Young Life Lite

SeniorSnap!

Not Pictured

In the senior section of a high school yearbook that might as well read: Not known. Not remembered. Not celebrated.

As a leader with Central Denver Young Life at East High School, Andy (“Kino”) Kinomoto thinks graduates of Denver public high schools deserve some lasting recognition for graduating despite the hazards of available drugs, gang violence, family instability and the everyday pressures of high school.

Not pictured? Kinomoto, a graphic designer by profession, had a different vision for seniors who might only be remembered with a silhouetted placeholder in their high school yearbook. He organized an event called “SeniorSnap!” which provides Denver high school seniors with professional portraits while building community at the same time.

Picture This

The idea for SeniorSnap! came from a Facebook message. “Kino, yearbook photos are due Friday and I don’t have one. Can you help?” Kinomoto responded by scheduling a photo session for the senior at a nearby park. When the student posted those photos on Facebook, “It blew up,” said Kinomoto. “I got more requests than I could respond to. It broke my heart.”

It wasn’t only that Kinomoto had a heart for high school kids. He had a past. In his Seattle-area high school, Kinomoto had been the design editor of his school’s yearbook. He knew some of those “not pictured” had dropped out. Some had moved. Others submitted nothing because there was no money for a senior portrait, nor family awareness of why it mattered. When Kinomoto was deluged with requests for senior portraits “it reopened a hurt I had for those kids who might be forgotten. That’s when I wondered what could be done.”

Was there a way to unite a community of professional creatives and caring adults to meet a need among Denver metro high school students? There was.

But the only snappy thing about the process was the event’s name.

Costly Gifts Freely Given

Kinomoto spent a year praying and brainstorming, networking with photographers, recruiting donors and volunteers, organizing logistics, promoting SeniorSnap!, and crafting just the right message about the event. Kinomoto took care to limit the use of the word, “free.” This would be no handout distributed by a “swoop-in savior.” Kinomoto was committed to preserving the dignity of the graduating seniors while protecting the value of the photographers’ talents. 

The press kit made it clear that SeniorSnap! would be a celebration that provided seniors and their families with access to amazing portraits. The students were honorees, not charitable causes. The portraits were gifts, not freebies. The event was a neighborly act, not a mission project.

To help impress upon the students the value of the portrait, Kinomoto used an online application for reserving a photo session. Seniors responded to prompts about their advice to incoming freshmen, their hopes and dreams for the future, and the people in their lives who had influenced them.

Mile High Smiles

On Sept. 13, Kinomoto’s plan came into focus. With a corps of leaders, photographers, makeup artists, volunteers from The Summit Church, and cases of water, snacks and pizza, Kinomoto welcomed the 27 students who’d be photographed throughout the day. Not knowing what to expect, the organizers were unglued by what they saw. Kids arrived looking red-carpet ready. Some had parents by their sides and others had three changes of clothing. One senior, Amanda, was so excited, she’d been up since 3:00 a.m. just getting ready.

Bryan Barley, pastor of The Summit Church (and event location) said, “The kids just seemed to have so much fun, and felt deeply valued and honored to have high-quality pictures capture this significant moment in their lives. The parents not only beamed with pride, but were treated with real respect in the process as well.”

Commenting on the collection of stunning portraits, Amanda said, “The beauty in the pictures didn’t come from what we were wearing, but from how the photographers and volunteers made us feel — like they really cherished us. What came through was how happy and grateful we were.”

Central Denver Area Director Eric Ebel said, “We are always trying to come up with ways to come around our students holistically — offering more than great club talks and a ride home. Often what is published about youth in our community is negative and tells a hopeless story. We wanted to tell a different one.” 

A Picture and a Thousand Words

The 27 albums available for view in Flickr or on Facebook tell a powerful story. A story about Gabriel who thanks his mom and wants a career helping kids; and Anya who hopes to be the second person in her family to get a college degree; and Dawite who credits his dad for his successes because he “works so hard for us and never complains.” And Amanda, who’s waiting to hear from nine colleges — and hopes to be a part of Young Life wherever she attends.

What a loss it would have been had the faces of these 27 been omitted from their yearbooks; these seniors who are anything but forgettable. As the enduring yearbook inscription goes, they’re 2-beautiful 2-be 4-gotten. And as Ebel describes them, “image bearers” of the God who delights in them.​​​