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Maine teens learn photography, gratitude during pandemic

The nonprofit, started by three young women during the pandemic, aims to send as many kids as possible to summer camp.

FALMOUTH, Maine — The pandemic found many of us turning to new hobbies or trying new things to pass the time. A trio of young women in Falmouth discovered a passion for photography, and turned it into a business.

Gratitude for Maine works to send as many Maine kids as possible to summer camp. It was created by teens Elle Foley, Sophia Turker, and Emma Bowden.

When the pandemic sidelined most summer activities in 2020, the young women found themselves without camp, and with nothing to do. So they got a group of friends together, contacted a local photographer for lessons, and learned to capture Maine through a lens.

"I love how you can go at different times of the day and you can get so many different shots of just one thing," Elle Foley, 13, said. "You can get different angles, see if you can capture different light and diversity. It's a really fun activity."

With so much free time that summer, the photos piled up. The trio also realized that, while they couldn't go to summer camp that year, many Maine kids have never been to camp.

That's when the teens launched Gratitude for Maine. The nonprofit sells cards and calendars featuring their photos, with a portion of the profits helping send other Maine kids to camp.

"When we had to sit out summer camp we hadn't realized before how fortunate we were to be able to have this amazing opportunity," Foley said. "So when we did have to sit it out, we got together and we said, 'There are kids in Maine that have never had this opportunity. Maybe they are in harder household situations, and they just don't get this amazing opportunity'. And we want to give that to them."

Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine

The three decided to donate a portion of their profits to the Susan L. Curtis foundation and its camp in Stoneham. It's their way of getting as many children in Maine as possible to experience the magic of camp. Their first donation was for $500 and they expect to donate another $1,000 in June. 

"I feel like we're like helping and showing people love," 14-year-old Emma Bowden said. "It just feels good."

"It feels amazing," Sophia Turker, 13, said. "I just feel like it's so nice to do something for someone else, and you feel so good after that."

With school in session, the girls are too busy during the week to tackle orders so they do it on the weekend. Sometimes it's a few minutes, other times a few hours. They say it all depends on the demand. Foley handles marketing, sales and web design. Bowden is in charge of accounting and operations. Turker is the designer and product manager.

Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine

"Our job is really reliant on all of us communicating, so, if I'm going to do a big blast, I say, 'OK, Sophia I need you to order product,'" Foley said. "And then Emma has to prepare and set aside time to make sure she can package. We package all of these by hand. We have a little note of gratitude and we tie a heart with every package. So that takes two amidst all of that. And we communicate a lot to make this all happen and work."

Gratitude for Maine now has a Teacher Appreciation Collection with hand-drawn artwork submitted by kids from around the state. They're looking to expand their website and collection of Maine photos by allowing children and teens to submit their own photos.

"Right now everything's kind of in southern Maine where we live," Turker said. "But if we get people from northern Maine submitting, it'll show the beauty of all of Maine, not just where we are and we really want to do that."

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