Kema Charles, founder and executive director of Arizona Lights’ new nonprofit Camera, Discover, has worked diligently for months to prepare her sprawling Ahwatukee studio for young college students.

Located at 4825 E. Warner, Suite 11, it’s now complete, and she’s already signed up local kids for their inaugural summer session — where they’ll learn the basics of video and film production.

From scriptwriting and acting to directing, filming and editing, kids ages 9 and up can discover opportunities for growth during their week-long summer program from July 11 to July 15.

Online registration for the summer program is ongoing and there is no fee.

Charles said classes and programs at the 11-year-old nonprofit are always free, although there is usually a class size limit.

“No, there are never any fees for our programs. We never want a family to feel that their child can come for financial reasons. And we only ever want a kid who can pay over those who can’t feel like they’re on a different level from each other. That’s why we’re asking for donations. If a family wishes to donate, they can do so as a donation, not a registration fee. We are all the same and we will all be treated the same,” she said with a broad smile.

His work has been recognized by the Festival of Lights Committee, which named him one of three recipients – along with the Foothills and Club West HOA – of proceeds from last Friday’s Wine and Beer Festival.

The inaugural July session of Charles can accommodate 30 students aged 9 and up. Lunch and snacks are provided for daily classes from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Charles said students will learn the basics of filmmaking and animation while incorporating anti-bullying and social awareness campaigns into their own projects, individually and in groups.

And they will present their projects to family and friends at an event called “Final Screening” on July 16 at the LCD studio.

“Whether their goal is to be an actor, director, animator, photographer or film producer, there’s an LCD program that’s right for them,” said Charles, a Tempe resident.

The Ahwatukee studio is the second that Charles currently operates in Arizona. After an enforced COVID hiatus, its Tempe LCD will reopen this fall.

Charles also operates an LCD studio in Chicago. She said a “strong team” of qualified staff members enables her to operate all three effectively.

She said there’s a lot more to Lights, Camera, Discover than meets the eye of the casual viewer.

“It’s not just about knowing how to make a movie or a public service announcement, it’s also about how to apply what you learn to everyday life,” Charles said.

“It opens their minds, and whether their dream is to be an actor, director, animator, photographer or film producer, there’s a program here at Lights, Camera, Discover that will capture their imaginations.”

Weekday classes at the new Ahwatukee facility will launch after their weeklong summer schedule ends and the local school schedule resumes.

In addition to after-school LCD programs for ages 8 and up, LCD has partnered with Best Buy for a six-week, once-a-week coding course this fall. Dates are being decided and will be posted, along with available extracurricular classes, on its website. LightsCameraDiscover.org.

Before opening its two studios and classrooms in Arizona, Lights, Camera, Discover was in Pensacola, Florida.

Charles first discovered her own acting talents in Orlando, then starred in the television series “Sheena” from 2000 to 2002 and produced her own movie in 2007.

She was also an operations director for a cinema program in Abuja, Nigeria, before founding her first LCD in 2011 in Los Angeles. Since 2013, it has launched Lights, Camera, Discover in four different states.

At 9,600 square feet, the Ahwatukee location is the largest LCD site to date. Charles said she deliberately chose the larger space in hopes the rental location would increase her income.

“We have 3,200 square feet in our venue for rental. Our classrooms and offices take up the rest,” she said. “The potential income from rental space helps us not be 100% dependent on donations and grants.”

An extraordinary grant appeared as a Christmas present in early 2022.

On December 6, students from Lights, Camera, Discover and the founder were surprised by the presentation of a $100,000 grant, in the form of an oversized check, presented by Suns goaltender Devin Booker at a conference press before a Phoenix Suns game against Spurs.

He also introduced the new cameras and laptops to the five LCD students in attendance who thought they were just there to meet.

Charles said they were all deeply touched by Booker’s largesse.

Charles explained a question on the registration form that may confuse some parents. He asks if the family is currently receiving public assistance.

“We work with all students. We are a very diverse program,” Charles said of his nonprofit. “In our application we have a line asking for financial assistance, we are asking this question in order to be a QCO (Arizona Tax Credit); we have to ask these questions to qualify.

To register for the week-long summer session, check out their Programs page on their website at LightsCameraDiscover.org.

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