I’m Nathaniel Dennison. Founder and Executive Director of Through My Eyes Foundation. I wanted to take a moment to explain who I am, what this foundation is about, and give room for my team to do the same.
Tracing back the events in my life that brought me to this very moment, sitting here in Mexico writing this blog post. In my teen years, I was homeless for a stint. Not having what some might say was the most ideal upbringing, I found myself living on the streets. It was through people I met giving me a chance that I was able to pull myself from this level of poverty. I didn’t take handouts, and hid the fact that I was homeless while working as a cook at Denny’s in order to get myself out of my situation.
It was through the help of others that I found stability. Nobody ever directly gave me anything such as money, just a chance to empower myself. Something that has stuck with me all these years. Although I could go on forever with thanks towards people who impacted my life, it was Tresa Walker and John LaFlamboy who truly pushed me onto the path that came to realize TMEF.
John and Tresa are an extremely talented duo that create haunted attractions, films, theatrical productions, and so much more. Through chance of meeting them, they took me under their wing and fortified my work in the entertainment career. I branched out and began working on films, theatre productions, around the world, and most important of all I found photography.
Photography was an accidental career for me. I only took photos because I found myself in these amazing places working on film projects and wanted to document the times. My photography was noticed, and soon I was given photog jobs. I found myself traveling about to document life through the lens. My penchant for travel neatly mixed with my skills with a camera soon had me exploring our globe.
These travels, be it within the states or abroad, always had a knack for taking me into impoverished communities. Something inside me felt a tug each time. I could and still can easily remember my time being homeless. To remember not knowing each day if you would be able to eat. So I found myself drawn to these communities more and more. Eventually even getting to teach English within some of them.
Documenting poverty around the world has and continues to be a personal project of mine; though I wanted to do something that had a direct impact within these communities. It was while teaching English in Thailand that I realized how using my camera could create a positive impact. I was offered to work with non-profits and had an interview for the Peace Corps as well. Personal research into some of these started to really create a view in my own personal thoughts. I do not believe that handouts and charity are appropriate for approaching the issue of poverty. The way we view and challenge poverty must come from not just a good heart, but a good mind.
And so this started my journey towards founding Through My Eyes Foundation.
We create the most impact by working with the tools that we are most proficient in. For me, that was behind a camera. I sought to give these youth and communities a chance, to empower them. I used my own life as the starting model. By partnering with nonprofits and social workers, or just people who care, that we can back their mission and means of achieving it. We come into these communities and through working with the youth, pick 5 that will represent their community.
Taking some time to question them about their life and community; the good and the bad within. We get them to start thinking creatively and objectively. As their answers grow, we start to form a storyboard. When the story has been created, we give them our film gear and work out how this team could best capture this story on film. The method varies per community, but has shown that breaking it into 5 segments that each youth in the team can take on works best. Having the scheduling figured out, they begin filming. We stay with them to show them how to achieve the product they envisioned, but make sure that they are the ones doing all the work.
This is done within multiple communities. At the end of every working year, we will then host a multi-city film festival to showcase these youths stories. The money raised through the film festival ticket sales will go completely back to the youth. We will set up a payment system to pay for their education, the remaining balance to help them start a future.
The entire model of our nonprofit is to enable the youth to objectively look at their life and community. To critically think about their situation and how it could be within their power to start a positive change. We also take a portion from the film festivals and put it towards each community that we worked in for that year. It is up to the youth of the film to speak with people within their community and decide the best way to apply that money for the community.
We seek to empower. To give these youth and their communities a voice. I was homeless once, I had nothing. It was because of people that gave me a chance that I am writing this blog today. I seek to do the same on a much wider scale.
Follow us on this journey and reach out with any questions you might have. Be on the lookout for entries from the team behind Through My Eyes Foundation. Through better understanding us, I hope that it will be easier to understand the Foundation and the heart that goes into it.