YOU Visionaries: A Multi-Media Apprenticeship for Teens
April 1, 2015 | Chicago, IL
Erie Neighborhood House’s Visionaries program is a multi-media apprenticeship within the Youth Options Unlimited (YOU) department in which teens, ages 14–18, learn elements of photography, videography, design and journalism. The program is funded by Comcast-NBCUniversal and After School Matters and is run by Erie’s YOU Digital Media Coordinator, Riza Falk. “Visionaries develops and empowers youth in many ways,” says Falk. “The program gives teens the tools and support to produce something they are proud of and often that is something they never thought they were capable of producing.”
Each fall, spring and summer, apprentices learn one or more aspects of digital media production through the use of professional level computer programs like Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Final Cut. Through the program’s partnership with Comcast, Visionaries has established the Comcast Youth Digital Media Lab, a high-tech iMac lab that has facilitated learning and computer literacy through the use of modern technology for the past five years.
Apprentices learn soft skills, too—collaboration, planning for success, problem solving and verbal communication—in the process of going through the program’s technical training. The summer session also includes the YOU Productions internship, where five interns help develop and direct the program while serving as mentors for current apprentices. The interns are typically current or previous program participants who have participated in Visionaries for multiple sessions. “Over the summer, it gives me something to do instead of hanging out on the streets all day,” says third-year program participant, Jose Hernandez.
In 2013, Visionaries apprentices took a lesson in entrepreneurship and started their own business, Four Star Creations. The business is entirely student-run with the help of Erie staff and Comcast’s continued support. “It’s an empowering piece of the program that gives our students the tools they need to create and sell their work. And, it provides them with the real world experience of running a sustainable business in a very modern way,” says Celena Roldán-Moreno, Executive Director of Erie House. Apprentices have created everything from the business name and logo to Chicago themed posters, notecards, wrapping paper and coasters. They have set up an Etsy store online and operate it out of the Comcast Youth Digital Media Lab.
And, just as with Four Star Creations, Visionaries continues to grow. Currently, Visionaries is teaming up with Erie House’s READS program, a literacy initiative for students enrolled in Erie’s After School program, to help illustrate social justice via superhero stories based on real life Chicago-centric figures. The program is also revisiting designs created during the fall session to produce a Chicago-themed Lotería set, a Mexican game of chance, similar to bingo. The grand opening will be held in Erie House’s Templeton Hall on Friday, May 8th from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
For aspiring college students like Andrea Aguilera, the unique opportunities the program provides are important. “Visionaries has given me a hobby to keep myself busy with after school,” says Aguilera, a fifth-year participant, “and it’s helped me figure out what I’d like to study in college.”