Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kids! of the Month – September 2009 – My World Project

Each month, we showcase kids who are accomplishing amazing things. We hope that by telling their special stories, we will inspire other kids to accomplish their own amazing achievements.

If you, or someone that you know, has a special skill, talent or ability, be sure to let Amazing Kids! know about it! Simply complete our Amazing Kids! of the Month online nomination form!


September, 2009: The My World Project – A Collection of Photos by Some Amazing Young Photojournalists

By Shamala Pulugurtha, A.K.O.M. Writer and Researcher

Quotes of the Month:

  • “The workshop has improved my life by making me more aware [of] my surroundings.”
  • “If you want to learn about photography pick up your camera and start taking photos. Photography is not something you just learn, it’s something that you learn with your heart and develop a passion for.”- Kalina Fleming-Lopez, age 14, Amazing Young Teen Photojournalist and Student, Mike Hettwer’s photography class at 826CHI
  • “The goal was to show life in Chicago – in all its diversity, beauty and grittiness.”
  • “I knew the students would be very creative, but the astounding thing is that they produced 68 excellent photographs in this book on $90 digital cameras with only 6 weeks of shooting lessons.” —Mike Hettwer,  Teacher/Mentor, 826CHI, National Geographic Contributing Photographer, Author (
  • “Everyone should find a way to engage with a public school in your area…so that within a year we have a 1,000 examples of public-private partnerships.” — Dave Eggers, Writer, Editor and Founder of 826 and Once Upon a School

From The My World Project - Taken by an Amazing Young Photojournalist!

Our September Amazing Kids! Of the Month:

This September, as Amazing Kids! gets ready to kick off our first-ever “Through the Lens of Amazing Kids” photo contest for kids and teens, we are pleased to present the story of ten amazing young photographers whose photos were published in a book known as The My World Project.

The book shows the life in Chicago through the eyes of ten talented young people, in grades 7 through 11. These budding young photographers participated in a photography class taught by National Geographic contract photographer Mike Hettwer as part of a summer workshop at 826CHI, the Chicago chapter of the national 826 non-profit tutoring, writing and publishing organization for kids and teens.

We hope that the beautiful pictures taken by these young photographers and their story will help you discover the world of photography and to view the world in a new way. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to explore your own community through photography, or possibly discover your future career as a photographer?!!

Another Amazing Snapshot From the My World Project

About 826 and 826CHI

826CHI ( is the Chicago chapter of the national 826 non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Apart from Chicago, there are 826 chapters in Boston, Los Angeles, Michigan, NYC, San Francisco and Seattle. 826 Valencia (in San Francisco) was the founding site of the organization and was started by author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari in 2002 with the belief that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success and that great leaps in learning can be made when skilled tutors work one-on-one with students.

Today, the different chapters of 826 offer a variety of free programs and services throughout the school year and summer months including drop-in tutoring, field trips, specialized workshops, in-school assistance, and extensive student publishing.

The purpose of the programs at 826CHI is to provide a challenging and enjoyable method to strengthen each student’s power to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in his or her individual voice.

The My World Project

The concept of the My World Project originated during the TED Conference in Monterey, California in 2008. TED are yearly conferences (both in the United States and internationally) that bring together people from the fields of Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED), as well as activists supporting global issues, business professionals and more.

Each year, three special individuals are awarded the TED prize of $100,000 and are granted “One Wish to Change the World.” Some of the past recipients of the award have included Bill Clinton and rock band U2’s Bono. The TED website,, features a free, downloadable video archive of speakers from each of the TED conferences. (As they describe it: “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”)  These videos (and accompanying written transcripts) are an incredibly invaluable resource for anyone wanting to learn from some of the best and brightest minds of today!

When the founder of 826, Dave Eggers, was one of only three people awarded the prestigious TED prize last year (2008), his wish was that people would “find a way to engage with a public school in your area…so that within a year we have one thousand examples of public-private partnerships.” Dave inspired his audience by explaining that teaching a kid just for one hour, one-on-one for eight months increased their grade by one level! As a result, Once Upon a School was born, a website collection of stories of private citizens engaged in their local public schools, the purpose of which is to inspire more people to get involved helping their local schools.

