Viewfinders: Looking through the lens to support at-risk youth

Eighteen months ago, John Knorek developed the program Viewfinders. The organization lets children from middle school to high school explore who they are through photography workshops at schools around the country.

During the month of November, people can vote online for the charity they think most deserves the grant, including Knorek’s program.

“Viewfinders is about giving a voice to kids by allowing them to define where they are from through digital photography,” Knorek said.

Knorek challenges students to find their story when he visits schools across the country.

“I want you to take pictures that will show me what it is like to live a life in your town,” Knorek said.

Deborrah Pagel, art teacher at The High School of Saint Thomas More, 3901 N. Mattis Ave., in Champaign, said the workshops are very beneficial for kids because it gives them an opportunity to talk to someone who is really experienced with cameras.

“This not only allows them to learn how to take pictures, but also how to manipulate the images into art — giving them an artist’s eye for the camera,” Pagel said.

Besides his work with Pagel, Knorek is currently working on two projects to expand Viewfinders even more.

One of Viewfinder’s primary goals is to teach children about their peers’ lives in other parts of the country. Because of this, Knorek is working with a friend who works with the Paul Newman Foundation and terminally ill children. Knorek said he hopes these children can offer a perspective to children everywhere that not many get to see.

John’s other project is a course manual he intends to distribute to teachers who are interested in offering photography to their students. The manual can be used as a supplement to the teacher’s current curriculum.

In order to fund these projects and other plans, Viewfinders is part of a Pepsi research grant.

According to Ken Tsuchiya, Knorek’s associate at Midnight Oil Advertising, this is exactly what Knorek wants to do.

“John is very passionate not only about Viewfinders, but about life. We take great pride in … (seeing) Viewfinders grow from the ground up,” Tsuchiya said.

People can vote every day for Knorek’s program for the month of November on its website,