At-risk teens take pictures of their inspirations through trying times
By: Nancy Arcayna
Thirteen-year-old Brendan started off on the wrong foot. He was into tagging property with graffiti, smoking weed and just “doing bad stuff,” he explained.
His life began to turn around after an unfortunate incident at school. “I was having a bad day,” he said. Brendan had not eaten breakfast, was denied access to the bathroom and had a teacher who was having a bad day, too.”
On his way home from school, angry from the day’s events, he kicked a wooden fence, knocking it down, landing him in a courtroom. This was the wake-up call he needed to start turning his life around, and he got into the Hale Kipa program.
Brendan has dealt with issues that are unfamiliar to many adults and kids alike. He claims not to understand why his mom left him behind and when she decided to raise his two sisters. He has gained a deep appreciation for his grandmother, who has helped him through the process. “It makes me feel better that my grandmother was kind enough to take me in,” he said.
His grandmother became his photographic subject when he participated in ProjectFocus Hawaii, started by Laurie Breeden Callies and Lisa Uesugi in 2005 on the premise that everyone needs voice. The program uses photography as a medium for teaching at-risk children to express themselves whole gaining such life skills as goal-stetting and building self-esteem. This year’s 13 participants will show their work at Macy’s Ala Moana from tomorrow through Sept. 13 before it moves to Kahala Mall in September and Punahou School in November.
Brendan (no last name are used due to family dynamics) chose this grandmother as his subject simply to express his gratitude. “She does so much for me when we have so little,” he said. “We have low income, but she makes the best of it.”
The project “seemed like a good opportunity,” Brendan said, as it fit into his plan to make better life choices.
“I’m a better person and friend now,” he said. “My grandparents say I don’t talk back to them much anymore. I listen and do what they want me to do. I’m treating them how I want them to treat me. “He aspires to become a professional body boarder.
BRENDAN DISPLAYS resilience acquire through dealing with tough, everyday circumstances. Fittingly, “The Resilient Spirit” was the theme chosen for ProjectFocus Hawaii this year. The participants, ranging in age form 13 to 18, are all in the foster care system and being served by Hale Kipa.
“Growing up as a teenager is hard enough without all of the other challenges and complications these kids have to face,” said Callies, nothing that the children working on the project were placed in foster care or residential treatment facilities because their families were either absent or in crisis. “They are survivors, and this exhibit reflects their resiliency in the face of extreme adversity.
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