Residents have opportunity to see community through eyes of local youth

Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) sponsored a new venture for Audrain County youth in a program called PhotoVoice. CMCA officials say the program is a unique opportunity for the community to learn from voices that are not always heard and perspectives that are not always noticed.
CMCA partnered with Mexico Big Brothers Big Sisters with four Mexico Middle School students, ages 12-15 and challenged them to express their ideas about their community through pictures.
Their photographs have been displayed at the Mexico Area YMCA, in the Audrain County Courthouse rotunda, and are currently in the Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce vault exhibit until the end of the month.
"This program has definitely fulfilled every expectation I had," said CMCA Community Organizer Tad Dobyns. The program ran March 7 through May 16. "Every class I went to I learned something, and I guarantee you every student took something away with them from each class as well."
The program is about empowering youth, and during the 8-week classes, students learned the cost and value of basic needs, healthy lifestyle choices, life-long learning, community and national poverty issues, civic responsibilities and how to advocate for change.
MMS student Anna Bahlman said taking pictures allows her to express herself, and that she'd like to be a professional photographer. Her photos focused on the importance of community beautification.
"I've always thought of Mexico as a very beautiful town; well, most parts of it anyway. I took pictures of the places that aren't so beautiful to tell people our town is changing and that we should do something about it," Bahlman said. Her photograph sparked a "gracious" response from the City of Mexico, Dobbins said.
Kathryn Burks, 13, captured the sun shining over Lakeview Park, pictures of her church group fishing and of wildlife habitat/vegetation floating in the water. Her younger brother Jesse took pictures of a deteriorating vacant building and of two ladies at a local food bank. His aim was to point out community poverty issues and environmental concerns.
"I mainly provided photographs of problems and solutions on how we can clean up my neighborhood and the community as a whole," Jesse said. "I hope people learn that the environment is a fragile place and that we really need to help keep it healthy."
Angela Walch also photographed vacant buildings. Her hope is that these buildings can be refurbished and become more useful, and possibly attract new businesses.
Several local businesses and individual sponsors, with their generous support, paid for the cameras/accessories and film development for the PhotoVision project.
At the completion of the program, the students were allowed to keep their cameras, encouraged to continue learning about the community they live in and reminded "that their voices do count," Dobyns said.