Stages for Youth helps teens find their voice through filmmaking program

Many creative students don’t get the chance to express themselves and their talent in a traditional classroom environment, but Frank O'Farrell wants to change that.

So he started Stages for Youth, a program that focuses on teaching kids video production. But more importantly, he's teaching them skills they'll need to know once they graduate. 

“I think the question to ask is, ‘Are we preparing our kids for the world of work after they graduate from high school and college?’" O'Farrell says. "The short answer is no, absolutely not. There isn’t an environment where they get to develop these 21st century skills, which are crucial to success in the workplace. That’s really what Stages for Youth stands for — using the film discipline to prepare our young people for the workforce, particularly in the creative economy.”

O’Farrell’s son, who is now 18, struggled in a traditional school environment. While he was intelligent and creative, he wasn’t given the opportunity to express his talent in the classroom. His frustration led to O'Farrell creating an alternative avenue for success — Stages for Youth.

During the film camp, teenagers ages 12-19 are invited to create films. There are 15 students in each of the three sessions that take place throughout the summer. Within each session, students are broken up into three groups of five. Each group comes up with an idea they are passionate about, and decides how that idea can be made into film.

And in just two weeks, O’Farrell says everything changes.

“Magic happens. They sit down as complete strangers on day one, then create teams and go through the process of ideation, debates, negotiations and collaborations. Every single time, we are blown away by them throughout the incredible process.”

O’Farrell brings in professional mentors from the industry — production teams, screenwriters, photographers, editors, animators and more. 

“One of the things we’re trying to do is provide a roadmap for these kids by showing them there are possibilities in the creative economy, and how to get there,” O’Farrell says.

That roadmap seems to be working pretty well.

Many of the films produced during the camp have received recognition. One film won an honorable mention at the White House Student Film Festival last year. Another won an $8,000 scholarship to Watkins School of Design in Nashville.

“These are real, tangible results,” O’Farrell says. “These are solid outcomes they can add to their portfolio, increase their self-esteem, and help that belief that they can be successful.” 

Even though the biggest focus is on being creative and focusing on video production, O’Farrell wants kids to take away the skills that will help them succeed in the workplace.

“Kids don’t get the opportunity to collaborate and learn communication, critical thinking, problem solving, project management and time management skills. These things have been removed from our education system. They won’t be successful in the workplace if they don’t cultivate these skills.”

Do Good:

•    Register your child for the third session of Stages for Youth's summer camp, which begins July 25. Registration is $300 per child.

•    Connect with Stages for Youth on Facebook

•    Donate to help support Stages for Youth's mission. 
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