MATENS: Baton Rouge’s Front Porch Project Gives A LIttle Light In A Dark Time

American author Maxine Hong Kingston tells us, “In a time of destruction, create something.” Baton Rouge photographer Jenn Ocken is doing just that by bringing The Front Porch Project to Greater Baton Rouge in an attempt to breathe life into local businesses facing destruction wreaked by the threat of COVID-19.

Boston photographer Cara Soulia is credited with starting the movement, which was then brought to Ocken’s attention by New Orleanian Aimee Supp, a VP at Moxey.  Moxey is a B2B network devoted to growing the business community and espouses the belief, “the heroes of our community are the local business owners, mom and pop stores, entrepreneurs, momtrepreneurs, and lemonade stands.”

It is no surprise Supp, who dedicates her time and talent to helping small businesses thrive, wanted to bring recovery in the form of The Front Steps Project to Baton Rouge—and it is equally unsurprising (to me, at least, and likely to anyone who knows Jenn and her passion for our Capital City and our culture) that Ocken took the baton and ran with it for the Red Stick.

I met Jenn Ocken years ago when she did some truly phenomenal philanthropic photography projects for Heritage Ranch Christian Children’s Home during my tenure as development director for the Zachary not for profit.  She photographed our Matt Flynn Invitational at The Bluffs Golf and Sports Resort in St. Francisville, among other things, and she proved herself as both a fabulous photographer and a die hard devotee of the Sportsman’s Paradise.

Late last week, Ocken shared the birth of the Front Porch Project Baton Rouge with her Facebook followers, giving the 411 as such:

In this time of uncertainty sometimes we don’t know how to help our local businesses while also staying socially distant! But there’s a beautiful photo project out there and I want to bring it to Baton Rouge!

My dear Baton Rouge Community!

I am jumping on board to offer free front porch sessions.

A quick 5-10 minutes as I stand far away (I’ve got an awesome zoom lens that was made for this) and document your family during this time of crisis and togetherness.

My donation ask is that you make a small purchase (any denomination) at one of our small business around Baton Rouge. We help each other by giving. Simply buy a gift card online at your favorite local business. When I publish your photos, I will tag that small business.

I’m also happy to come and photograph you outside your business.

I’m sharing the project (and the link to sign up) with friends, family, and business owners all over Baton Rouge. I registered myself as a Front Porch Advocate and requested that Jenn and her team bring the project slightly north to include Zachary (advocate tag Zealous in Zachary, for any Zachary residents and business owners looking to sign up).  One local business that immediately popped into my head (because honestly, I am thinking about food a great deal of the time) is Cajun Catch.  Cajun Catch is a local restaurant and boucherie owned and operated by long time Zachary residents who ceaselessly give back to the community and who epitomize the small business deserving of a reciprocal hand up in these trying times.  I’m more than happy to buy a gift card now to use on delicious daily specials, fresh meats from the boucherie, and unbelievably amazing burgers later—especially when Jenn Ocken is sweetening the pot by throwing in a complimentary professional photo shoot to help me preserve for posterity how my family is weathering this storm!

My friend Carrie Godbold, realtor extraordinaire and co-owner of local children’s store and so much more Whimsical Alley, was next to sign up to bring the project to Zachary.  And there are so many small businesses, local entrepreneurs, and exceptional regional talents to support; they are all around us and could sure use a boost right now.

I started thinking about local musician Rhett Guillot, front man for Baton Rouge band Werewolf, who has been providing free online jam sessions.  A tip for his charitable chanting could bring the Jenn Ocken team to your door (well, six feet or more from said door, with her awesome zoom lens).  With Venmo and PayPal at the ready, supporting the local acts we just can’t live without—and getting a mini photo shoot to boot—is a win win!


And if you enjoy daily content churned out by the authors of The Hayride, dedicated to keeping you abreast of all things Southern Politics and Culture, you’ll be happy to learn of the various ways you can keep the flow of information alive and well:

  • Buy a ticket/table to an upcoming Hayride Decennium Tour event
  • Snag a signed copy of Animus: Tales of Ardenia Book I by Louisiana author Scott McKay, delivered to your mailbox

Whatever small business, local entertainer, or entrepreneurial effort you choose to patronize, please do what you can for our ailing economy—and sign up for your Front Porch Project photo session in or around Baton Rouge today!

Register with the Jenn Ocken team here:, and follow the movement on Facebook at The Front Porch Project BR.

Because as Laini Taylor taught us through her Daughter of Smoke and Bone, “Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”

Many thanks to Jenn Ocken and friends for lighting up Baton Rouge—one small business, one front porch at a time—in our hour of darkness.



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