So you pick one that fits your situation. But I tell you, we’ll be a better world. This virus will make us think.
HeidiPP: I agree, it’s given people pause to think.
Provost: Maybe they’ll start using some critical thinking. We have a lot of work to do. We have to be about the issues that we need to be dealing with and be about our own business. We have more deserts in our community, A food desert, an educational desert, housing desert, etc… We have to deal with it. We have to solve our own problems. We have to work at helping our own communities. We have to start making all these associations getting this grant money accountable for doing the work they say they are doing.
HeidiPP: I know with everything going on you have not stopped, what do you have coming up that people should be aware of and support?
Provost: First of all, I’m old. I’ve been here 948 months .Quit waiting until you get old, and get off your behind, and start helping these young people. Just grab them like I do. I say “Come here let me talk to you” I see them sitting under a tree at 10am and I’ll go up to them, “Why aren’t y’all at work or something?” Many know me from taking their picture. I say ”I’ve come out here to give y’all a lesson, when the police stop you, it’s yes sir or no mam. Don’t be hollering about how you have some rights, the police have rights and they have authority, a gun, taser and a stick..” I say to them,” would you rather be judged by 12 or carried out by 6?” and if they say “What do you mean?” Oh no.(She laughs) You know all we have to do is talk to these young people. My son sometimes worries, but I know Jesus has my back, so I won’t hesitate to say pull your pants up and stand up straight. There’s a lot of things that we don’t take advantage of and we don’t do. We need to have intergenerational conferences where young people teach us older people about social media and data, and we can give them some wisdom. You know one young man I have been following for years, he is Val Thompson. If we had just ten more of him, because he’s an example for the young people. He’s not fat, he’s not out of shape and he’s always taking care of business. He’s not just hanging around. He’s on a mission. You know I’m a Rotarian, “Service before Self” and SERVE Like a CHAMPION Today!! You have to keep yourself involved.
HeidiPP: Getting to meet you was truly inspiring. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us in your studio. We look forward to working with you and Alan Helfman in the future. We will inform our readers and supporters on upcoming initiatives and opportunities to help their communities.