Inspired by his passion for children, education and photography, retired schoolteacher Walter Bodle has mobilized an entire community. In just five years, Walter's volunteer vision of giving a few teens a few cameras has blossomed into an independent, non-profit organization, Youth in Focus, enriching the lives of well over 200 of Seattle’s inner-city youth.
Walter is retired after more than three decades as a public school teacher. For years he taught government at a high school in Compton, CA. While many of Walter's colleagues would leave the most economically disadvantaged area of Los Angeles and teach elsewhere, Walter persisted. Walter was tremendously committed to the kids and realized that what had the greatest impact on his disadvantaged students was a caring adult who reached out.
Bodle began by soliciting camera donations and leading teens on informal photographic field trips. Soon other photographers joined Walter in volunteering with the young people. After just a few weeks, an advisory board was formed.
Walter has increased his involvement and dedication by recruiting and training volunteer mentors, teaching classes and writing curriculum, requesting in-kind donations and supplies, performing outreach to social service agencies, speaking to numerous community groups, helping plan and organize benefit auctions, framing, matting and hanging the student exhibits and much more.
Along the way, Walter has inspired hundreds of others to touch young lives through photography. The program has grown to serve between 80-90 students per year through its year-round after-school and summer programs. Today, Walter is the executive director and earns a minimal stipend for occasional class instruction and reimbursement for transportation and other related expenses.
Walter's volunteer efforts positively impact youth in Seattle's Rainier Valley—the most diverse community in Washington. Youth in Focus actively recruits participants from social service agencies and provides the program at no cost to low-income families. By providing non-traditional activities and positive adult mentors during after-school hours, Youth in Focus presents youth with engaging alternatives to substance abuse, teen pregnancy and crime.
Youth in Focus has received national recognition from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities for its successful use of the arts in working with at-risk youth (Coming Up Taller, 1996). Graduates of the basic black and white photography program are encouraged to volunteer themselves as peer mentors, explore the digital photography session and pursue a photography-related work internship. Public exhibits of the students' work further help build self-esteem as they realize the value and importance that viewers place on the images they created.
Walter's leadership has attracted more than 100 community members who make Youth in Focus effective and cost-efficient as they assume volunteer roles of mentors, board members, and committee volunteers. Additionally, more than 300 individuals attend the annual Double Exposure fund-raising auction in support of Youth in focus.