Outside the Lens volunteer helps San Diego students see their best selves

What Francesca Brunner loves about the students she meets as an Outside the Lens volunteer is their honesty, curiosity and creativity. What she loves about Outside the Lens is the way the photography-focused nonprofit helps the students see those same qualities in themselves. Maybe for the first time.

“What is so great about about these projects is that they let these kids see themselves reflected in their art, and it is so different from what they see in the mass media,” Brunner said during an interview in the group’s Liberty Station office and gallery. “They see real people up there being celebrated, and they are super proud of that.”

Founded in 2001 by Elisa Marusak Thomson, Outside the Lens uses photography, videography and digital media to help young people tell stories about themselves, connect with their communities, explore nature and document the issues they care about.

In addition to its workshops and camps, the nonprofit organization offers outreach programs that focus on under-served and at-risk youth throughout San Diego County. Brunner has been a part of those programs since the beginning. Before the beginning, in fact.

A painter and illustrator, Brunner met Thomson in the early 2000s when they both had kids enrolled at the Children’s School in La Jolla. Casual chats about school and parenting grew into longer conversations about the power of art (Thomson is a photographer) and its potential to help children learn and grow.

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