Kids In Focus is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering and inspiring at-risk youth to reach their potential using photography to ignite their imagination and build their sense of confidence and value. Tapping into the power and universal language of photography, Kids In Focus enables children to gain a new perspective on themselves and their environment. The kids’ eyes are opened to their own potential for creativity and success and to new possibilities of connecting with others and the world.
Founder Karen Shell’s lifelong pursuit to help kids and families in need began in the early 90’s. After emerging from an abusive and challenging home-life as a child, she was driven to give back and help others by her early twenties. During her first six years of volunteering, Karen fed the homeless, played softball with the kids at Salvation Army, celebrated birthdays with the kids at domestic abuse shelters, took kids from the West Valley Child Crisis Center on adventures, mentored girls at Florence Crittenton, read to the homeless kids at UMOM, played kickball with the adult mentally handicapped at Civitan House, and more.
Karen soon began to create projects of her own. Her first was to fix up the Vista Colina domestic abuse shelter, including installing a playground and painting the buildings. One of Karen’s most notable projects is Picture Day which she coordinated for 20 years. Picture Day has provided free school portraits for up to 1000 homeless kids per year for students at both the Tempe and Phoenix campuses of the Thomas J. Pappas Schools for the homeless (later becoming Children First Academy). Hairstylists styled the kids’ hair, photographers put smiles on the kids’ faces, and McKenna photo lab printed a packet of pictures for these kids who would not otherwise have them. Karen also organized similar projects to provide family portraits for the families at UMOM homeless shelter and make-overs and portraits for the women at the Watkins homeless shelter.
Through Picture Day, Karen became close to the kids and staff at Pappas/CFA and she began mentoring kids there and creating additional projects such as shoe drives and reading programs. She also pulled together many donors to provide Christmas gifts for a grade of 25-30 kids each year. After becoming particularly close to a class of 4th graders for whom she provided Christmas, she began mentoring them and spending as much time in class with them as she could over the next five years.
While mentoring these kids, Karen created the first Kids in Focus project to teach them to see themselves and the world with a new perspective. At the completion, Karen was amazed by the transformations she saw in these kids she had known for five years. She realized she had finally found the way to really make a difference in these kids’ lives and turned Kids in Focus into a 501c3 which she has been growing ever since. Karen feels her whole life has been grooming her to create Kids in Focus.
Alongside her 26 years of service to the kids and families in our community, Karen has supported herself as a commercial photographer, photographing for advertising clients worldwide. Her three-decade career has continually reminded her of the powerful value of seeing outside oneself; her passion for life is a testament to seeing beyond one’s circumstances. In 2017, Phoenix Home & Garden magazine profiled Karen as one of the “10 Western Women We Admire” for her years of dedication helping those in need.
Familiar with the struggles these kids face and driven by the desire to empower their young lives, Karen created Kids In Focus in 2012. The first project was for a group of 18 kids that she had mentored closely on a personal level for five years at that point. Knowing this first group of kids so well gave Karen the opportunity to clearly see the profound positive impact the program had in their lives. She realized she had finally discovered the best way she could empower at-risk kids and she feels her life’s journey has been grooming her for this purpose.