FreshLens students in a 2018 class. Credit: FreshLens

RAVENSWOOD — A photography nonprofit burglarized this month blew past its fundraising goal to replace needed equipment and keep teaching free classes to kids from under-resourced neighborhoods.

FreshLens offers photography classes and resources to students from middle school through college. Programs are fully funded through donations to ensure young artists can participate regardless of their finances, founder Shirley Nannini said.

In July, someone broke into the Richard Stromberg’s Chicago Photography Classes, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., where the group holds classes, and stole at least $10,000 worth of photography equipment. There was a second break-in a few days later, but group leaders had moved their inventory and nothing was stolen.

Police had no updates about their investigation into the break-ins Monday. 

The equipment wasn’t insured, and the theft threatened to shut down FreshLens’ programs. But FreshLens can continue its work uninterrupted thanks to almost $45,000 raised through the group’s GoFundMe and other donations, Nannini said.  

Nannini received contributions of $10 to $10,000 to help the nonprofit recover as the story spread, she said. WinTrust Community Bank gave $5,000, and the Weinberg/Newton Gallery gave $10,000, she said.

People also reached out asking what kind of camera equipment they could donate, she said. 

“It is sort of a Cinderella story. I just want to emphasize our gratitude to people who donated and the news media that helped us get the story out,” Nannini said. “Because it wouldn’t have gone down this way without that exposure.” 

FreshLens students gather at The Bean. Credit: FreshLens/GoFundMe

FreshLens students take classes to learn the basics of digital photography and photo composition, take field trips and photo walks, complete assignments and become comfortable with editing software and printing, according to the group’s website. Students can frame and exhibit their work, and they get 50 percent of the proceeds from any sales of their photos, according to the website.

Students who finish the program receive a gently used camera they can keep, according to the website.

“We’re a small not-for-profit, and we fight for absolutely every dollar. We’re super committed to what we’re doing,” Nannini said. “To have somebody break in and then break in again … I was just fit to be tied. But to have that kind of outpouring sort of restores your faith in humanity.”

The support means FreshLens can replace the stolen equipment — and expand its program, Nannini said.

“We’re a not-for-profit, so there’s always a need for more funding. But at this point, we’re incredibly grateful to be at this point with our funding thanks to donations,” she said.

To learn more about FreshLens and opportunities to support its work, check out their website.

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