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Who we are

Founded in 2016, Photo Start is a global 501c(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in New York. We are a network of photographers, artists, teachers, and volunteers worldwide, working to empower under-resourced young people (ages 12-25) to imagine, create, and choose their future. We partner with local community organizations around the globe to offer our digital photography programs.

Our photography curriculum integrates visual storytelling with digital literacy using applied learning to equip students with needed 21st Century skills to thrive as learners, workers, and global citizens.

Our Values

Our values define us and guide us in our decisions on how we impact the lives of others.

Empowerment

Teach that power lies within and instill confidence

Stewardship

Take great care of each other and our world

Integrity

Be honest and do the right thing

Excellence

Strive to be our best selves and set an example for others

Innovation

Welcome new ideas and unique approaches

Frequently Asked Questions

You have questions? We have answers.

Programs

Who is Photo Start?

Photo Start is a global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that uses photography to teach under-resourced students digital and visual literacy with 21st-Century skills to catalyze their economic advancement, creative talents, & personal well-being.

Where does Photo Start operate?

We operate in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Iraq, Kurdistan, Bolivia and the United States.

Why does Photo Start use photography to teach skills?

Photography is a universal language that transcends barriers such as language, culture, social class, and location. It is adaptable and inclusive, providing a safe environment for all learners to participate. Through visual and kinesthetic learning, coupled with digital literacy and practical skills, photography empowers students to express themselves and navigate challenging circumstances. By facilitating photo exchanges, we foster cross-cultural learning and connections among program partners, encouraging dialogue and highlighting similarities and differences in their lives and communities. Moreover, photography instills essential 21st-century skills, known as the 6 C’s: Computer/Digital literacy, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Confidence.

What does the Photo Start program include?

Our 12-week program is divided into five steps. It focuses on bridging digital media, digital and visual literacy, and life skills to provide long-term benefits to enhance our students’ educational, vocational, and interpersonal development. Students also enjoy going for regular walks through the community, taking field trips, and putting their work on display in exhibitions.

Who are Photo Start students?

Our students are youth from our partner organizations ages 12– 25 who often live in communities where obstacles such as poverty, abuse, crime, and malnourishment are a daily part of life.

How does Photo Start connect students?

Photo Start partners exclusively with nonprofits, schools, and community organizations to deliver programming to their current and future students. These organizations provide students with necessities like food, water, sanitation, and education, and Photo Start complements their work with its programming.

Do Photo Start students have to pay for the program provide rent the equipment?

There are various program models we can offer, and we ensure no student is ever left out. For more information, contact programs@photostart.org

Support

Can I volunteer with Photo Start?

One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time. If you have a talent or skill you would like to share for the greater good, please complete our volunteer form HERE.

Can I donate equipment?

Yes! Equipment donations are vital to our program. Please fill out our equipment donation form HERE.

How else can I help Photo Start students?

We are always looking for people to spread the word about our mission and to provide whatever support might be unique to YOU!

A really fun and easy way to help is to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and make sure to like, share, and comment on our posts. Find our links in the footer.

You can also host fundraisers or exhibitions, organize a donation drive, or even dedicate your special event to benefit Photo Start. Contact us for more information.

Funding

Where does Photo Start get its funding?

Photo Start depends 100% on cash and in-kind donations from individuals and other supporters.

How can I donate?

To make a one-time or recurring monetary donation, please click here. For other donations such as cryptocurrencies, stocks, bonds, and more, please contact us at development@photostart.org for more information.

Are donations made to Photo Start tax-deductible?

Photo Start is a registered United States 501(c)3 organization. Donations made within the United States are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

MISSION

We provide applied learning experiences that give students the courage to reframe their stories, develop as leaders, and become agents of change in their communities. We do this by engaging, educating, and elevating young people in marginalized areas around the globe by teaching the art and business of photography.

VISION

We develop creative visual storytelling and digital skills, and inspire confidence in young people, creating a greater impact now and for future generations.

OUR COMMITMENT

Our global organization is committed to empowering young people everywhere by providing them with the resources, chances, and abilities they need to reach their greatest potential. We achieve this by bringing about positive, permanent change in young people’s lives and organizations through our innovative programs, linkages to the local organization, and evidence-based methodology. Among our commitments are:

  • Promoting an atmosphere of acceptance, diversity, and respect is one of our commitments. Additionally, we commit to continuing our efforts to enhance the lives of young people everywhere.
  • Creating a team of effective workers who are valued and recognized for their contributions to our company.
  • Implementing organization-driven programs that improve the lives of the people we serve, are effective, affordable, and supported by sound research.
  • Constantly improving the services and course material provided to our program partners, participants, and students to maintain our leadership in the field of youth development.
  • Upholding our ongoing dedication to improvement by monitoring our outcomes, drawing conclusions from them, introducing fresh ideas, and reporting our success to ensure we continue to have an influence on young people’s lives.
What we do

Get to know us

We are an international group of photographers, artists, educators, business leaders, and non-profit experts who are dedicated to a common goal: Helping youth in various circumstances find their voice and gain skills that will spark positive change in their world.

