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News / Clark County News

Students strike a pose with Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington’s new AI photo booth

Program helps youth express selves, show ‘that their strengths benefit the community’

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 17, 2024, 6:08am
4 Photos
Hazel Dell Elementary School fourth-grader DJ Sanders, 10, strikes a strong pose in an AI photo booth at the Boys &amp; Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington&rsquo;s Clinton &amp; Gloria John Clubhouse on Thursday.
Hazel Dell Elementary School fourth-grader DJ Sanders, 10, strikes a strong pose in an AI photo booth at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington’s Clinton & Gloria John Clubhouse on Thursday. (photos by Elayna Yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Students are striking their best pose with the help of the newest addition to Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the local chapter of Boys & Girls Clubs aims to showcase the power of community with its Empowered Together AI photo booth. Hoping to serve as a means for self-expression, the photo booth captures students’ images and transforms them into cartoon renditions. Students then select adjectives that resonate most with their identities.

“The whole point is to show everyone in this community that their strengths benefit the community and also help us grow,” said Nicole Aliotti, director of development and communications. “It has words on there, like ‘smart, funny and charitable’ — you get to pick your strengths. It just reinforces the positive things that everyone brings to the community.”

At the end of the experience, the photo booth sends each person a digital copy of their card and prints two physical copies the kids can trade with their friends or simply keep for themselves.

Photo ready

On Thursday afternoon, 10 bubbly club members lined up at the Clinton & Gloria John Clubhouse in Hazel Dell to strike a pose. Excited squeals filled the space while Development Coordinator Kayla Sousa fired up the booth.

“We wanted to do something that was representative of us as an organization but also kind of reflecting how the community has supported us and how we poured back into the community, as well,” Sousa said. “It’s just a really great place for kids to come and engage with our programs.”

Sisters Layla Davis, 7, and Laniya Mustin, 11, excitedly compared their printed photo cards.

Hazel Dell Elementary School student DJ Sanders, 10, stood tall atop a stool and flexed when it came time for his shot, before he encouraged a friend in line to join him.

“It’s very attuned to picking up all different backgrounds and features. So it does a very good job of resembling youth or the person taking the photo, but it’s new technology so sometimes it makes them look younger or older,” Aliotti said.

The Boys & Girls Clubs commissioned Portland-based For Good and Company to build the photo booth with a unique design. The spirals printed on the outside of the booth are meant to represent DNA strands, denoting how the club’s community is interconnected, Aliotti said.

The booth is also transportable and available for other organizations to rent for community events.

‘Reframing our approach’

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the Southwest Washington club’s enrollment, but now participation is almost back to what it was. The summer program will begin June 22, which is when participation tends to be the highest, Aliotti explained.

“Obviously when COVID happened, that lowered our numbers significantly, but it also gave us an opportunity to take a bigger look at safety and what a good youth to adult or mentor ratio was in order to make sure that people are safe,” Aliotti said. “We reframed our approach, and then we’ve slowly had to build our participation up over the years after COVID.”

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Average daily attendance at the Clinton & Gloria John Clubhouse is 500 youth. More than 1,000 kids are enrolled for the entire school year, and the club expects 1,200 to participate this summer, Aliotti said.

Although the Boys & Girls Clubs of America is the umbrella organization, donations made to the Southwest Washington club are funneled directly back into the local community, Aliotti said.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington was founded in 1999 and is dedicated to providing a safe environment for youth development.

“Our main aim as an organization really is to empower all youth to reach their full potential, especially those who need us most in becoming responsible and caring community members,” Sousa said.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.