KEARNEY — Giving young people a chance to express themselves often presents challenges.

A new project in Kearney, PhotoVoice, uses photography to help young people develop a creative and constructive method of expression on issues of importance to them.

“Exchanging ideas is what the PhotoVoice program is all about,” said Mark Foradori, youth coordinator for Buffalo County Community Partners. “We discuss each of the photo assignments and the results. The participants learn to value their own ideas and how the power of photography can help them to communicate their ideas.”

An exhibit of photographs by the participants of PhotoVoice continues on display at Merryman Performing Arts Center.

During the group’s working sessions, the students met with adult mentors and policy members, including school board members, neighborhood organizers and local officials. These discussions inspired photography assignments on the themes of personal growth, family life, education and community engagement.

“One aspect is to give the kids cameras and let them take pictures that reflect their world view,” Foradori said. “The other part was to bring in guest speakers. I think that’s a very important component because the students get to talk directly to the speakers, they feel like their voices are being heard and they suddenly get a sense of engagement.”

Some of the students were referred by Buffalo County Diversion Program and others simply signed up for the class because they thought it sounded fun. Foradori said the purpose of the program is expression.

“I don’t want to characterize it as ‘They have a problem and we’re going to fix it,’” he said. “It’s not that at all. It’s a neat activity for kids to be involved in, like a lot of other activities.”

The quick and easy method of self-expression through photography allowed the students to concentrate on the subtext of the photos. And deciding which photos to exhibit allowed the students to express themselves even more.

“That’s when their personalities really came through,” Foradori said. “The photographs almost looked random, all laid out. But suddenly when all those came together, it was like, oh, yeah, this is pretty much your personality here.”

The students added captions to their photographs to help complete their ideas.

“That was a big group discussion,” Foradori said. “Writing anything is the hardest thing for these kids. Even a sentence that communicates anything is hard for them.”

For some of the students, a caption really summed up a photograph — adding additional meaning or even communicating a different idea.

Foradori said the students learned an important lesson: “The student who took the most pictures and had the most to choose from, the one who was most engaged, he got the best results,” Foradori said.

A new class will be organizing for the next semester. Anyone interested in learning more about the project can speak with Foradori by calling at 865-2290 or emailing Buffalo County Community Partners executive director Denise Zwiener at dzwiener@bcchp.org.

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