FAN // linked hearts

I recently had the pleasure of volunteering for an incredible program here in DC, called FAN. FAN's mission (I quote) is to cultivate a focus on youth well-being and positive development in an environment infused with safety, security, and love. The woman in charge of the program is beyond words. Nia (which means Purpose), not only gives her life to these kids, but also her heart. She's one of those people that would probably adopt all of the children in the world that need a home, if she could. Not just the babies, but the teenagers too. She actually has adopted, on top of having her own. {She's the third person down in the color series blog post below}

FAN stands for (I quote) Fihankra Akoma Ntoaso. In the Akan culture of West Africa, the Fihankra is a communal housing compound which symbolizes a "safe enclosure" or "safe house." Akoma Ntoaso means "linked hearts," and is a symbol of understanding and agreement. Many young people do not have access to such safe environments, which are critical to their development.

So I came in and volunteered as a photographer teacher, and taught foster children, ages 6-18 the basics of photography. We made pin-hole cameras out of Quaker Oat's containers, learned about the difference between film and digital. We spent a TON of time playing with a polaroid camera (instant gratification). Really, I was there to show them love, guidance and creativity. And we had a lot of fun in the meantime! I showed them that they could count on my arrival every Friday throughout the summer. My mission was to break them out of their shells. To get them to smile, laugh, and be free.

You can see in some of these photos the difference between a closed heart, and an open heart. These kids just need love, guidance and someone they can count on. This program gives them that and much, much more.

The most rewarding part of my time with them was when one of the teenage girls–who was usually pretty quiet and closed-off (and didn't smile very often)– opened up her heart in front of my camera and started BEAMING, dancing, jumping and laughing. It was so incredibly gratifying. I saw her true spirit, and I captured it. When two hearts touch, there is no greater reward.

You just have to spill your light onto others, so they know that they too, can shine their own.

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