CEDAR FALLS — Kelsey Hammer-Parks is always looking for a way to make a difference.
As the owner of Kelsey Hammer Productions for the past 12 years, she has a lot of discretion on how to do that.
“I primarily create videos for my clients, and videos that have a lot of impact is my goal,” said the 30-year-old Cedar Falls videographer. “That’s what excites me most.”
Her chosen focus is projects that help young people and boost the community.
“It’s not as much about the work we create as the relationships,” she said. “I’ve met some amazing people here.”
Hammer-Parks worked closely with Waterloo Community Schools for years. That has shifted to “school districts across the Midwest,” she noted, but opportunities emerge for her to create videos on a range of other significant topics.
One of her projects this summer was about people in Cedar Rapids whose lives and homes were disrupted by the huge derecho that swept across Iowa and left a path of destruction there.
“Meeting these people and telling their stories is important,” said Hammer-Parks. When working with people in difficult situations, she strives to capture their perspective on video. “My eyes are always open to the needs.”
Emily Hanson said that’s true even when her friend is not creating videos.
“She is incredibly talented as a videographer,” said Hanson, in her 20 Under 40 nomination of Hammer-Parks. “But she takes it a step further and spends time working on projects that help others and positively impact her community.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with her on several different projects and every time I am amazed at how giving, caring and professional she is in every situation. She always goes above and beyond,” said Hanson.
That’s what happened when Ruth and Larry Orth retired from their volunteer role of running the Back to School project, which provided school supplies to needy children throughout Black Hawk County each fall. To keep it going last year, Hammer-Parks “stepped up to lead the whole thing for the Cedar Valley Jaycees with very little assistance from others in the organization,” said Hanson. “And, as a result, 1,000 backpacks were given out to youth facing adversity in 2019.”
“It was a huge undertaking,” said Hammer-Parks. “It opened my eyes a lot to the needs in the community.”
She has stepped up with her videography skills to address some of those needs, as well. Hanson noted that Hammer-Parks “uses her creativity and expertise as a volunteer for the Waterloo Writing Project and Hip Hop Literacy,” two community-based youth engagement programs.
Hammer-Parks said volunteering where she can “see kids get excited about learning new things” has been a satisfying way to give back.
Her interest in video production goes back to when she was a high school student in Donnelsen, in southeast Iowa. A teacher gave Hammer-Parks access to a video camera and she “started using it all the time with friends.” She had thought of majoring in political science in college, but “once I found a video camera it felt meant-to-be.”
She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in the fall of 2011 with a degree in electronic media. She also met her husband, Jason Parks, at UNI.
Hanson said Hammer-Parks has even taken on a volunteer role with the organization where she is executive director, the Waterloo Schools Foundation. The foundation decided to move its fundraising breakfast, where school district educators are awarded academic excellence grants, to a virtual platform this year.
“She saw the announcement via email and immediately volunteered to serve on the committee even though she knew we would not be able to pay her in light of COVID-19,” said Hanson. For her, it was just another example of Hammer-Parks generosity with her personal time to benefit the community.
“Kelsey is passionate about helping youth in our community,” said Hanson. “I can confidently say the Cedar Valley is a better place because she lives and works here.”