Each year we strive to provide scholarship support to more students who want to attend our programs but can't afford to.  Last year we reached an important milestone. For the first time, we were able to offer financial support to every qualified scholarship applicant. Each of the 33 teens and adults who received scholarships added to the creative diversity on our campus, but perhaps none more than four quiet teenagers from the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

MMW+C Instructor Emily Schiffer first began working with Lakota teens in 2005 when she founded a photography program built on donated cameras and equipment. The dedicated darkroom housed in the local YMCA became a favorite gathering place for teens seeking a creative outlet in a community where artistic opportunities are rare. Emily also understood that providing experiences off the reservation, where the teens could meet working creative professionals, would help them visualize a future in the arts as well as a way to share their unique stories with a wider audience. 

Three generous donors provided the funding that brought high school students Miah Phillips, Ashley White Wolf, Jessie Carlson, and Summer Dupree to Maine to attend Emily's Young Creative Darkroom workshop. It was the first time some of them had traveled beyond the borders of South Dakota.
 
Suddenly immersed in the creative atmosphere here, the teens quickly recognized cultural differences, particularly in communication styles. Many Native Americans avoid direct eye contact, and are more reserved in their manner of self-expression. "The thing that surprised me the most was how different the people were," said Ashley White Wolf. "At first it was difficult for me to adjust to the differences in cultures, especially the way people approach and talk to each other. Where I am from, it is disrespectful to look someone in the eyes while talking to them. Here it is considered a sign of respect."
 
Miah, Ashley, Jessie, and Summer lost no time in exploring their surroundings, creating ghostly images in Fort Knox, subdued landscapes along the foggy coastline, and portraits of a young island resident who introduced them to her own isolated community on Monhegan. Back in the darkroom, they created paper negatives and multiple exposures, stained prints with tea and bleach, and painted with liquid light. 
 
Although they worked closely together throughout the week, the four soon began to draw inspiration from the buzzing artistic hive around them. They saw creative teens and adults everywhere they looked, shooting photographs and film, directing actors, setting lights, experimenting with cameras and software, and conversing about art from sunrise to sunset. "I come from a place that doesn't have a strong artistic community, and I've never encountered so many dedicated and knowledgeable artists," Summer told us. "I learned so much that I didn't know before."
 
Beyond being culturally reserved, Miah Phillips was also extremely shy, and had always found it difficult to make friends. When two of the project's donors visited our darkroom to learn more about the students' work, Miah was unable to communicate and visibly uncomfortable. But the more time she spent with other creative peers, the more confident she became. "I was scared at first. I thought I wouldn't make friends and I was really shy about meeting people. But then I realized that everyone was being nice to me, so I decided to do the same," Miah told us. "Everyone told me my pictures were great, and I really liked being appreciated. This was the first place I've been where all my friends were artists. It's like being part of a big family. Everyone around me inspired me to be more creative, to be myself."
 
As part of the celebration of student work that happens every Friday, the teens prepared a slideshow of their best images to present to all the students and staff on campus. Ashley, who had initially found the culture of direct and emotive communication so challenging, collaborated with the instructor of our Audio Storytelling workshop to record the slideshow's soundtrack, a captivating Lakota song that she sang a cappella. Ashley later told us how her initial discomfort had been transformed. "The experience made my social skills better and boosted my self-confidence. Nobody judges anyone here. You can just be you."
 
Watch the complete slideshow of the Cheyenne River students' work
 
The Cheyenne River students maintain contact through social media with the new friends they made in Maine. Miah has kept in touch with us, too. After returning home,she wrote to tell us that she transferred to a new school, where she has joined sports teams and clubs, made many new friends, and was recently elected class president. She 

has also begun saving money so that she can return to Maine this summer. "There are a lot of decisions to be made about my future. I want to do photography, filmmaking, maybe 
acting," wrote Miah. "Being in Maine was like a practice for me, because I wanted to see how it would be meeting new people and being away from home. I didn't get homesick. I loved all the friends I made there and I really didn't want to leave. It inspired me on so many levels, in so many ways."
 
Last year, MMW+C distributed more than $55,000 in scholarship support to teens and adults looking to advance their skills in photography, filmmaking, book arts, and writing. We have funds available to support students attending 2016 workshops as well as long-term and college programs. CLICK HERE to see the complete list of available scholarships and to apply. Some scholarships have an April 22 application deadline. We encourage all who qualify to apply.
 
If you had a transformative experience here at MMW+C, we hope you'll consider paying it forward. Help us bring more students like these to Maine Media.