One thing I never really expected when I started my photography business was that the beautiful people I was afforded the opportunity to photograph would be some of the most community-minded, influential, and hardest working folks in their field.

I've photographed entrepreneurs, community organizers, non-profit business owners, and artists. There's never a shoot I begin where I'm not asking a client about what it is that they do and not only that, but finding out WHY it is they do what they do.

So, I've decided to use this space to share with you all the wonderful things they've been sharing and hope their stories inspire you and maybe even introduce and opportunity for you to connect. First up is Latoya Warren

Marqus and LaToya Warren, Co-Founders of Reaching Our Youth - Upstate  Photo via Facebook

Marqus and LaToya Warren, Co-Founders of Reaching Our Youth - Upstate

Photo via Facebook

What is the organization and your role in it? 

I am the Co-Founder of Reaching Our Youth – Upstate, Inc. Reaching Our Youth – Upstate is an organization that was created by myself and my husband in order to assist and empower the underprivileged and at risk youth in our community. We want to establish a plan for each child which will help create a solid foundation for growth in education, financial literacy, health/wellness and youth mentoring.

Tell us a little more about how and why you became part of it. 

We created this organization because we noticed that there was a lack of knowledge when a potential high school graduate was preparing to enter college and attempting to understand the process of financial aid and how to borrow without accumulating unnecessary debt. I have 5 years of experience working in Higher Education as a Director of Financial Services and have encountered a number of families that were misled through the financial aid process. I did not want to continue to be a contributor to that cycle, so I decided to give back to my community and create a service that educates the family about the steps of completing college and leaving with the least amount of debt as possible. I am very passionate about this because I came from a single-parent home and my mother did not have the “how-to” knowledge necessary to complete the financial process.  I began to do research in order to obtain the needed funds for college. I applied for numerous grants, scholarships and continually asked questions that pertained to acquiring more free funding. This experience allowed me to understand the depth of financial responsibility and why it is important to have a holistic approach, so that the potential college student has the support from their family and they can help make wise decisions for their child’s future. 

Why is this important? 

This organization is important because we not only want to help the student, we also want to tackle the everyday issues that plague their family in order to help them progress in a positive manner. I understand that the first battle is getting the child engaged in the programs offered but the other battle is fighting the culture that is at home daily. We want to provide services for the parents, as well, so that they understand the impact that a positive foundation creates and both the child and parent can move in the same direction of advancing mentally and physically.  

Explain the impact that it’s had. 

This organization has impacted a number of high school seniors lives by helping them become exposed to college life and this year we will have two students graduate college and pursue a career in their field of study. I also have helped ten current college students obtain $70,000 in scholarships from the United Way of Greenville County through their “Jobs to Careers” program. We have also helped to build self-esteem in our students by encouraging them to use their talents and advance in life. One is currently pursuing a career in singing, another has become an actor in a few local plays, and another has just won her first pageant. These are just a few accomplishments of our previous students and it shows how changing one’s perspective on life can help propel them into positive outcomes. 

How has it allowed those involved (yourself, even) to become more simple, genuine, or expressive? 

I believe that being involved in this program has allowed all parties to become more genuine. According to Webster, genuine is defined as being sincere or authentic. These two descriptions are indicative of how we would like to be viewed in the eyes of the community, the children and their parents. With our genuine investment into our children’s educational future and mental well-being, this is a great “set-up” for replenishing our community with positive and productive future leaders. 

Where can we find you/your organization online? 

I can be found on Facebook  (LaToya Irby-Warren) and LinkedIn (LaToya Warren). 

Anything more you’d like to share? 

I would like to leave you with a famous quote from Nelson Mandela:

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”