by guest blogger Antonio Raphael
My name is Antonio Raphael and I am a Journalism student in my senior year at the University of Oregon. This summer I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone to find an internship where I could hone some of the skills that I have been learning in school. I grew up in Los Angeles, California so my original plan was to find work there. But that all changed when I walked into a career fair at my school’s student union and discovered the UO Portland Internship Experience, a 10-week summer program connecting students with over 50 nonprofit organizations in the Portland area.
After being accepted into the program, I had to choose: which nonprofit would offer me the opportunity to serve the community while also giving me the autonomy to explore my work as a photojournalist and videographer? I received several offers, but Elevate Oregon immediately stood out to me as a program in alignment with my values and also a place where I could be given the space to improve my skills.
Elevate Oregon is a mentoring program serving at-risk youth within Parkrose School District schools. With only 19 employees, the staff is small, but that made it easier to connect with the team. My supervisor helped me to understand how nonprofits work and helped me set goals for the entire summer.
Still, I had some anxiety and apprehension as to my ability to achieve my goals with Elevate. While I do have considerable experience working as a photojournalist and videographer, there was a learning curve for me as to how to work in a professional environment. I was used to being a freelancer. And I was just getting acclimated to Portland, a new city for me. What if I failed?
In order to get rid of my fears in this new environment, I just had to immerse myself and try to create.
For the first month of my internship, Elevate was deep in summer programming. I spent hours every day at Parkrose High School and Middle School, testing my ability to capture photo and video. I became a well-known face during Elevate’s 4-week transition programs for incoming 6th and 9th graders, making friends with the staff, showing Elevate kids my equipment, and talking to them about my chosen career. This helped a lot with my anxiety, but more importantly, it got me inside the frame… the more kids knew and trusted me, the better my photos and videos of them.
At Elevate’s one-week Community Basketball Camp in August, I really got it that the positive effects of mentoring on these students is real. I observed first-hand how Elevate Teacher/Mentors are supporting and empowering students. These kids see their mentors, people who look like them and understand what they go through, striving for excellence and setting the example of how they can live their best life.
As I got to know the Elevate program, I began to have specific goals for the images I wanted to get. I really looked to capture those one-to-one interactions between students and their mentors. Real moments, rather than trying to create a situation or stage an interaction. That became much easier the longer I was around, and the result was some of the most warm and spontaneous photos I’ve ever taken.
Another one of my goals at Elevate Oregon was to create two professional-quality promotional videos featuring the work of Elevate Oregon. The audio from an interview I did with the Executive Director, Donell Morgan, quickly became the story line for the promo.. Using the hours of video I’d taken with Elevate students and their mentors, I was able to lay powerful mentoring moments over his words, rather than creating a script.
Setbacks… and Pushing Through
On the first Friday of my internship I was working out at the gym when I started to feel some significant pain in my back. After a week with no relief, I decided to try physical therapy. Three weeks later, it was only getting worse, and I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning. There were moments when I couldn’t put my shoes on, couldn’t get off the couch. At times the pain in my calf and glutes was excruciating. That is when I realized it was time to get an MRI.
The MRI showed that, at the age of 21, I had a disc herniation in my lower back. This was very disheartening. As a videographer and photographer we have to really extort our bodies in weird and uncomfortable positions in order to get the shots we want. I was worried it would just be too much for me.
But at that point I was 6 weeks into my internship. I decided I was not going to quit. I told myself that I am a very strong person and that I could still live my life despite this. I got up everyday knowing that there would be some pain but also that I was working towards something truly special.
Creating Something Special
I’m not going to lie. There were many times during the summer when I wanted to quit because of my injury. But I stayed the course and was able to provide some impactful work over time. I built content for both promo videos throughout the entire 10 weeks. It was very satisfying to see all of my hard work connect in creating something meaningful when I finished editing the videos.
I documented the program from the inside, honing my technical skills and developing my instincts. I figured out that I have a talent for working with kids. And I created content for Elevate that they can use all year by remaining flexible in my approach and adapting my original project ideas to the flow of the program.
Being able to be a part of a special nonprofit like Elevate Oregon was very impactful for me. There were a lot of kids who were interested in my work and showed curiosity in how I became a journalist. This gave me a whole level of fulfillment. I was serving as a role model and hopefully influencing the next generation of journalists. I now have a new idea of my role as a creator and understand that I have the ability to change someone’s life for the better. The person that I am now is completely different from who I was 10 weeks ago and I truly thank Elevate Oregon for helping me grow my career forward.