Our Team

Jeri Muchura

Global Head of Programming

Elizabeth Mwathi​

Project Manager

Silvia Passoni

Chief Operations Officer

Gaireyah Fredericks

Storytelling Instructor

Stephen Nzusa

Kenya Community Engagement Officer

Gillian Njeri

Regional Coordinator: West and Central Africa

Noemi Gonzales Cabrera

Regional Coordinator: South America

Douglas Githua

Regional Coordinator: East Africa and Middle East

Uzair Appollis

Regional Coordinator: South Africa

Thomas Makale

Instructor

Zachary Muthoga

Instructor

Jim Hourican

Controller

Our Board

David Lehman

Founder and Executive Director

CJ Meyer

Co-Founder and Director

Abigail Lehman

Co-Founder and Director

Kelly Brantner

Director

Vernell Hill

Director

Our Advisors

Katrin Eismann

Product Manager, Engagement – Adobe Systems

Brad Smith

Vice President, Photography – World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

Brian Smith

Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer

Sandra Stevenson

Associate Director of Photography – CNN

K.S. “Sonny” Kalsi

Founder and Partner, GreenOak Real Estate

Vairam Alagappan

Director at Advantage Testing of Long Island

Daniel B. Knecht, MD, MBA

Vice President of Clinical Strategy & Policy – CVSHealth

Tom Ashe

Chairman, Master’s Digital Photography – School of Visual Arts

Our Students

Since 2016, we have provided more than 1,700 students with 130,000 hours of theoretical and practical classes to 61 Program Partners in 8 countries. To date, 91 students have graduated to become trainers and mentors in the Photo Start program. In addition, many of our students have been able to apply their newly acquired skills as employees, entrepreneurs, and leaders in their communities.

Lewis Shigungu

KENYA

Zachary Mathoga

KENYA

Lilian Muteo

KENYA

Danny Tuyishime

KENYA

Dorcas Uwera

KENYA

Uhiriwe Manzi Thiery

KENYA

Leisy Grisel Mamani Quispe

KENYA

Nifa Siema

KENYA

Samuel Kolile

KENYA

Sarah Sunday

KENYA

Markson Ombati

KENYA

Our Programs

Photo Start has partnered with over 60 organizations in 8 countries since 2016.

Are you interested in becoming a program partner? To see if your organization is eligible, take our quiz.

Kids Rank

CHICAGO, IL

In the Fall of 2021, Photo Start and Kids Rank joined forces in a partnership to empower military children. The first cohort, consisting of students aged 12-15, embarked on the program in Winter 2021 and continued through Spring 2022.

By providing structured classes and independent photography sessions, Photo Start leveraged the power of visual storytelling to help students navigate the challenges and disruptions of military life. The curriculum equipped the students with essential social and life skills while enhancing their academic proficiency in digital literacy, visual thinking, and digital media. Furthermore, the students had the opportunity to document various military-connected events and actively participate as community members, developing marketable skills and boosting their confidence as leaders.

Throughout the year, the students honed their photography skills by “going on assignment” to various events, including the Pritzker Military Museum and Library Event, the Bring Your Own Veteran Dinner (BYOV), and the Deason and Gonzalez Collections. Their collections were also showcased at the 2022 Kids Rank Ball, which drew a crowd of 250 attendees.

The second cohort, which kicked off on February 3rd, 2023, will leverage the skills acquired through the Photo Start curriculum to drive their entrepreneurial endeavors. The students will utilize their photography expertise to capture compelling images that tell the story of their company and its members, document the production process, and create powerful marketing materials.

About Kids Rank: Kids Rank is a 501c(3) service-based organization developed specifically for military children. Through membership opportunities, Kids Rank engages military-connected children and youth in hands-on, skill-building projects and volunteer opportunities designed to encourage resilience through our core pillars of CONNECT, LEAD, and SERVE. Our military children serve their communities just as their parents serve (or have served) our country. The program is open to school-aged military-connected children from all branches of service, including active duty, reservists, retirees, veterans, and Families of the Fallen.

I3 Impacto Social

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA

In Spring 2022, Photo Start was approached by a well-regarded Bolivian organization to take on six interns for various purposes. The interns were assigned to establish Photo Start Bolivia by identifying potential partner organizations in their country to run our programs.

The interns identified two organizations in La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia, that were extremely qualified and well-suited for partnership. This year we are thrilled to work again with i3 Impacto Social (La Paz, Bolivia), implementing our Photo Start Visual Storytelling & Self-Expression Course.

We aim to teach and prepare 20 students to become Peer Trainers and, eventually, Photo Start instructors who will help run the program annually with other cohorts.

About i3 Impacto Social: i3 Impacto is a social company that advises, promotes, and invests in innovative ventures to improve the quality of life of socio-economically disadvantaged communities. The organization seeks to optimize the social impact in implementing projects with a multiplying effect and with self-sustaining management models. Consulting services focus on the development of social strategies, investment with impact, the relationship with stakeholders, and the administration of social projects.

Simama

NAIROBI, KENYA

In 2022, our 16-week photography classes at Simama CBO offered a comprehensive learning experience for individuals interested in developing their skills in the field. During the course, four of our trainees were able to secure regular paying gigs, demonstrating the practical skills and knowledge they gained.

We also invited professionals to host masterclasses and offered some students internships to enhance their learning experience further. Additionally, we had top-performing graduates teach kids and teens photography at a month-long holiday camp held at Simama.

Our training has proven to be valuable not only to the individuals who participated but also to the community-based organizations in the area that have offered employment opportunities to our trainees due to their newly acquired photography, storytelling, and content creation skills.

Our partnership with Simama continues with two new cohorts in 2023. The first cohort comprises young female football players who use photography to document and share their journey as female footballers (in a male-dominated sport) while imparting other marketable and transferable skills that they can use on and off the field.

About Simama CBO: Simama CBO is a non-profit, grassroots organization that uses sports to impart social and economic skills and promote peace, education, development, inclusion, better governance, and accountability among the youth of Kariobangi Slum, Nairobi. The mission is to use sports to empower the holistic development.

