Youth in Focus has been serving the Seattle area for 22 years by putting cameras in the hands of low income, at-risk youth. Program participants are challenged to excel and are surrounded by talented teachers and volunteer mentors that help to create a strong community of support.  Through photography, students find their unique perspective, channel their creativity and gain new confidence in their self-worth and abilities. We were given the opportunity to learn more about the organization from Trina Gadsden, Youth in Focus’ Executive Director. Here is what she had to say about the innovative program:

How many students does Youth in Focus typically work with?
A: We serve approximately 300 youth a year through our core program, as well as our partner programs held throughout the community. Our core program consists of year-round, quarterly classes for eight weeks, which provide students with six hours of assistance per week.  We teach traditional black and white photography in a darkroom, as well as digital photography in our computer lab.  Our students are between 13 and 19 years old and come from all over Seattle; as far north as Camano Island and as far south as Federal Way. They apply and complete an in-person interview to be accepted into the program. To meet each student’s need, we place them in classes where we feel they will be most successful.  At the end of the quarter, students are empowered to share their work and talk about their journey to an audience of up to 100 guests at our End of Quarter Show.

How does Youth in Focus work with Vulcan Real Estate?
A: We recently partnered with Vulcan Real Estate to have some of our advanced students help document the Central Area community and neighborhood events through their camera lenses for this blog site. The students had a great experience exploring Seattle and learning how to be visual storytellers. They were paired with our professional Teaching Artists, who helped mentor them during the process. In 2015, Vulcan Real Estate also raised $11,000 for our employee holiday drive. Vulcan employees kindly donated to the drive and it was matched by the Paul Allen Foundation. 

Tell us a great memory or story from your time at Youth in Focus past.
A: There are so many great stories about the students at Youth in Focus! Every student is special and unique in their own way and uses the camera lens to really explore what is going on around them and inside them. One story that I will always remember is about a student that commuted to us from an alternative school in Kent. He was taking an Advanced Digital Photography Class with us and chose the theme of "Social Isolation" for his final project. We had our End of Quarter Show for the advanced students at the University of Washington School of Social Work. He was a really shy teenager and when he presented to a room full of strangers, he stood up tall and proud, and talked about how people isolate each other in society. He shared images he made of his friends looking happy and cheerful, and then compared them to images of how they 'really' felt inside which was sad, lonely and depressed. He told the crowd that if he could change anything in this world, it would be for people to engage more with each other and never let anyone feel alone and isolated.  As the crowd was clapping and he was walking away, a man came up to him and asked him for advice on how not to feel isolated. Before I could step in and help navigate the conversation, the 15-year-old student listened to what the man said and gave him thoughtful and sincere advice. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever witnessed.                   

What does Youth in Focus offer its students in terms of mentorship and professional development?
A: We are a 22-year-old youth development photography program, and although it would be great for our students to walk out and go on to become amazing photographers, the real goal here is to have them walk out of our program and be empowered as individuals. We want them to have a voice to be the change they wish to see in the world. Our classes are kept small with 10-12 students and a paid professional Teaching Artist, as well as two adult volunteer mentors to offer positive adult interaction.