Compassion, Human Condition, Humanity, Kindness, Society, STEM

A Journey of 10,000 Photos

A few years ago, Flickr promised a terabyte of image storage for life, and for a shutterbug like me, that was an offer too good to refuse.   When I became Regional Director for FIRST in Central FL, I opened a second account, to archive FIRST in Florida photos from tournaments and outreach events.

Then came the news, recently, that Flickr was ending the bonanza of free storage, limiting free accounts to 1000 images.  I have nearly 1000 images in a single individual album!

I went ahead and paid the discounted annual fee for my own personal account, but the second account I had, which was full of five years of FIRST related images – nearly 10,000 in total – faced deletion in January if I didn’t convert that to a second paid account, which I couldn’t afford to do, or manually transfer the images to my other account – which seemed a daunting task, since Flickr doesn’t offer a way to merge accounts.

Then I got slammed with a massive cold, and unable to do much of anything else, I parked myself at my laptop with hot tea, a box of Kleenex and a portable hard drive, and started the process of moving all the FIRST photos from one account to the other.  It was every bit as tedious as it sounds – downloading albums of 300 to 900 photos in a zipped file, extracting the images (into multiple smaller sized folders I finally discovered worked best) and then uploading them to the other account, titling, describing, and tagging appropriately.   Occasionally everything would time out, and I’d have to try again, or my cold-addled brain would accidentally download an album twice, or miss one altogether.

FIRST founder Dean Kamen enthusiastically explaining a match.

Eventually, though, 10 hours later, I’d moved all the albums over,and become enchanted anew by the images cascading before me, reminding me of what I’ve always loved about FIRST: the excitement, emotion and energy it evokes in the youth, and often the adults, involved, and how much I enjoyed capturing those moments.   I’ve always loved how much families and students enjoy seeing them, too, and saving and sharing them.

Maalav and Shrey(middle and right) on their FIRST LEGO League team a few years ago, and today as high schoolers on our FIRST Tech Challenge team (at right and left)

I also love finding unexpected things, like photos of FIRST LEGO League team members who ultimately ended up on the FIRST Tech Challenge team I coach, and seeing the evidence of the continuity of that experience for them.

Or the stunning visual impact of seeing again as children, the people I know now as young adults – and who still include me in their lives today.

I knew him when – my friend Joel today, as a recent grad of Pasco Hernando State College, and a decade ago, next to me as a founding member of Team Duct Tape.

I love the power of images, both their power to inspire and their power to remind. Sometimes, over the course of our daily lives,  when play becomes work, friendships tend towards hardships, or  hopes become challenges, it’s easy to lose sight of why we did something to begin with, to feel like we’ve drifted off course from the route we may have charted.

Photos, especially of youth programs like FIRST, where you can often see the same children, and adults over time, provide fresh perspective when revisited, especially five years worth of images over the course of ten hours.   It was like watching a digital zoetrope spin out before me, and as they did originally, the images made me smile.

Working as a youth mentor is always time well spent, despite occasional appearances to the contrary.  Results aren’t usually immediately obvious, or obviously appreciated.  But life is a long game and while working with youth can sometimes make it feel longer than usual, if you stay in it for the long haul, you start to see some successes.

Looking at those photos reminded me why I got involved in the first place – because of adults who got involved in my life when I was young, who saw a kid in need of guidance and decent role models, and helped provide me with a framework for healthy adulthood.

I’m glad I’ve been able to pay it forward to some degree, and to be involved in a platform where adults celebrate kids’ creative and intellectual achievements in a way that tries to elevate character above all else. It’s not always a perfect effort, but it’s a meaningful one, and I’m happy I was able to save a few thousand images that I think say a lot more than a thousand words.

Life’s hard, and some might say getting harder.  But we can make it a little easier by being there for each other, especially for the youth in our lives. Hopefully others can find some inspiration among these photos and a few more years down the road, some young adults and older ones can rediscover each other with fresh appreciation for the value of mentoring, and keep paying it forward.

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