At first, everyone thought I was crazy- give kids professional cameras and let them take photos? What?! But it was precisely that line of thought that inspired me to create this nonprofit event to begin with. Kids Behind the Lens allowed its participants, kids ages of 11 to 15, to strap a Canon or Nikon camera around their necks and be event photographers for a day, just like the pros that they aspire to be one day.

Since the purpose of the event was to raise funds for the Epilepsy Association of Central Florida (while simultaneously having a blast), the parents of the participating kids didn’t have to pay any admission to the event. Instead, they were asked to make a donation to the Association, in the amount of their choice.

The event shot two birds with one stone – raise funds for the Association, and introduce young teenagers to a world of possibilities. They saw that their hobby could blossom into something more – a profession they are passionate about. A skill they could work at and build. An adventure they could embark on, feeling a little less intimidated about the restricted (and practically taboo) subject of handling expensive technology and equipment – things that are typically reserved for the grown-ups.

I remember when I was that age, I was infatuated with a video camera my father owned. Each time I asked to use it, the answer my parents gave me was the typical: No, no, no! You can’t handle such an expensive piece of equipment – you’ll break it! You’re just a kid! Until one day, after much insistence, they finally agreed to let me try it out and from that moment, I was baptized the official filmmaker of our family videos. They recognized the talent I had, acknowledged that I could be trusted with the equipment, and what do you get when you put those two together? A happy kid!

When I started planning this event, I reached out to dozens of people, businesses and organizations. It couldn’t have happened without the altruistic, selfless and philanthropic contributions of many! The Model Wearhouse in Orlando, a fantastic studio all photographers should check-out, gave us the entire studio for a day. The LensPal, a company based in Winter Garden that rents top-notch camera and video equipment, provided 2 DSLR cameras (Canon and Nikon). James Freeman of Almost There Photography gave the event another 2 DSLR cameras (Nikon), and Ken Montano Photography chipped in with 1 (Canon). The gourmet popcorn shop on Church Street of downtown Orlando that sells delicious, flavorful and aromatic popcorn, called Popcorn Junkie, helped with the goodie-bags by giving samples of their unique product to give to all of the participants.

Managers at the Millennia Mall of Orlando were happy to be a contribution as well – the Sephora store helped spread the word about the event and 2 of their employees came to the event with their high-quality make-up and artistic hands to give the models a truly professional look; and the Godiva store also contributed to the goodie-bags with… you guessed it – their decadent chocolate!

Let’s not forget Shenika Rhudd (Hair) Helena Thrasher (Event Coordinator), Ship Schipul (Photography Instructor) and all of the models and actors who gave, not only their time and talent, but also their excitement and positive energy that filled the studio with the magic kids crave and seek after: Travis Crane, Lori DePinto, Rachael Lindsay, Ashley Beloat, Yi Christina Liu, and Melissa. No one could have done a better job bringing the different scenes to life!

Chuck Carmen, Executive Director of the Epilepsy Association of Central Florida, enthusiastically promoted the nonprofit event and provided a portal through which the participants could register. And much to my delight, Mr. Carmen was present for the event and, just like the models and actors, filled the air with excitement!

Each and every one of these contributions was entirely FREE of charge – no one involved, not a single professional or sponsor received anything in exchange, other than a simple acknowledgement and a HUGE Thank You. They contributed to the nonprofit event because they wanted to be part of something bigger, to give back to their community, and to donate to a worthy cause.

And what is the lesson we all learned? Much like my parents learned years ago, we learned not to stifle a child’s creative curiosity, which is ambitious in nature and vital to his development, but to take the risk and give the child the opportunity to prove himself. After all, have you seen their photos? These young teenagers took better photographs than many adults do!