closeup camera lens

We’ve had a friend visiting this week, so of course we’ve snapped some iPhone shots of the dogs and a few landscape views. That’s about as deep as I get into photography much of the time, using it as shorthand to great memories, but I have always loved and respected those who use the medium as art, and cut to a deeper level of understanding, exploration, and enlightenment via images. There are some outstanding programs that put the potentially powerful and earth-shifting tool of a camera into the hands of under-served youth, helping with expression and discovering identity, community, etc. Programs are different from one organization to the next, but usually involve a great, bonding connection with a mentor who teaches not only the technical skills of photography, but also how to see the world in a new way. Self esteem and creativity grow, and when the work is shared, public recognition of talent and ownership of a valid vision can completely change a young person’s life. Can you imagine the power in hearing, perhaps for the first time, that your perspective matters? To be able to proclaim “This is how I see my world” or “This is what matters most to me in my environment” or even “You probably never would have guessed this about my life”…it is an enormous door swinging wide open.

Find a photography (or other field of creative expression education) program for youth near you, and get behind it…donate your underused camera, make a monetary/support donation, volunteer to mentor. If our schools find creative education dispensable as they need to slash budgets, let’s find ways to take a stand for never slashing it from our children’s lives. It is far too high a price to pay.

Here are a few photography programs to peruse–there are many, many more–and perhaps one waiting to be started by you!

Paterson Youth Photography Project (in Paterson, New Jersey)

Youth in Focus (in Seattle, WA)

Focus on Youth (in Portland, OR)

SALTO Youth Rural Paparazzi Project (in La Aldea, Spain)

Green Spaces Alliance “Picture Your World” (in South Texas)

Youthlight Project (in Baltimore, MD)

Luminato Festival Youth Volunteer Photography Team (Toronto)

Ghana Youth Photo Project

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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation ( and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project ( Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing


dyson (not verified)

The Youth Blogging Mentorship

The Youth Blogging Mentorship Program is one of the most unique programs out there-- not only is the program free but also it truly caters to students of all age groups and education levels.

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