Kibra Films and Creative Hub

NAIROBI, KENYA

We welcome our new program partner, Kibra Film and Creative Hub. In 2019, during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kibra Film and Creative Hub was born to protect youth in the Kibra community from engaging in social vices by nurturing independent creatives in photography, film, and music who will tell Kibra’s story with dignity.

Despite the challenges faced by the community, Kibra has many positive stories that rarely see the light of day. The Kibra Film and Creative Hub aim to change this by empowering young people with photography, filmmaking, and acting skills, eradicating the dependency syndrome in the community. The Kibra Film and Creative Hub operate from Mchanganyiko Hall in Karanja estate, Kibera.

Photo Start’s visual storytelling curriculum is a critical part of Kibra Film and Creative Hub to tell Kibra’s story with dignity. The Photo Start program has students aged 18-25 and aims to create a group of independent and creative photographers who will value their work and earn a living from their skills. The Kibra Film and Creative Hub see the Photo Start program as a way to increase the number of creative women street photographers from Kibra and link students with opportunities in the industry. By doing so, the Kibra Film and Creative Hub promotes creative expression and creates economic opportunities for young people in the community.

Art and storytelling are powerful tools for social transformation, and the Kibra Film and Creative Hub recognizes this. By empowering young people with photography, filmmaking, and acting skills, the organization is promoting creativity and enabling economic growth. The organization’s positive impact is already being felt in the community, and with continued support, the Kibra Film and Creative Hub will undoubtedly change many lives.

About Kibra Film and Creative Hub:
Kibra Film and Creative Hub was born to protect youth in the Kibra community from engaging in social vices. The organization’s vision is to use art as a tool for social transformation. Its mission is to nurture independent creatives in photography, film, and music who will tell Kibra’s story and the challenges youth face in the community from a positive perspective.

Our Supporters

Photo Start has rapidly cultivated a circle of brand supporters including multinational corporations and industry titans in photography and technology. We are grateful for the ongoing support of all our backers and supporters, whose generosity has been essential in enabling us to continue our important work. Their contributions not only help us sustain our programs but also inspire us to do more to create a positive impact on the lives of youth.

In addition, we have two Memorial Funds established, which are a special initiative established by our nonprofit organization to honor and commemorate the memory of individuals who have made a significant impact. This fund serves as a lasting tribute to their legacy. Donations made to the Memorial Funds directly support our programs and projects, ensuring that their passion and dedication live on through the meaningful work we undertake.

Eric’s Circle of Light:

Eric’s Circle of Light was established to honor our beloved friend, Eric Spencer Richenstein (1982 – 2020). Your donations enable us to expand and enhance our online programs, empowering students in marginalized communities worldwide. Join us in honoring Eric’s memory and helping young people build a brighter future.

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Nancy Tierney Fund:

Photo Start and The Nancy C. Tierney Fund proudly announce The Nancy C. Tierney Global Girls and Women’s Empowerment program. This program fosters self-confidence, storytelling skills, and marketable abilities, empowering participants to pursue their dreams. With over $20,000 raised, we invite you to join us in expanding Nancy’s impactful work.

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Our Beginnings

Founder and Executive Director David Lehman has a deep understanding of the challenges faced by under-resourced youth in the digital age. As a professional photographer and experienced attorney working with disadvantaged youth in New York City, he has seen first-hand the obstacles that young people from marginalized communities face in accessing technology and gaining the necessary skills to succeed in an increasingly digital world.

David’s travels and experiences in Kenya further opened his eyes to the stark inequality that exists in access to digital technologies and the knowledge, skills, and competencies required to navigate them. He realized that without these essential tools, under-resourced youth can be left behind and struggle to thrive in a society that is becoming more and more digitally driven.

In 2016, David became involved with an organization that used photography as a means of teaching invaluable skills to young people. Inspired by the impact that photography had on the students he worked with, David decided to use his own talents and passion to create change. Together with his sister Abby and friend CJ, he founded Photo Start, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for young people with limited exposure and access.

Through Photo Start, David and the current team are working to level the playing field for under-resourced youth, providing them with the tools and skills they need to succeed in the digital age. The innovative programs focus on cultivating creative talents, developing personal well-being, and catalyzing economic advancement for young people who might otherwise be left behind.

Contribute to the Solution

One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time. And that warm, happy feeling you get when helping people is contagious. By volunteering, you inspire others to get involved. Let us know if you have a talent or skill you would like to share for the greater good.

Get Involved

“I’m expecting to use these skills in my business and be able to take it to the next level.”

-Ebenezer E. Byiringiro, Cinelab, Uganda

 

Jeri Muchura
Global Head of Programming

Jeri Muchura is an internationally recognized award-winning photographer specializing in luxury portraiture and documentary photography. Her passion for storytelling has taken her across Kenya and Africa telling stories of resilience and triumph. She has held several exhibitions and received 1st place honours in the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s MyAfrica photography contest in 2016. Because of her work, Jeri has won a couple of photography awards, been profiled by Kenyan and international media and her work has been published in various coffee-table photo-books.

Jeri’s love for children and sharing knowledge led her to join Photo Start in a supportive role in 2017 and finally taking the reins as the Country Program Coordinator [Kenya] in 2019. She brings on board 10 years of experience in Business Administration and Management as well as photography, coupled with a passion and love of impacting and changing lives.

Elizabeth Mwathi
Projects Liaison Officer

Elizabeth Mwathi is a certified Online Business Manager with demonstrated interpersonal and people skills. Her background is quite wide having worked with a hotel chain for +10 years in Client Service, Administration, and Human Resources roles where she grew to become the Assistant Group Human Resources and Administration Manager.

