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december stories, profiles

Brooke Holm: Teaching Young Storytellers in the Bronx

We end every year with the December Stories, a series of first-hand accounts of the ONA community’s work to leverage creativity for good. In 2017, ONA partnered with our friends at 100cameras—the storytelling-focused educational non-profit—to more than double their impact-to-date by sponsoring eight "Snapshot Projects," which train and equip experienced photographers to teach the 100cameras curriculum in classrooms around the world.

We invited members of the ONA community to apply, and today we're proud to have fine art photographer Brooke Holm share her experience leading a Snapshot Project in the Bronx with nine students at The Foundling's Mott Haven Academy.

Teaching is something I thought I was never cut out for. I’m usually a little introverted and I slightly panic when I’m the center of attention. That must be why I’m good at hiding behind a camera. My first experience teaching, about 5 years ago, was so daunting. I was teaching people with no prior camera knowledge how to shoot and make their photos look great.

But while I was internally panicking, my students were LOVING it. They learned so much and asked me so many questions that I could actually give them the answer to. I felt a sense of elation with sharing my craft and helping others feel as inspired about photography as I am. It was really their reaction that made me keep coming back even though it was completely out of my comfort zone.

Cut to New York 5 years later, my involvement with the 100cameras program began with a meet-and-greet with one of the women on the team at ONA. Over coffee, I casually mentioned that I would like to teach again, and for a good cause. She mentioned ONA’s partnership with 100cameras, and that they teach kids photography and storytelling. I was instantly on-board, and it seemed like it was meant to be. It just aligned perfectly. The old nervous feelings about teaching definitely resurfaced but I squashed them with the reminder that kids, more than anyone, deserve all the help and inspiration they can get. Especially those who are underprivileged or underserved in the community.

Meeting the kids during our Snapshot Project in the Bronx was the best part of the whole experience. The energy in the room was amazing, from the moment I walked in, to the very last class. It never stopped. They were so inviting and eager to learn everything they could, and the moment the cameras touched their hands I could feel their excitement radiating around the room. They couldn’t wait to get outside and start photographing everything. Throughout the course, they learned basic photography skills in a technical way and a theoretical way.

They learned about storytelling and why their stories are so important. Having a child tell you that no one cares about their opinion and that their stories don’t matter is really hard to hear. This was tough to navigate, but with a lot of encouragement and by providing a creative outlet such as photography, the goal was to help them tell their story and better understand why it really does matter. Towards the end of the program, I definitely felt a shift of attitude, which was so nice to see.

Above: student work from the Bronx Snapshot Project. See more >

Just spending time with these kids and sharing my love of photography with them was incredible. I’m so grateful they gave me their time and asked questions and instantly welcomed me into their lives. I learned a lot from them too, and I am so fortunate for having the opportunity.

Learn more and view/purchase the student photos at on 100% of proceeds from the students' photo sales will go directly back to their community; based on the current needs of the organization, the proceeds raised will help Haven Academy fund off-campus opportunities that provide enrichment not otherwise available to the population they serve.



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