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Why I Dedicated Half My Life to First Exposures

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

We were really moved to hear Sarah Kremer's description of why she has been involved with First Exposures for 25 years, and to support our Elevating Youth campaign, she kindly allowed us to share her words and images. Sarah became a volunteer mentor in 1994 – just one year after the program started – and since then her role has changed and shifted as her career as an art therapist and mentoring professional developed. She's currently a First Exposures advisory board member, conducts our mentor trainings and evaluation services and is a much appreciated mentoring touchstone for staff, mentors and mentees.

These are Sarah's thoughts on why she has supported First Exposures for 25 years and why we need your help to continue #ElevatingYouth this fall. Give today to be part of the foundation of support that elevates a young person to achieve beyond what they thought was possible.

"As an adolescent and young adult, making art saved my life. Photography allowed me to communicate what was on the inside (chaos, uncertainty, anxiety, depression, as well as joy and excitement) and connect with the outside and with others. When I found First Exposures (FX) @firstexposures in 1994 when I was just 25 years old (and I'm not sure exactly how that happened now!), the opportunity to stand with a young person as she navigated her own world was incredibly exciting and rewarding. I was fortunate to be a mentor to 3 young women during the two or three years I volunteered with FX and was even more happy to help resettle the program when the original gallery hosting us closed. I also found a community of like-minded people who loved photography and wanted to support young people as a way to give back to their community. Volunteering with FX also pointed me in the direction of art therapy, and continues to inform me in how I can help my community.

The combination of creative expression with a community of positive adult role models is magical. I know this program is effective because of the stories I've heard over the past 25 years. I also have the great fortune to train mentors and mentees; support staff; and administer the evaluation program. The last several years I've been on the Advisory Board, too. I’m passionate about keeping it going, helping it grow, and sharing with the world why and how it helps young people be their best selves.

It's tough for anyone to navigate adolescence, and it's getting tougher, as I've witnessed through my continued work with FX and work in mental health with other programs and agencies. Young people now are facing the typical challenges with physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and psychological changes, as well as increased stress and anxiety as they worry about their uncertain futures and even the future of our planet. Statistics about an increase in suicide, suicidal ideation, and rates of depression and anxiety are a reflection of what's going on for adolescents now...

My donation to First Exposures' 2018 fundraiser

"Having not only one positive adult role model but a community of them is critical for these young people in @firstexposures as they develop into young adults themselves. It's difficult to "prove" that prevention-based programs are working, as we don't know what would happen to these mentees without them participating, and we can't say for certain that FX is the magical factor that helps. However, being a part of the program - even from my periphery - tells me that these young people are lucky to have the support, caring guidance, listening, and motivation to pursue their creativity in a non-academic environment. Mentees show up every Saturday during the year, at a greater rate than some of them even attend school (and sometimes at a greater rate than some of the mentors , but that's why there are part-time mentors to sub in 😀). The results from FX's evaluations and statistics are impressive:

  • Youth participating in FX will voluntarily spend about 150 hours on Saturdays during the school year with their mentors and the FX community

  • Mentors participating in FX will voluntarily spend about 200 hours on Saturdays during the school year with their mentees and the FX community (and with me as their trainer!)

  • The average length of time youth volunteer in FX is three years.

  • The average length of time a mentor volunteers with FX is four years.

  • Consistent, individualized guidance and caring support by mentors are key to the program’s success in youth outcomes, including engagement in learning, community connectedness, positive relationships, advanced life skills, and experience in creative expression.

  • According to FX's own evaluation, on average, mentees say their mentoring relationships strengthen over the course of the year and they feel strong emotional connections with their mentors.

  • One year, according to FX's own evaluation, mentees showed an increase of 61% in resilience factors! This number was so shocking to our evaluation consultant that she repeated the analysis several times to be sure. In other years, resilience factors also show an increase though not as dramatic...

Self-portrait from 2019 National Mentoring Partnership Summit during First Exposures' workshop on creativity and mentoring

"More stats from @firstexposures:

  • According to FX's own evaluations, mentors report being very well trained and supported, with over 10 hours of training each year, and also feel connected to the FX community.

  • Mentees overwhelmingly credit their participation in First Exposures for helping them become more confident and open-minded, improve their communication skills, spark their interest in photography/art, and learn or improve photography skills.

  • According to San Francisco DCYF's evaluation, 92% of FX mentees report that FX promoted diversity, access, equity, and inclusion, along with high levels of engagement, interaction, and support.

  • Since the program’s founding in 1993, over 90% of mentees have gone on to pursue a college education.

  • In 2019, 11 graduating seniors were all accepted to universities and colleges.

This year marks my 25th year with FX - HALF MY LIFE - and I couldn't be more proud to be part of the family there. Every year, at the Looking Forward Giving Back fundraiser and show, I see mentees and mentors who participated in the program 15, 12, 9, and even 2 years ago. It's difficult to keep them straight - there have been a lot of participants! - but they all still feel like FX is their program, even if they don't know anyone currently in the program. It's really exciting to see mentees all grown up and hear about their lives as they move into adulthood. All of them credit FX and their mentors for social emotional support and exposure to things they could not have experienced without the program...

First Exposures mentor training, Fall 2018

"For my 50th birthday this summer, I wanted to help @firstexposures in a tangible way... They’ve given me so much over the years, I’d like to give something back. ... Any amount is appreciated and valued...

There are many worthy causes to donate to these days - for the environment, for political action, for humanity on a larger scale. If you would like to make an additional donation to a program that supports developing young people into creative, confident, and informed citizens of our community, it will be valued! (You can always remove yourself from their marketing, though their occasional newsletters are pretty awesome, as they feature mentees' work and stories about the program). ...

Thank you all for your support of me in my development over the years - I am lucky to have such a positive and creative community of my own! 💞"

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