Elizabeth is also a certified Microsoft Suite expert, holds a Diploma in Human Resource Management and Administration, and has trained in a variety of other areas including MailChimp email marketing, bullet-proof sales, and client service. She is also an expert transcriber, translator, writer, and social media manager.

Elizabeth has a passion for people, especially those whose position in life seems to be lowly and overlooked. You will find her offering a helping hand whenever she can to elevate others and make for a better community for all.

Silvia De Jager
Chief Operations Officer

Silvia Passoni is a passionate changemaker with over 29 years’ of experience in the non-profit sector and former executive director of two Johannesburg-based non-profit organizations.

She specializes in organizational strategy, personal leadership, governance, administration, operations, stakeholder, and board management as well as organizational sustainability. Her focus areas over the years include health care, HIV/Aids, children/youth, community development, food security, education, and enterprise development.

Silvia holds a national diploma in Public Relations and graduated with distinction and a top exam mark from the Gordon Institute of Business Science’s Social Entrepreneurship Programme. She is also the recipient of a personal award for exceptional service in community health from USAID (Pepfar). She is a qualified Tutor at the Social Enterprise Academy, a social enterprise delivering accredited learning and development programs for people and organizations working for social purposes.

Dedicated to contributing to the impact made in the social development sector, Silvia can bring cross-sector expertise and perspective to all work entrusted to her.

Gaireyah Fredericks
Storytelling Instructor

Gaireyah Fredericks is a single mother of three sons, Yaghya, Muhammad Uzair and Diyaa-Udeen. A local of Paarl and a member of the Paarl Muslim community.

She started writing in 2012 at the Breytenbach Center in Wellington. Since 2015, she has self-published seven poetry anthologies. Mientjies, Kaaps is Hollands, 40 stories, 40 worode op ‘40’, Ramadaan Chronicles 2017, H2O Poetry Calendar, Hanne innie lig, voete oppie grond and Mettie maan gepla.

She won “Best Supporting Actress” award for her diverse roles in the play, “Ons Komvandaan”. She won “Best script” in the Department of Arts and Culture’s drama competition for her play, Hanne innie lig, voete oppie grond and won Nalibali story bosso competition Provincial with her children’s story Elkeen hetta krakie. Her debut play received two nominations, namely ‘Best script’ and ‘Best upcoming actress’. She was just seen on DSTV’s Alles Malan on Kyknet in the role of the nurse last year.

The Wellington Station Festival presents an honorary award for her contribution to the promotion of Kaaps. She is often invited to various literary festivals such as the McGregore Poetry festival – also there she won the Patricia Schonstein for Mcgregor Festival poetry Award for her poem, “Dronk verdriet”. She also regularly reads at the Woordfees, Prins Albertfees, Adam Smallfees and Tuin van digtersfees, to name a few. In August 2019 she won 2nd place in the Avbob poetry competition national with her poem “Dood” and currently she has successfully obtained her BA Honors in Afrikaans at the University of the Western Cape.

She formulates and designs the Mothertongue project workshop series to educate emerging writers about self-publishing, the relationship between the author and his environment, as well as his work. The workshops are currently offered online.

Stephen Nzusa
Kenya Community Engagement Officer

Stephen Nzusa, aka Baba Yao, is a young lawyer, life coach, mentor, reformist, peace champion and human rights activist. Born and raised in Kibera, one of the biggest slum settlements in Kenya, Stephen is a believer in arbitration, alternative dispute resolutions and more active non-violence means to advocate for matters in the society. He has worked with a number of community organizations, like KUBUKA Kenya and Teen Pregnancy Awareness Kenya.

Stephen is the co-founder of a number of organizations and institutions, including Drop the Gun Initiative, Young Empowered Youth Group, Kibera Kenya Tulee Mayatima, and St Mary’s Education Centre, which is a program partner with Photo Start. He is currently the Director of Programs for HP Dawda Foundation that advocates for sustainability of local organizations from the urban poor settlements through the practice of urban farming and imparting of viable skills to single mothers and youths.

In Kibera, Stephen is well known for his courageous intervention during the 3 previous elections in Kenya. He was at the forefront championing for peace and a departure from post-election violence. He has been deeply involved in youth reforms, working with gangs to help them turn from a life of crime to productive and respectable members of the society.

His nick name, Baba Yao, meaning “their father” is coined from his passion and rescue of street families, orphans, vulnerable children, and widows from different slums, and through his network getting home placement for them.

Gillian Njeri
Regional Coordinator: West and Central Africa

Gillian Njeri is a double major student currently studying public relations & broadcasting at the Africa Nazarene University, graduating in 2020. Gillian has been providing crucial key-wording services as well as volunteering at the organization since 2016. Her love of social media has proven to be a valuable asset to the organization. She is a fun, compassionate and gentle-hearted person who loves working with kids. Her presence in the classes and centres brings joy to the children we work with and helps make learning fun.

Noemi Gonzales Cabrera
Regional Coordinator: South America

Noemí Gonzales Cabrera is from Bolivia and is 24 years old. She defines her work as journalistic research and visual poetry. Noemi has a degree in Social Communication and is currently studying History. She conceives her photography with an interest in alternative and regional culture, as well as social topics.

She has exhibited her visual art in collective exhibitions at Miko Art Gallery, Casa de la Cultura, Espacio Escenartes (La Paz, Bolivia), Sala Melba de Feliza (Argentina), Casa Verde (Colombia), and Sam Bellamy Digital Art Gallery (Peru). He was selected for the “Fronteras” Photography Festival in Argentina and the “Enfoque Visual” festival in Colombia.

