What Inspired Me to Tell Nonprofit Stories More Creatively
There’s an old building at the end of the long strip of surf shops and restaurants in the small tourist town of San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d surely miss it. But when you look closely, you’ll notice the character of the old structure and, of course, the graffiti that reads BPP in neon pink, green, and purple. It stands for Barrio Planta Project, a nonprofit organization that offers art and English education to the kids of “La Planta,” the village where the residents of this small surf town reside. Most importantly, BPP strives to inspire confidence and empower their kids to express themselves creatively. Like many non-profits, BPP provides valuable work to their community. But their achievements are lost among the clutter of the internet. The last thing they needed was another long, boring video about how the organization worked and who ran it. Instead, we decided to show the success of BPP’s programs in action. By using creativity to promote creativity, our short video was a collaboration with the BPP kids. We made sure to highlight their awesome personalities and utilize their unique ideas.
Dyani Makous, founder of BPP, started this educational nonprofit as a way to give back to the youth in the community that welcomed her into their houses and hearts while traveling through Central America. She and I had actually attended Emerson College together, and I was looking to use my professional skills as a filmmaker and producer to help people in need. So I corralled a few of my trusted friends, Kelly Rego, Lauren Spiegel, and Sabina Padilla, to produce our first-ever nonprofit video under Weird Pixel. With our combined artistic and producing talents, we set out to create an aesthetically pleasing and inspiring video for BPP that would amplify their reach and widen their donor base. Instead of just the same old nonprofit video, we wanted to help redefine the way BPP communicates with their audience.
At the time, BPP was preparing for the biggest show they’ve ever done, “Grease,” but they didn’t have many resources to work with and poodle skirts weren't at their disposal. So, we offered to collect costumes for the show and we went on a massive hunt for anything “Grease” related. We ended up with three large bags stuffed to the brim with leather jackets and pompoms galore. In a few short months and with the help of our generous family and friends, we crowdfunded our production costs and ended up filming with BPP in early February 2013. Based in a low-key Nicaraguan surf town, BPP was a perfect fit for our first foray in storytelling with nonprofits, but the characters we met were key to finding the story.
Nine year-old Kevin Fernando Villato Bermudez was one of BPP’s exceptional students. Like most Nicaraguan kids, he loved playing basketball, dancing, and spending time with his family. I think that Kevin’s confidence and willingness to converse with us was what made him stand out the most. Many of the children were speaking broken English and asking questions. Kevin was among the most inquisitive, specifically about our camera and audio equipment. After spending a couple days watching the kids rehearse for their performance of “Grease,” we discovered Kevin was very respected among his classmates, serious about school, and really comfortable performing for an audience. According to Dyani, Kevin was known as leader among his classmates and his creativity and performance abilities gave him a unique confidence.
Kevin truly represented the BPP mission of bringing confidence to kids. So he was the natural choice to tell their story, which we lovingly titled “Listen Up Adults.” After spending some time drafting an outline for the script, Kevin and Kelly then adjusted it to work with his English skills. We shared the script with the other students and many of the them jumped at the opportunity to help create the project. Breakdancing was a big part of that and they certainly proved that Nicaraguans can dance. The message of the video focuses on finding what’s unique about yourself and following your inspirations. Kevin urges adults, “What’s best for the world is you be you!”
Before leaving San Juan Del Sur, we spoke with Kevin’s mother. She said that Kevin was overjoyed to be in the video and was so grateful for what we taught him. Not only that, but Kevin is now interested in pursuing a filmmaking career. Although short on resources, we’re talking with Dyani about plans to teach her students how to make videos using Vine and her iPhone. She hopes to make bi-weekly episodes about their current workshops. And Kevin will, without a doubt, be leading the charge. Despite all the woes and worries of producing this video, like scheduling around noisy basketball games and wrangling 20 plus kids at a time, it was all worth it for the opportunity to hang out with Kevin. He’s an incredible kid and we’re thrilled to be a small part of shaping his aspirations.
Since launching “Listen Up Adults,” the feedback has been wonderful and there’s no denying how special Kevin really is. Just as we influenced Kevin, he influenced us. Taking from what we learned with BPP, we’re working to create an even better model for helping nonprofits reach their audiences more effectively. So much of working with nonprofits relies heavily on highlighting the unique and inspirational traits they exude. We knew that we wanted to create a fun and inspirational video for BPP. But it wasn’t until we got to meet the kids, the teachers, and watch the school in action, that we finally grasped the full concept of the project. This was also crucial in creating a collaborative atmosphere for the kids and establishing their personal ownership in the video. Preparation is key in creating any nonprofit video, especially an international one. But keeping an open mind is also crucial. You never know when an awesome, little Kevin will cross your path and add his priceless magic to your project.
So here’s to you, Kevin. Stay awesome. The world needs more kids like you!
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