The Los Angeles Times Family Fund donated $25,000 and the Starbucks Foundation donated $20,000 to support the Venice Arts Art Mentoring program for low-income youth.

The program offers long-term mentoring at teacher to student ratios from 1:1 to 1:3 and provides opportunities for advanced participants to use Venice Arts’ digital labs, darkroom, equipment and gallery.

“Support from the Times Family Fund and Starbucks will assist young people” such as sisters Francesca Thomas and Alex Thomas, who joined Venice Arts programs two years ago, said Venice Arts spokesman Jim Hubbard.

“I used to wonder what I was going to be good at,” said 15-year-old Francesca Thomas. “Now I found it: darkroom. I found my niche.”

Her goal? To be “the best printer ever. I’m getting better and better.”

So good that during the spring, she worked as a Youth Art Mentor and this fall she will be the first young person to fill a newly expanded mentor position.

“It’s cool working with lead photographer Joanne, teaching other kids what I know and being in charge,” said Francesca Thomas of mentoring.

Francesca Thomas has come a long way in the nearly two years since she, her 13-year-old sister Alex and their mother moved from South Los Angeles to Venice.

Up until that time, the girls had not had much exposure to the arts.

However, Alex Thomas said they learned about Venice Arts during a presentation at their church.

“Photography was the first thing that caught my ear,” said Alex Thomas. “From there, we knew we would sign up.”

Now, the sisters have taken more than 20 classes, including digital art and film, but for both, photography has been their passion.

They are particularly moved by documentary photography and think it is an important way to expose world problems.

“I used to think that artists didn’t matter,” said Alex Thomas. “But then I learned you can really make a difference. When I started at Venice Arts, I thought photography would be a fun hobby, but now it’s a big part of who I am.

Alex Thomas described how she used to look for a pretty picture, but now when picking her strongest images for exhibition for example, she looks for the best image — “better composition, angle, light, that kind of thing,” she said.

Venice Arts considers foundation supporters such as the Times Family Fund and the Starbucks Foundation — as well as corporations, individuals, and the public sector — as partners in making a difference in young people’s lives.

“Without support from those who understand and appreciate the value of Venice Arts’ unique approach to mentoring through the arts, young people like Francesca and Alex would not have the experiences and opportunities that have been provided them,” Hubbard said.

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