Noemi is also a poet, with texts published in anthologies throughout Latin America.

Currently she continues to work on personal photographic projects and carry out activism about Human Rights.

Douglas Kitua
Regional Coordinator: East Africa and Middle East

Douglas Kitua is a professional photographer with over 6 years’ of experience in different genres such as event, wedding, portraiture, and documentary photography.

He is passionate about capturing the beauty of life and the emotions that come with it. He also has a passion for educating and teaching students new skills which led to him to initially volunteering with Photo Start, teaching children and youth photography and helping them discover their creativity through the lens.

He always strives to create images that are timeless, unique, and that can tell stories. “I believe that photography is not just about taking pictures, but about telling stories and creating memories that will last a lifetime.”

Uzair Appollis
Regional Coordinator: South Africa

Muhammad Uzair Appollis is from Cape Town, South Africa. He matriculated in 2020.

He is a photographer that favours makro and portrait photography.

Since high school, he has enjoyed learning the art of design and has been commissioned by private organizations and individuals to practice his graphic designing skills obtained.

Uzair has also had the pleasure to represent South Africa, as a youth, in Hong Kong, participating in an annual Kung Fu tournament twice in a row.

He is currently freelancing as the official photographer for his youth group at his local mosque in his town.

Thomas Makale
Photography Instructor

Thomas Makale also known as ALPHA and is a self-taught photographer, videographer and graphic designer with over 8 years’ experience.

Thomas is a graduate of Africa Nazarene University class of 2019, majoring in Broadcast Media, and also has a diploma certificate in Public Relations.

Because of my love for children and youth, and the drive to transform lives for the better, I find pleasure in seeing people use the skills they have acquired to better their lives and completely transform their approach on life and their communities.

UZachary Muthoga
Photography Instructor

Zachary Muthoga is an instructor, videographer and content creator.

He specialises in in sports events, street, documentary, glamour and portrait photography. As an alumni student of Photo Start, he has dedicated his time to focus and showcase beauty, strength and resilience that surrounds life on earth.

Zachary is from Nairobi, Kenya – the city under the sun.

Jim Hourican
Controller

Jim Hourican currently provides accounting and bookkeeping services as principal of Somers Consultants LLC. He has been responsible for managing the accounting for a variety of entities, including nonprofits, real estate, property management, art production, retail, services, restaurant and venue operations. Jim has an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Chicago. Having owned and operated his own businesses, he brings an entrepreneurial hands-on ownership mentality to all his endeavors. Jim has also consulted to small businesses in the areas of business plan development, operations, growth plans, capital investments, financing, and launch plans.

David Lehman
Founder and Executive Director

David has a unique background in both photography (he is a professional photographer) and the law (he is an attorney with experience working with at-risk youth). David has degrees from Columbia University (BA, History; Political Science), the School of Visual Arts (Masters, Digital Photography), and Rutgers University School of Law (JD). After volunteering with an organization using photography in an after-school program, he founded Photo Start and developed the core program that has been adapted to each project and community. He has a strong and diverse network of supporters, funders and industry professionals.

CJ Meyer
Director

CJ Meyer has a passion for building mission driven, self- sustaining teams and organizations. CJ graduated from the University of Delaware, where he majored in Information Systems with minors in Global Enterprise Technology and Entrepreneurship. He has created multiple successful ventures across several different industries from e-commerce stores to digital marketing agencies. CJ spent time as a Senior Management Consultant for KPMG, where he worked on data analytics and business intelligence projects. CJ has been a part of Photo Start since shortly after its inception in 2016.

Abigail Lehman
Director

Abigail (Abby) Lehman has a deep passion for advancing opportunity through access to education and technology. After graduating from Princeton University (B.A., Sociology) Abby began her career at L2 Inc., a digital innovation think-tank turned business intelligence firm, founded at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Later at Publicis Media, Abby proposed and developed a learning program for the Data, Technology, Analytics and Insights team.

Abby also serves on the Advisory Committee for the Olami Professional Circles, which connects young professionals across five countries to mentorship and networking opportunities.

Abby is honored to bring her digital experience, as well as her commitment to community, education and technology to the Photo Start family.

Kelly Brantner
Director

Kelly Brantner is the Chief Executive Office of Business for Better Society (BBS), a Hong Kong registered charity working globally to promote and facilitate excellence in giving and mentoring. BBS matches corporations and individuals, their funds and/or skills, with purposeful, sustainable, and high impact non-profit initiatives. Today, BBS is supporting a range of non-profit initiatives that focus on key societal issues from green mobility to adult literacy to clean water.

Before splitting her time between London and Hong Kong for BBS, Kelly was based in Beijing for 14 years where she held several positions including as the Executive Director of Asian Operations for Rutgers Business School, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey. In this role, she was responsible for the Executive MBA program operations in China and Singapore as well as alumni relations and government relations.

While in Beijing, she was a two term President of Viva, Beijing’s Professional Women’s Association and was a board member for the
Canada China Business Council as well as an advisor for Green Leader Adventures, a Chinese social enterprise working with Chinese high school students.

Today, Kelly is an advisor to The Athari Group and their accelerator program for founders of non-profits that are in the early stages of their development. She is also a Fellow at the prestigious Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in London, UK.

Ms. Brantner received her degree in Economics and Political Science from Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC.

Vernell Hill
Director

Vernell Hill is a decorated Special Operations Army Veteran, having served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. His service record is impressive, with more than 80% of his time spent on various deployments and missions, taking him across 14 different countries.

