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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

ProjectFocus Hawai'i Selects HUGS as its 2010 Partner

Shawn Nakamoto
Reader Submitted

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

ProjectFocus Hawai'i co-founder Lisa Uesugi photographs one of the participants of the 2009 internship which teaches at-risk children photography skills while building self-esteem.

ProjectFocus Hawai'i

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This year's theme is "Kindred Spirits" and over the next 12 weeks, ProjectFocus Hawai'i will work with 14 children from HUGS who have seriously ill siblings to foster self-esteem through the art of photography.

Founded in 1982, HUGS was the brainchild of a small group of volunteers from Unity Church in Honolulu who recognized the many challenges and stressors that families with seriously ill children face and dedicated themselves to establishing an agency that would provide support and compassion to help keep these families together. The mission of HUGS is to improve the quality of life for families who face the emotional and financial hardships of caring for a seriously ill child. The HUGS agency serves families with children, birth to age 21, who have been diagnosed with any illness, disease or condition that could potentially rob these young people of their lives.

According to Donna Witsell, executive director for HUGS, "The impact on a sibling when a child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness can be tremendous. Because so much attention needs to be directed to the sick child, siblings can often experience feelings of jealousy, resentment, fear, neglect and anger," said Donna Witsell, executive director of HUGS. "One of the unique things about HUGS is we focus on the entire family. Siblings and sibling issues take up a large percentage of our resources - often, to a larger degree than with our ill children. Therefore, we provide a support network for siblings so that they communicate openly about their feelings and interact with other children going through a similar situation."

"When a child is seriously ill, it affects everyone in their family. HUGS cares for the entire family through programs that provide support for parents and siblings of seriously ill children," said Laurie Callies, co-founder of ProjectFocus Hawai'i." "We selected 'Kindred Spirits' as our theme this year because it recognizes the important role siblings play when their brother or sister is ill. Many of these children, while trying to be supportive, are scared for their sibling and are struggling to deal with their own emotions and need for support. We hope our internship will provide these children with a creative outlet for expressing their love and concern for their family."

ProjectFocus Hawai'i co-founders Laurie Callies and Lisa Uesugi, both professional photographers and former teachers, start off the internship photographing each child. The children are then taught basic photography skills utilizing a medium format camera and are asked to photograph someone special in their life. Each young photographer writes a personal statement to accompany their best photograph which is paired with their own photograph and featured in a public exhibit at a variety of venues including Macy's Ala Moana and Honolulu Hale. This year's internship will have a slightly different twist: the children will be asked to photograph their ill brother or sister for their photography assignment.

"We are so grateful that Project Focus has selected HUGS siblings for this year's photography internship," said Witsell. "Because of the overwhelming emotional stress that many of these kids are experiencing at home, this program will definitely be a positive outlet for expressing their feelings and building their self esteem," she added.

ProjectFocus Hawai'i is a non-profit organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of children through the use of photography and to use this medium as a vehicle for enhancing self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-reflection. Independently funded through monetary and in-kind donations made by foundations as well as community and business leaders, a few of this year's supporters include Macy's Foundation/Macy'sWest; Na Lei Aloha Foundation; Blair Parry-Okeden; Long & Associates, AIA, Inc.; FUJIFILM Hawai'i; and Alan Wong's Pineapple Room. For more information on sponsorship opportunities with ProjectFocus Hawai'i, contact Laurie Callies at (808) 224-5995.

Visit www.ProjectFocusHawaii.com for details about the program. To learn more about HUGS visit www.hugslove.org.