Central Missouri Community Action is sponsoring a new venture for Mexico youth, ages 12 to 15, in a program called PhotoVoice.
The program is designed for seventh, eighth and ninth grade students to create a photography portfolio of issues related to community betterment and then discuss them in a number of topical courses. The age category may vary from community to community.
Audrain and Callaway Community Organizer Tad Dobyns said that CMCA has sponsored PhotoVision projects elsewhere in its eight-county region, but this is the first year Audrain County has been involved. Dobyns said he is pulling from South Callaway Middle School, the Missouri School for the Deaf and youth enrolled in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program in Mexico, to give the project an "aspect of city and rural."
"This is a tool reaching out to and engaging the youth," Dobyns said. "The whole program is to let them
know their opinion does matter and the picture speaks a thousand words; it can capture a lot of things because as adults what we see is a lot of times different than what they see."
Unlike text or video footage, Dobyns said "PhotoVoice conveys a large amount of information in an instant, and does not depend on the audience spending time reading or watching to make a point."
Through PhotoVoice, the students:
• Speak about their community
• Advocate for change
• Learn marketable skills
• Connect with others
In an eight-week PhotoVoice process, students will be guided to use their cameras to tell the story of their community, their role in community life, their wishes for the future and whether or not they feel able to make an impact. These weekly sessions instruct students regarding what kind of images should be returned the following week, thus focusing their attention and their photographic work.
Topics to be addressed include local leadership and area history, as well as how PhotoVoice participants see class, gender, place and race impacting their present and future opportunities. Students will learn how to take quality pictures, edit photos and add captions that explain the class topic. The students will share their final, best pictures with their community.
"CMCA sees this as a unique opportunity for the wider community to learn from voices that are not always heard and perspectives that are not always noticed," Dobyns said. "Even more, it is an opportunity for youth from a variety of backgrounds to learn from each other about the community and world in which they live and to be empowered to make the changes they want to see."
This year, youth active in the local Big Brothers and Big Sisters program were selected to help launch the Mexico PhotoVoice program. The Little Brothers and Little Sisters program Director Lori Pratt said PhotoVoice is an opportunity for the youth to expand their horizons. Next year, the project will be opened to all age-appropriate youth in the community. Some income eligibility is required to entry into the program.
Page 2 of 2 - "We don't want the kids to think of this as a class. We want them to feel excited about coming into this program. It's an eight-week session that meets right after school," Pratt said about the PhotoVoice project. "We're hoping to get more sponsorships from within the community to help purchase the cameras that are needed for the program."
Pratt said "We want the parents to help, but when it really boils down, we want the kids to be in control of the camera and what they want to show. If we can get their thoughts, then maybe they can show us things we don't see.
"We want them to be the teachers behind the lens," Pratt added.
The student photographs will be printed on 11 x 14 mats and displayed throughout town. The photographs will also be posted on the CMCA website.
Pratt said they would like to start the PhotoVoice meetings next month, weather permitting. An orientation will be held for the youth and their parents to attend. County and city officials will also be invited to a sit-down presentation given by the students to show their concerns and photo topic ideas. Dates and meeting locations will be announced at a later date.
For more information about PhotoVoice or to make camera or monetary donations, contact Dobyns at (573) 582-7864. Also see showmeaction.org to view examples of the PhotoVision program in other communities.