Beyond his military career, Vernell is an accomplished business strategist, holding credentials from esteemed institutions such as Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and Harvard Business School. His extensive background encompasses Management Consulting, Private Equity, Technology, and Leadership.
With over a decade of experience, Vernell has proven himself to be a highly motivated business development leader. His expertise ranges from strategy and operational consulting to implementation and marketing consulting, and even technology consulting and SAAS. His strategic acumen is underscored by his ability to design comprehensive business, operational, and implementation strategies.

In his current role, Vernell contributes to Global Industrial Technology Development and also holds a number of board positions. His impact is far-reaching, with a client list that includes industry giants like Advantech Corporation, OPTUM (United Health), Foxconn, Oracle, Intel, NVIDIA, Microsoft, Avnet, Schneider Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Nike, and Columbia Sportswear.

Through his military service, academic achievements, and professional successes, Vernell Hill exemplifies the qualities of leadership, strategic thinking, and innovation. He continues to leverage his vast experience and unique insights to drive business growth and development in the technology sector.

Katrin Eismann
Product Manager, Engagement - Adobe Systems

Katrin Eismann specializes in interpretive travel, still life and portrait photography. She is an internationally respected artist, teacher, and author of Photoshop Restoration & Retouching, Photoshop Masking & Compositing, The Creative Digital Darkroom, and Real World Digital Photography – all of which have been translated into numerous languages. She received her BFA degree in Photographic Illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology, her MFA degree in Design at the School of Visual Arts and in 2005 was inducted into the Photoshop Hall of Fame. Katrin founded and chaired the Masters in Digital Photography department at the School of Visual Arts in New York City for twelve years and she is currently working at Adobe Systems to help educate photographers worldwide!

Brad Smith
Vice President, Photography – World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

Brad Smith is an award-winning photo editor with 35 years’ experience in visual storytelling. Brad was the Director of Photography for Time Inc., Sports Group, including Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine and he was the Assistant Director of Photography for the White House during the Clinton administration. He’s the founder and director of Brad Smith Creative, a visual consulting group and the Vice President for Photography for the WWE.

Brian Smith
Pulitzer Price-winning Photographer

Brian Smith is an award-winning photographer and author. His first photograph appeared in LIFE Magazine when he was a 20-year-old student at the University of Missouri. Five years later, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Sport News Photography. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer for his photographs of Haiti in Turmoil and he won first place in both the World Press Photo and Pictures of the Year competitions. His work has taken him across six continents and has been exhibited at the Library of Congress and the American Museum of Natural History.

Sandra Stevenson
Associate Director of Photography - CNN

Based in New York City, Sandra Stevenson is the Associate Director of Photography for CNN. She previously spent 15 years at The New York Times as an award-winning Assistant Editor in the photography department. She received a BA in English from Syracuse University and an advanced degree in multimedia from L’Universite Toulouse in France.

Sandra was a contributing writer in the book “Unseen: Unpublished Black History from The New York Times Photo Archives.” She was also the picture editor and co-curator on the book “This Is 18”, based on The New York Times feature of the same name.

K.S. “Sonny” Kalsi
Founder and Partner, GreenOak Real Estate

Sonny Kalsi is a Founding Partner of GreenOak Real Estate, successful real estate management, and investment firm. Sonny is a graduate of Georgetown University with a degree in Business Administration and is a member of the Georgetown’s Board of Regents. He also serves on the board of several organizations including The Spence School, Teaching Matters, powerful Foundation and the AHRC New York City Foundation. He’s a member of the Young Presidents Organization and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University in the Master’s of Real Estate Program.

Vairam Alagappan
Director at Advantage Testing of Long Island

Vairam has always had a personal and professional interest in teaching. At the University of Pennsylvania, he was a University Tutor and a University Liaison to the public-school system in Philadelphia. At the University of Illinois, he taught numerous classes at the engineering school and frequently lectured at the business school. He has also taught seminars and made presentations to several Fortune 500 senior executives. In addition to tutoring, Vairam enjoys taking interesting photographs and videos at dawn, writing poetry, and designing new healthful recipes.

Daniel B. Knecht, MD, MBA
Vice President of Clinical Strategy & Policy - CVSHealth

A practicing physician and a Fulbright scholar, Dr. Knecht has experience in health care entrepreneurship, strategy consulting, patient care and population health research. Dr. Knecht currently serves as Vice President of Clinical Strategy and Policy at CVSHealth-Aetna. His responsibilities include the creation and execution of the enterprise’s clinical strategy aimed at enhancing the value of care afforded to members, as well as identifying and implementing strategic initiatives focused on unmet health needs including chronic disease management and addiction.

Tom Ashe
Chairman, Master’s Digital Photography - School of Visual Arts

Tom P. Ashe is a photographer, educator, consultant, author, and the chair of the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City, where he has been teaching photography, color management, and digital printmaking for over fifteen years.

Tom has been making pictures since he was in the seventh grade and has been working in photography and education for over thirty years, including positions with Polaroid and Eastman Kodak.

He received his BS in Imaging and Photographic Technology from Rochester Institute of Technology and his Master of Applied Science in Photography from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

Lewis Shigungu

Lewis Shigungu is a 21-year old bright young man from Kenya. Lewis completed Photo Start’s program in 2021, and using the skills he gained, he is currently providing photography services as a value addition to his décor business. When talking about how he felt before start Photo Start’s program, Lewis said, “I had never held a camera before Photo Start. It felt like a fantasy to have a camera in my hands because I never expected to have such an opportunity in my life. I was very nervous at first.”

