Once upon time there was a girl named Ahziah Edwards, who learned that fairy tales do come true, thanks to the power of the New York Junior League (NYJL) and volunteerism. Ahziah Edwards, her sister and friends joined the NYJL Personal Empowerment Project (PEP) program to belong to a sisterhood of girls who support and empower each other by fostering their own community and professional future.
The new NYJL PEP committee hosts workshops in East Harlem at community partner SCAN (Supportive Children’s Advocacy Network) and recently, PEP held a session on what the young girls dreamed of becoming when they grew-up. Brook Christopher, NYJL Archives and Photography Co-Chair and a Getty Images Photographer who has been shooting professionally since the age of 12, was in attendance and when nine-year-old Ahziah saw Brook’s camera, she came right up to her and told Brook about her dream to become a photographer. Brook gave her her camera to use that evening and Ahziah immediately started snapping away and capturing beautiful images!
The exchange resonated with Brook who personifies compassion into action. So, on the heels of her assignment to photograph the NYJL Winter Ball, Brook partnered with SCAN to invite Ahziah to “work” with her on what would be her first photography shoot.
When Brook called Ahziah’s mother to let her know about this special opportunity, she said,
“You have no idea how much this means to us. Ahziah has not stopped talking about the SCAN workshop with you and your camera. Photographing the Winter Ball is the perfect setting for her considering even when we are having pizza she insists I set the table properly! She loves photography and being fancy.”
From the moment Ahziah arrived at the Pierre, Brook was a fairy godmother and together with her team, they created a truly extraordinary and magical experience. Ahziah was greeted by welcoming arms, smiles, and a bag full of surprises that would’ve impressed Mary Poppins! She entered the Pierre glowing and shared that “Saturday could not come fast enough. I just wanted it to be Saturday so I could be here [at the ball].”
It was a true Cinderella story… right down to the shoes! While Ahziah thought she was simply coming to photograph the evening, Brook’s ultimate goal was to create the experience of a lifetime for her and that she did! When Ahziah arrived, she looked at Brook and said, “I did not have anything to wear to the ball.”
Brook the fairy godmother was prepared! She had a specialoutfit ready, including a tulle dress fit for a princess, matching bracelet, glittery handbag and of course shoes! . Her magic worked and Ahziah’s smile and excitement lit up the whole room! But the most important gift of all came after she was dressed. Just before they entered the ball, Brook told Ahziah to look inside the handbag and there nestled next to some mints and lip gloss was her very own camera, courtesy of the NYJL and the Christopher Foundation for the Arts (CFFTA). As she opened it, tears of joy welled in her eyes, which were seemingly contagious to everyone around her. Ever the poised and thoughtful one in the room, Brook taught her how to turn it on and take a photo and they immediately got to work.
Management Council Secretary Sharon Bonanni said, “This was one of the best, if not THE best, Winter Ball experiences for me because I saw first-hand how we can literally change someone’s life…”
Ahziah lit up with joy and graced those of us at Winter Ball with an opportunity to remember why we all come together and the great things that can happen as a result. When her family joined, at the end of the evening, she ran up to her Mother, jumping in the air with a smile that words could never properly describe, and said, “This was the best night of my life, now I’m a photographer! Dreams do come true!”
“Ahziah’s overwhelming joy over the occasion was contagious,” said Kelley Burke who is the Program Director for SCAN’s Lehman Village Cornerstone Center. “When her mother came to pick her up on Monday afternoon, she thanked us for Ahziah getting the opportunity to engage in her passion for photography. Personally, I would also like to thank the New York Junior League as a whole as well as Brook for Ahziah’s amazing experience and for taking an interest in Ahziah and showing her that she is memorable.”
As for Ahziah herself, although the whole experience was memorable and “made me feel like a princess,” she says one of her takeaways from the evening comes from an NYJL volunteer who offered her the sage advice that “it’s okay to be scared to take pictures because you never know when something that you think looks ordinary looks beautiful.”
Brook Christopher volunteers because there are few things in life that leave her heart feeling as full. Little did she know joining the NYJL in 2008 her everyday values would be transformed. “The gratitude I have for an organization that inspires me to constantly contribute to the goodwill of our human experience, as far as how we can work together to make a difference, is tremendous.”
It was a picture perfect evening!
The Personal Empowerment Project (PEP) is NYJL’s 115th Anniversary Project. This committee focuses on career mentoring for high school girls by opening the students’ minds to different career paths. PEP introduces the mentees to several careers and helps them to understand the education and experience required to pursue such a career. The core message is to stay in school, and demonstrate the value of a higher education.