Listening to Dave’s speech in the TED audience was Mike Hettwer. Mike is a renowned photographer and author who has shot dinosaur and archaeological expeditions for National Geographic. Mike is also associated with a Chicago-based design firm called Avenue.

Dave’s words had immense impact on Mike and he decided to volunteer his time to work with 826CHI and offer a photography workshop for the children there. Thus, the My World Project began. Mike provided $90 digital cameras to all the ten children who took part in the project along with photo lessons. He also provided the resources to publish about 40 copies of the book.

“The goal was to show life in Chicago – in all its diversity, beauty and grittiness,” Mike explains. They also got writing and editing help from NY Times best selling author Wendy Goldman Rohm and instructional designer Maria Barella. Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Alex Garcia also helped them with photo-editing.

Through the eyes of an Amazing Kid! Photo from the My World Project

Amazing Young Photojournalists

The My World Project involved 10 amazing young photographers who were 7th grade to 11th grade students. Incredibly, all the children were new to photography and had never taken pictures in any formal way! The students also got to keep their own photographs and analyze them.

“I knew the students would be very creative, but the astounding thing is that they produced 68 excellent photographs in this book on $90 digital cameras with only 6 weeks of shooting lessons,” says Mike.

Here are the names of the amazing students who participated in the project:

  • Rose Black
  • Jimena Castorena
  • Reina Delgado
  • Elisa Fabian
  • Kalina Fleming-Lopez
  • Lucas Gilbert
  • Aljendro Lopez-Black
  • Raquel Miranda
  • William Nieves
  • Rebekah Ward

Amazing Kids! Interview with Kalina Fleming-Lopez, age 14, Amazing Young Photojournalist

AK:  What did you learn from this experience, working with the other students at 826CHI and your mentors to create your very own book?

KALINA: “I learned things about writing and about photography. That having a photograph makes the writing have more base. And that the light in the day affects the photograph. Also, I learned that I, as a photographer, have a habit of not taking pictures of people, or culture; that I prefer the vast range of landscapes and sceneries. But, because of these things I have learned, I am able to develop as a writer and as a photographer and that, I am very grateful for, and will be.”

AK: What was it like working with respected professionals like Mike Hettwer, a contract photographer for National Geographic, to complete the project?

KALINA: “It was unforgettable, the way that I remember the things they taught. It was an experience indeed. Working with people who are professionals, knowing they live off the things that they teach us. Like someone who knows what they are talking about, because they are successful in what they do. It was feeling like you where doing something more than just a project; it made me feel special to get certain feedback.”

AK: In what way has this experience changed your life?

KALINA: “The workshop has improved my life by making me more aware about my surroundings. So now when I go take a walk, I feel like I need to carry a camera with me at all times. So at any moment, I’ll pull out my camera, and take the shot.”

AK: What advice do I have for other kids who might want to learn about photography or create their own book someday?

KALINA: “Some advice is if you want to learn about photography pick up your camera and start taking photos. Photography is not something you just learn, it’s something that you learn with your heart and develop a passion for. If you truly feel that photography is what you want to pursue, buy a camera, get a couple memory chips and start shooting. You can learn the other improvements later, but first find what you to capture in your camera.

Also, for some kids who might want to create your own book someday: Start whenever you feel right. It could be a novel, a picture book, graphic novel, fiction, non-fiction. It doesn’t matter, start when you feel an inspiration, because it takes a long time to get something you might find worth publishing or someone else might [see] the worth. To create your book, look for the opportunities and don’t them fly by, grasp them.”


The My World Project book, with its 68 photos and their captions, is insightful and thought-provoking, providing a new perspective on life from the eyes of these amazing young photographers.

But don’t take our word for it! 😉 You can purchase your own copy of The My World Project book on the 826CHI store’s website at:

Best of all, 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit 826CHI and as a result, the kids in their amazing afterschool programs!

Editor’s Footnote:  The photography workshop was so successful last summer (2008) that 826CHI offered the workshop again this past summer. Be sure to check their website in the coming weeks and months to see the results of the new summer 2009 book project from the amazing young photojournalists at 826CHI!

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