After completing Photo Start’s program, we asked Lewis about the impact that Photo Start had on his future. “I am more focused now than ever before. When I need to do something, I allocate time to it and I focus on that until it’s done. I’m very disciplined with my time now.”

“I grew up in the village and we struggled a lot. When I got into photography and I looked at the pictures I took, I looked at my village where I grew up in a different light. My pictures made me see something that I had not seen before… that there was a lot that can be achieved in the village by a village boy.

Photo Start came in and taught me a skill that I could use to earn a living. I have since started a photography and event planning business and I have something to wake up to every day. I have learned that photographs are an alternative way of communicating- I may not be very good with words but my photos speak for me where words fail.

My photography and event planning business is totally dependent on the skills I have learned, so I’m already putting them to good use. I also want to use my skills to help and improve my community by getting involved in community projects. I literally had no idea what to do with myself before Photo Start. Now I’m running a business and I have big plans for my future.”

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Zachary Mathoga

31-year-old Zachary Mathoga joined Photo Start after learning about it by taking kids to and from our program in Kenya as a driver. After graduating, he became a peer trainer and is currently employed by Photo Start as part of the programming “on the ground” training team!

“I joined Photo Start as a driver and the first day I drove the team to class, I saw Jeri’s camera and got interested. I asked to see it and Jeri allowed me. Then I asked to join the classes and she said I was welcome. And just like that, I was not only the team driver but also a Photo Start student.” When talking about the first time Zachary held a camera, he said, “I first came across a camera while working as a hairdresser. We had a photographer who would come and take professional photos for marketing purposes. I worked closely with him and he taught me how to look at the camera screen and set up the client just right for the best results.”

We asked how Zachary has changed and what he has learned since graduating from Photo Start. “A lot has changed about me. I am an introvert and love to stay indoors, but photography has given the outdoors a new meaning for me. I have also realized I have the capacity to create content that people will like. And so it has taken me out of my shell and helped with my confidence. I’m also able to communicate better so that’s an additional skill for me. Another skill that has emerged is the ability to observe and deduce. This serves me especially well when I’m teaching or observing another trainer teach as I can tell when a student is struggling to understand but is too afraid to ask.”

“I have always been obsessed with the film industry but I did not know how or where to start. And everyone I talked to told me that one cannot succeed in this industry in Kenya. This put me off the whole photography and film thing until I joined Photo Start. And that’s when I realized that I can learn all these skills and start something on my own. I can take photos and videos, and edit and produce them myself. I have the skill to do that now which means I can dream again. Working with Photo Start has woken up the curiosity in me to learn and explore. I feel like a small boy again with a bright future ahead of me.”

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Lillian Muteo

Meet Lillian Muteo, a 22-year old young lady from Kenya. She completed Photo Start’s programs last year. During the class, she was part of an all-female photography team that covered a film premiere on International Women’s Day in 2021. After graduation, she has come back as a volunteer peer trainer and also empowers herself economically by offering photography services in her area.

We asked Lillian about the first time she held a camera in her hand. “My dad had a camera so I was introduced to a camera early in life.It was so exciting to actually take professional photography lessons. With my dad’s camera, I only knew to press the shutter and that was it. Photo Start allowed me to take it a step further and learn how to manipulate the camera for the best photos.”

Next, we asked Lillian about the impact Photo Start has had on her and her future. “I used to take pictures with my phone just for fun. Photo Start taught me that the photos I take have the power to tell my story and that of my community. I have not taken a photo without thinking about the meaning behind it since. Now, I have a purpose. I was recently elected treasurer of the Football Association, Nairobi County, as well as the Westlands Soccer Association. I started out as their official photographer.”

Lillian said she envisions herself using photography to help her community. “My photos tell such amazing stories that even my mum says she’d like to visit the places I photograph. I now see that there is potential in my community if only we are given a chance. I would like to share my skills with kids in my community. I want them to achieve their full potential and be better than I am. I have already started doing this by working with the Photo Start team to teach a new cohort in my community. I help teach photography and then join the videography class as a student.”

Lillian talked about how photography has taught more than just how to take good photos. “I learned the value and power of determination. In photography, you really have to practice in order to get it right. It takes a lot of determination to keep going even when you don’t feel like it. The same applies in life- you have to be ready to push and work hard to get what you want. I’m just so grateful to Photo Start for finding us and teaching us something new. The trainers are very good and supportive and have taught me to view and experience my world in a new way. Given an opportunity, I would like to join the Photo Start team and share my experience and skills, especially with children.”

I did not view my future brightly before Photo Start. But now I see greatness in me and the future looks bright. My eyes have been opened to many future possibilities.”

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Danny Tuyishime

Danny is one of our many success stories at Club Rafiki, noted Gillian Neiri, lead Photo Start instructor. He joined the program three weeks later than everyone else, and I allowed him to participate because he used to wait for me outside class every day to beg me to give him a chance to join the program. He only promised great results and fantastic work.

Danny did not disappoint once given a chance. Danny says, “ I always have been motivated, asking questions when I do not understand.” According to Ms. Neiri, he would follow her and ask her for more clarification on unclear things.

“With that determination, I’m thrilled I gave him a chance to participate in the program. He is very good in written and spoken English; from time to time, he helps translate work to the rest of the class,” says Ms. Neiri.

Danny is self-driven and hardworking, and this shows when nearing the end of the program, he gets a job and has to miss out on some classes. He made it a point to always show up early for class before work to get the notes or find out assignments that were given so that he would stay caught up in class. He committed himself to this program and always found a way of making it work despite having other responsibilities.

