As Reel Grrls gets ready to begin its 15th year as a media-training organization, its executive director Nancy Chang reflected on the organization’s and her own personal growth in the past year.
Reel Grrls is a media-training organization that seeks to empower young girls and women ages nine to 21. Reel Grrls teaches media literacy and hands-on filmmaking production skills all year-long. Though the organization is gender-specific, it acknowledges that gender is a spectrum. Anybody who identifies as a girl are welcome to join their workshops and programs.
Since Chang joined Reel Grrls in September 2014, the focus has been trying out ways to set the organization in a different direction.
“I think this past year has been about rebuilding Reel Grrls into a version that is more accessible,” Chang said.
As part of the effort to rebuilding the organization that was founded in 2001, Chang launched a mobile program initiative with the goal of making storytelling more accessible to a diverse population of girls. This program teaches girls to make media and tell their stories using relatively affordable iPod touches instead of DSLR cameras and software.
An important feature of this program is that Reel Grrls is going out into the communities who may not have the privilege of coming to them. Though the program is well-intentioned, the organization has faced with some challenges.
Earlier this year, Reel Grrls went to Aki Kurose Middle School in Rainier Valley and hosted a nine-week program designed using their mobile program.
“When girls come to us, they’re ready to learn,” Chang said. “But when we go out to the community, that might not always the case.”
Chang described how the organization did not gain the trust of the students at the middle school immediately at the beginning of the program, who might have seen Chang and the Reel Grrls team as strangers invading their space. It was interesting, however, to see the students becoming more comfortable and proud of the work they did at the end, Chang said.
“I think that first program was definitely a bit rough, but I think we did our job by making sure we’re being authentic and supportive of their comfort level,” Chang said. “They were helping us learn where they’re coming from versus us coming with an agenda, “This is the kind of media what we want you to make.””
Chang said that experience gave her and Reel Grrls more understanding about young people. More than before, Reel Grrls is realizing the diverse talents and comfort levels of the craft of storytelling.
Reel Grrls does not expect every girl who participates in their workshops or classes to eventually become a filmmaker. Chang said people often asked her if the organization is a youth development organization or a filmmaker institution. The answer is both.
“A lot of what we’re doing is youth development first then hopefully they could become inspired and want to be filmmakers,” she said.
Even if filmmaking is not the goal, Chang believes Reel Grrls promotes other transferrable skills such as storytelling, media-making, and being critical of the media that youth are consuming.
Recently, Reel Grrls recruited Stephany Hazelrigg as its new program manager. Chang said they are exploring opportunities to place more Reel Grrls in the community by having students create short videos for non-profit organizations.
“My personal goals for Reel Grrls in 2016 is to continue to build organizational capacity to build out our programs to serve more young people, create more jobs, and work collaboratively with other organizations,” Chang said.
Chang completed her undergraduate study at the University of Washington majoring in Sculpture before she changed her career path.
“I didn’t feel content,” Chang said. “So I transferred my art problem solving skills into community development and community building.”
Chang co-founded an all-inclusive skateboarding organization Skate Like A Girl in 2005. Before starting as executive director at Reel Grrls, she was a program coordinator at the City of Redmond where she led teen outreach programs.
Reel Grrls will kick-off its 15th year with a fundraising event “RG Benefit Screening” on November 20 at the Wing Luke Museum.