Lisa Uesugi And Laurie Callies

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - September 01, 2010
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Everyone needs a voice, and no one needs it more than a child who has much to say.

This is the mission behind ProjectFocus Hawaii, a nonprofit organization founded by Laurie Callies (on right) and Lisa Uesugi in 2005 that uses photography to teach at-risk children to express themselves and gain perspective on their experiences.

Both former teachers and professional children’s photographers, Callies and Uesugi met six years ago and instantly bonded over their passion for capturing images. Within a year they decided it would be a good idea to share that gift with others.

“We decided that we wanted to do something for those kids in our community who did not have the means to pay for our services,” explains Callies, who lives in Kaimuki. “But Lisa and I are both former educators, and so we wanted to bring in an element of teaching.”

The 12-week photographic internship begins in late May with Callies and Uesugi taking a picture of the children before teaching them basic photography skills. The children then move behind the lens to photograph someone special in their lives. Each photog-in-training also is asked to write a personal statement about why they chose their subject, which is paired with their best shot.

“If we show these kids that they’re beautiful and amazing, they can share that with someone else as well,” says Uesugi, a third-generation Wahiawa resident.

They first partnered with Kuhio Park Terrace’s teen program and each year since have selected 14 children (ages 10-18) from other local nonprofits: Women In Need, Kids hurt too, children with incarcerated mothers, and Hale Kipa.

This year ProjectFocus Hawaii has teamed up with HUGS (Help, Understanding and Group Support), which supports families that are facing the emotional and financial hardship of caring for a seriously ill child. All of this year’s participants are siblings of the sick children receiving help from HUGS.

“In our program, we give them a voice through photography,” explains Callies. “Sometimes what they can’t articulate they can capture in film.”

All photos, both of and taken by the keiki, are on display at Macy’s Ala Moana now through Sept. 7. The exhibit, aptly titled “Kindred Spirits,” also will be up for public viewing at The Arts at Marks Garage Sept. 7-25, Kahala Mall Sept. 28-Oct. 6, Davies Pacific Center Oct. 7-20, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children Oct. 20-Nov. 5, Punahou School’s Thurston Chapel Nov. 5-15, and at Honolulu Hale Jan. 10-28 next year.

For more information, visit

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