According to Danny, the class taught him that a camera is a powerful tool for learning because it helps us to capture beautiful memories forever. By learning visual storytelling, he learned to tell stories by using his senses that he could share through his pictures and writing. Danny says he is looking to explore a future in photography; above all else, he has learned the importance of teamwork and what it means to be a leader.

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Dorcas Uwera

According to Gillian Neiri, Photo Start lead instructor, Dorcus, also known as Giggy, is an impeccable young lady. She was the only girl in The Club Rafiki class of Fall 2022. Many would think being the only girl is a disadvantage, but Dorcus noted that she found a way to use it to her benefit. “I learned to be a leader, be responsible, coach other students, and be independent. Being the only girl in the class helped me progress.”

Dorcus continues, I have been a student since the beginning of the course. Several girls were in class with me when I started, but they eventually left the program for various reasons. However, I stayed because I believe that in our community, many girls fear being out there and learning the arts. But I am capable of doing so, and I am proud to be learning how to be a good photographer, create memories, and make a name for myself.

As the only lady in the program, the gentlemen treat me with the utmost respect, allowing me to learn different things from all of them. I am grateful for this opportunity.

Ms. Neiri commented that she had been an outstanding class representative in photography. She noted that Dorcus is always helping her classmates, needing more Kiswahili or English knowledge to translate their written work for our other PhotoStart trainer Gaireyah. In most cases, when assignments are handed out in class, the boys tend to borrow my phone for practicals, and I am always happy to lend it to them. I am glad my classmates and instructors recognize my generosity and hard work.

In conclusion, I have a promising future in training and photography. I am excited to see where my skills and dedication will take me.

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Uhiriwe Manzi Thiery

Uhiriwe Manzi Thiery was a student in the Fall 2022 class at Club Rafiki. The Photo Start program had a significant impact on Thiery’s life. He says, “It made me great and better. Before this class, I was not able to stand in an event and take photos, but now I can.”

Furthermore, going through the Photo Start program has also impacted Thiery’s view of his community and his ability to tell their stories. He says, “It has made me more creative in telling stories and also through photography. I am also able to take pictures of people in my community with confidence and good results in the end.”

Beyond photography and storytelling, the Photo Start program has also impacted Thiery’s day-to-day life. He says, “The program taught me time management skills and also leadership, especially when I taught an editing class.” Thiery says, “I envision myself as becoming one of the best photographers in Kigali.” This was evident by his borrowing photography gear outside class, especially on weekends, to photograph some events from home, like graduations and friend photoshoots. He is the only student who has shown self-drive into trying photography outside our normal class programs.

Moreover, Thiery has also learned other life lessons through photography and storytelling. He says, “To be open-minded with anything that comes my way. What is not an opportunity is a lesson; we learn every day.”

Leisy Grisel Mamani Quispe

Until the Photo Start program, Leisy had never been particularly interested in photography before, but as Leisy said, “ the idea of being able to capture and keep memories excited me. ‘During the Photo Start program, Leisy and her classmates were taught the foundations of photography, including angles, lighting, focus, single subject vs. multiple subjects, and other various techniques. It wasn’t until later, on a trip where Leisy took a photo with a mirror effect, that she fell in love with photography. Leisy said, “I loved the way the reflection of the landscape was captured in the photo. That experience impacted me greatly, as it improved my perception before taking the photo and taught me techniques for using light.”

According to Leisy,” after completing the Photo Start workshop, my vision and approach to photography changed significantly. I gained a better understanding of how to capture photos with a story, which has impacted not only my photography but also my daily life. The program has helped me capture mundane moments but hold great value in memory.”

“The workshop has also profoundly impacted my view of the future. I now have a greater appreciation for each person’s talents and knowledge, which can be shared and transmitted through experiences. One of my most unforgettable memories from the program was visiting a cemetery and using different photography techniques I had learned.”

Leisy now believes that photography is a powerful tool for learning because it allows us to convey a story through a single photo. It captures the essence of a moment and will enable us to revisit and share that moment with others. “Overall, the Photo Start program has taught me to appreciate the beauty in the world around me and has given me the skills to capture it in a photo,” says Leisy.

Nifa Siema

Fast forward two weeks and Nifa had totally transformed. Once she warmed up to the team and fell in love with the camera, there was no stopping her! The beauty of photography is that we don’t have to use words to communicate. By sharing cameras and working in groups, the other students gradually accepted her, and she slowly started integrating with them. Formerly a quiet child, Nifa is now confident and outgoing. Her story is why we incorporate social emotional learning in our photography programs.

Samuel Kolile

This was his first solo project, and it was a food photography assignment, which is not the easiest genre to master. He was up for the challenge and produced some mouth-watering images which you can see at www.potentash.com Opening doors to opportunities like this is just one of the ways Photo Start is changing the lives of young people in Kenya and beyond.

Akili Dada

Her photographs, depicting a day in the life of two teenage girls, were featured online and in the best-selling book. That exposure garnered her a spot in the U.S.-traveling exhibit, Photoville. Sarah has received numerous awards including the “Girls’ Voices for Change” international photography contest. Now earning a living as a photographer, Sarah has not forgotten Photo Start. She spent two full days teaching students and sharing the impact photography has had on her life.

Markson Ombati

Markson was one of three students selected to work on a special Photo Start assignment photographing a community football match. One of the match organizers was impressed with Markson’s images and offered him a paying job to shoot future matches! His success has lit a fire within other students, giving them hope that they, too, can earn with this craft.

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