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Behind the Lens at Denise Louie

Posted by Lisa Merrill

“If you see a gun, don’t touch it, even to throw it in the garbage.  Run and tell an adult in your house.  It’s their job to keep you safe.”

Looking through my camera at the circle of rapt 4-year-olds at Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC) on Beacon Hill, I realized yet again how much we ask of our preschools.

With half of Washington’s children unprepared for Kindergarten, there’s a lot of vital work to be done.  While DLEC’s Head Start program focuses on school readiness, its scope goes beyond academic and social/emotional skills to include other essentials for children’s healthy development such as nutritious lunches, exercise, parent education, and on this day, a gun safety talk.

A professional photographer and long-time contributor to the work of Social Venture Partners, I volunteer with some of the nonprofits SVP funds and strengthens, helping them tell their story to potential clients, volunteers and funders through compelling images.  It’s challenging and rewarding work, and gives me an up-close perspective on stellar organizations tackling huge societal challenges.

Earlier this winter, I was privileged to witness and photograph many special moments at DLEC’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs.  I came away deeply impressed with the vital work DLEC is doing.  Serving more than 300 children from birth to age 5 and their families, many from immigrant communities, DLEC is a leader in early childhood education.  Executive Director Janice Deguchi was recently named a 2013 Superhero for Washington Families by ParentMap magazine.  I wish all kids could benefit from an organization of its caliber!

UDLEC’s Beacon Hill Head Start facility is welcoming, clean, and colorful.  I photographed teachers as they interacted with small groups of kids in a variety of activities. Encouraging and enthusiastic, each got down on the floor to engage young learners at their level, literally.  The children quickly forgot about me as they played, explored and learned at craft tables, reading nooks, pretend kitchens, tubs of water toys, and a computer.  A large rug by a window was the site of a new community as masterpieces of blocks were created piece by piece.

A bell signaled it was time for clean-up, hand-washing and lunch.  I photographed the day’s designated table-setters as they precisely folded napkins and counted plates and silverware. Once everyone was seated, the children took turns serving themselves a healthy meal – noodles, greens and fruit – carefully pouring milk from kid-sized pitchers. I found myself thinking about their many counterparts playing alone or watching TV or perhaps hungry for a nutritious meal.

After lunch, I was surrounded by kids on tricycles doing loops around the playground, while others shrieked by in carts pushed by classmates, and two girls pumped their legs on a swing trying to go higher and higher.  My experience photographing festivals and my own kids’ sporting events proved useful as I did some fast-paced action photography, capturing moments of glee in images for Denise Louie’s website, annual report or other communications.

A few weeks later I photographed a boisterous group of toddlers and their young mothers at DLEC’s Early Head Start (EHS) program, which recognizes the huge impact pre-preschool experiences have on brain development and a child’s future success. Blocks were stacked, goo was mixed, and teachers gave parenting tips in Spanish.  A few tears flowed when the moms went to an adjacent kitchen for a cooking and nutrition class.  Later, while the just-baked healthy pizza was devoured, a member of DLEC’s Policy Council urged the mothers to attend an upcoming meeting and get involved in their children’s education.


Since our partnership began in 2010, SVP has made grants of $140K to Denise Louie. While this financial capital is especially important due to cuts in government funding, SVP’s human capital is transformative.  SVP Partners have worked with DLEC staff on leadership development, board development, human resources planning and other projects which enable DLEC to expand its capacity to have an even greater impact on our community.

If DLEC’s work intrigues you, I urge you to learn more and consider investing your own funds and/or skills in this worthy organization.  Find out more here >>

My husband and I joined SVP in 1998 because we wanted to donate our resources and skills to carefully vetted non-profits tackling huge challenges.  15 years later we’re as passionate about SVP as ever, and I’m proud to serve on its Board of Trustees.  My next pro-bono photo project will be for one of SVP’s investees, and I’m confident it will be as challenging and rewarding as my work for DLEC.

To see more of my photography for social change organizations in the Seattle area and around the world, visit www.merrillimages.com.  You can check out my non-profit gallery here. You can also see my photographs in DLEC’s recent Annual Report.


Lisa Merrill is a long-time SVP Partner and board member.  She is also one of SVP’s 240 volunteers, who we honor during the 2013 National Volunteer Appreciation Week. 

One Comment:

  1. Pingback: Social Venture Partners » Lisa Lisa & College Jam

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