When Lesly Tobon first looked down the lens of a professional camera, something within her clicked. She began to get curious about the things on the other side of the lens, a fascination that developed into a college major and career aspirations she might not otherwise have imagined.
Because of the dedication of nonprofit organizations like The Friends of EXPO Center — where Lesly first got to test out camera technology — and the financial support of Best Buy Community Grants, she and thousands of students like her get to open doors that help them see what’s possible.
Since 2007, Best Buy has awarded nearly $24 million in these grants to community organizations. The goal of the money is to boost the amazing work they are doing to show teens what technology can do for their futures. And this month, hundreds of nonprofits around the country are getting letters congratulating them on being chosen to receive one of these grants.
The EXPO Center is one of this year’s recipients. Located in Los Angeles, the center provides a safe place for students to get out-of-school mentoring while learning and using high-end tech. Programs include photography, music, video and design. Teens who participate can learn to find their voice, tell their stories and be empowered to create positive change. And, they’re able to see how technology can pave a career path.
It’s through this exposure that Lesly discovered her passion for photography. It led to a paid internship through the organization’s Summer Youth Job Corps program. As a contributing photographer and blogger for the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, her experience sparked a fascination about nature.
“I worked with a professional photographer and blogger, and she encouraged me to seek out my passion. I was drawn to photography because I love how a photograph can capture a story or a memory,” Lesly said. “I was also exposed to the sciences and wildlife and got curious about creatures, insects, plants and trees, and it definitely helped me want to explore more afterward.”
Science and justice
Lesly is now a college sophomore, majoring in human biology. It’s an area of study that dovetailed from her time photographing nature. Along with being awestruck by how things form in nature, she thinks about how things in a community can transform when given the chance. That’s why she plans to use her degree to work in public policy and advocacy, helping to educate people on important issues that might not be front-and-center for their communities.
“I want to make science more accessible to communities like mine, and I want to advocate for topics surrounding animal rights, global warming, and social justice,” she said. “Using science as my data point, I want to make a connection to public policy and inequality within the world. I want to inform people around my community of things that they may not otherwise be exposed to.”
Learning about photography and using state-of-the-art equipment at the EXPO Center led Lesly to follow a range of passions. Today, photography remains one of them.
“It’s still a hobby for me,” she said. “And through my advocacy work I hope to, like a photo, capture the progress my community has been making toward education and tell our story.”
Investing in futures
Stephanie Wells, executive director of the EXPO Center, said receiving Best Buy Community Grants has helped make stories like Lesly’s possible.
“We have really good kids who want to succeed, and their families are eager to make sure they get the best opportunities they can,” Stephanie said.
Grant funds are used for everything from updating technology software and equipment to training programs. The money is also used to provide educational opportunities and facilitate field trips to businesses and organizations in the Los Angeles area — anything that can increase students’ opportunities to learn what’s possible for them.
Marco Orozco, general manager of the Best Buy store in Compton, California, has had direct involvement in supporting the EXPO Center. Each year, leaders like Marco review applications from local nonprofits and help select the recipients in their areas.
“We were touched to see how their programs enrich the lives of teens in the greater South Los Angeles area,” he said. “Through their teen leadership programs, after-school enrichment programs and Summer Youth Job Corps, they offer the opportunity to develop new skills through technology, while developing job and life skills. We are truly proud to be able to impact this very important community.”
About Community Grants
Each year, the Best Buy Foundation’s Community Grants program provides funding to nonprofit organizations, prioritizing those that are committed to enhancing the lives of teens in underserved communities through technology and helping them build brighter futures.
With an average amount of $7,500, our grants help these organizations provide teens with hands-on learning opportunities that lead to skill development. This helps prepare them for future education and career success by letting them explore the latest technology.
Applications for the next round of Community Grants will be accepted starting in spring 2020.
To learn more about Best Buy’s Social Impact programs, click here.