Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Artists For Humanity
5 min readApr 3, 2024


Edition 47— Peter Gelzinis

No Place Like Home

As a teenager, Peter Gelzinis spent many of his summers with Artists For Humanity. Shifting to the Photography Studio soon after he joined, he passed much of his time on the streets of Boston, wandering with a Nikon camera. His assignment was often to capture what piqued his interest, which tended to be the city’s built environment–architecture, construction, and gritty, industrial scenes.

When I meet with Gelzinis, he is preparing for a move back into his childhood home in South Boston. Growing up in the city in the 90s, Gelzinis bore witness to rapid development, which often manifested as the rethinking of underutilized spaces. Recalling the transformation of the Rose Kennedy Greenway–which replaced an elevated highway with a public park—he speaks graciously of the community—centered changes to the city he was raised in.

Though Gelzinis only worked for AFH during the summertime, the organization’s influence on his appreciation of Boston and the city’s communities is apparent. Gelzinis first heard about AFH in seventh grade, when Founder Susan Rodgerson visited his middle school in search of creative teens to employ. Though his favorite subjects tended toward history and political science, Gelzinis admits that he always had an interest in art, and enjoyed drawing. Of course, the prospect of being paid to do creative work as a teenager was also a welcome source of encouragement.

Remembering his first day as an AFH employee, Gelzinis begins with the space: “When you walked in, paint was splattered everywhere, it was big — wide open.” Describing the teen work that decorated the walls, he shifts to talking about the creators themselves.

“It was a mix of a lot of different kids…but the thing that we all had in common was that we grew up in Boston. And I remember that phase of our lives. I mean we were just little kids, but there was an interest among us in trying to copy interesting pieces of graffiti art that we saw around the city and designing really elaborate murals.”

United by a common environment, which inspired a shared interest in graffiti and public art, Gelzinis befriended teens from other schools he may have otherwise never met. Seeing the murals AFH and its co-founders created, he was starstruck, comparing the artists to “celebrities” through his younger eyes. Though he never created one himself, Gelzinis recalls watching the completion of a mural commemorating Black American baseball leagues on the side of a local bank. Seeing the artists put the final piece together, and understanding how the project contributed to beautifying and informing the community, he cites the experience as one of his favorite AFH memories.

Artists For Humanity’s “The Negro National League” mural sponsored by Fleet.

In spite of his admiration for public art, Gelzinis primarily focused on growing his skills in photography while at AFH. He expresses gratitude for his mentors in the Photography Studio–particularly John Brewer–who guided him in a medium he had never before experimented with. Learning about composition, film development, and dark rooms, he created a personal portfolio, much of which documented his surroundings in Boston.

Some ‘found’ old B&W images taken and developed by Gelzinis while a teen at AFH.

One project that stands out to Gelzinis, however, concerns his understanding of home not as a place, but as the people he loves. While he was working at AFH, his grandfather became very sick, having been diagnosed with cancer. At the same time, one of his mother’s sisters had just given birth to a daughter. With the skills he had learned at AFH, Gelzinis photographed the two family members at opposite ends of their lives — a series he gifted to his niece, the newborn, when she grew older.

While Gelzinis enjoyed his time working at AFH, he knew fairly early on that he wasn’t interested in exploring art professionally. Instead, his favorite subjects in high school led him to pursue a degree in English and government from the University of Virginia, graduating in 2005. Continuing his education and exploration of the East Coast, he obtained a Masters in Liberal Arts from St. John’s in Annapolis, Maryland, before returning to Boston and receiving a JD degree from Suffolk University Law School.

During his time in law school, brainstorming the future of his career path, Gelzinis considered going into public service, interested in doing “something that would bring [him] back to Boston,” and allow him to give back to the community. Currently, Gelzinis is working as a real estate lawyer for a firm in the city, working with clients who buy, sell, and redevelop commercial properties–primarily in the northeast. Much like during his time as a teen at AFH, Gelzinis continues to express an interest in urban spaces and the development of cities like Boston.

Gelzinis’ appreciation for art — especially that which Boston has to offer–persists as well. He enjoys exploring the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardener, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, and tells me he looks forward to sharing those same experiences with his two sons. He also keeps the work AFH produces close to heart, explaining that he recently reached out to the organization in search of a brightly colored, abstract piece to decorate his new home.

In a literal sense, Gelzinis’ professional life has taken a very different direction from the work that he completed during his time as a teen at AFH. While he no longer spends his summers taking film photos of Boston’s built landscape, he remains invested in the future of the city he was raised in, a love encouraged by his time at AFH.

“I loved the AFH program, it brought kids together from different neighborhoods…everybody just got along…I think that’s the big thing that sort of ties everything together, an interest in what’s going on in the city, and wanting to be involved in that city life.”

Written by Eliza Whalen.