Mentorship inspires a future in photography for Huntsville student

A smiling young man hands a large, framed photograph of a hummingbird on bergamot flowers to a smiling woman.

Trevor Aitchison (left) presents Community Living Huntsville’s Gwen Jones with a photo he took of a hummingbird. Jones helped the Huntsville High School student arrange his photography mentorship. Photo by Community Living Huntsville.

A mentorship opportunity may have helped shape Trevor Aitchison’s future.

“If I didn’t have my mentors, I would probably still be trying to figure out things that I had no clue about,” says the senior Huntsville High School student. “It has been really, really helpful.”

Aitchison, during a Transforming Together presentation at the school by Community Living Huntsville staff, had heard about the Student Links mentorship program offered by Community Living Ontario.

Funded by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Student Links is an opportunity for students ages 14 to 21, who have an intellectual disability, to explore ideas for their future after high school. It matches students and mentors who share a common passion or interest. The goal is to enhance students’ capacity to make informed decisions about their futures before leaving school and to support the natural development of relationships and connections to their community.

It was made temporarily available in the COVID-19 pandemic, as a virtual program, to Huntsville-area students. Gwen Jones, a Family Support Worker with Community Living Huntsville, helped students, including Trevor, to access the opportunity.

Trevor had a couple options when considering the path his year-long mentorship could take. As a guitarist, he could have chosen music, but he also had a passion for photography. After discussions with Student Links staff about his interests, he opted for photography. He wanted to learn more about his new camera and build his technical skills. His mentorship started in 2021.

Mentorship for Skills and Inspiration

Trevor had two mentors while participating in the program, one for food photography followed by another for nature photography, and he connected with them both through a combination of video conference and email.

He says mentorships have taken his talent to the next level. “Now that I know a little bit more, I’m like, ‘That picture could have been a little better if I had done this,’” he says. “My pictures have gotten 10-times better.”

Nature and wildlife now dominate his shots. The natural landscape and gardens around his home offer plenty of opportunity. One photo he snapped was of a hummingbird outside his window. “I had only a few seconds to snap the photo and the hummingbird was gone,” he said.

More often, he says, wildlife photography takes patience. “And I’m not good at being patient,” he laughs. Another photo he snapped was of an owl at dusk. “I waited, just standing there, trying to get the right angle. The owl just kept staring at me. It just didn’t really want to leave, until I got a certain distance from it, and then it was like, ‘OK, yeah, you’re too close,’” he says. “But I got right underneath it and got the shot.”

Trevor’s mentorship opportunities have continued after Student Links. He and his family have arranged for a paid mentorship with a local photography professional so he can continue to build his skills and pursue his passion. He is now considering life as a semi-professional photographer, “so I can get a bit of money off it,” he says. He still wants to pursue music and baking, too: “Those are the three things I really want to get into,” he says.

Why Someone Becomes a Mentor

Josie Dinsmore, a photographer based in Northern Ontario, mentored Trevor in nature photography. She says she was hesitant initially when Student Links staff reached out to her because it was her first mentorship experience. “I didn’t think at first that I would be good for the program because, while I have knowledge, I didn’t consider myself an ‘expert’, and I’ve never taught anyone before, things like that,” says Josie. But staff explained that the program simply aimed to link students with people who are passionate about what they do and are willing to share that passion. “So, I thought, ‘Sure, let’s try it,’” says Josie.

She and Trevor met virtually about once a month at flexible times that fit her schedule. They talked about equipment, technical aspects like camera settings, different photography styles, different products photographers could create, and more. She enjoyed the experience.

“It was really neat to be able to share my knowledge with someone who was just getting into it,” says Josie. She was able to watch Trevor take in information, put it into action, build his confidence in trying new techniques and styles, and improve. Now she wants others to have that experience too. She encouraged others to become mentors. “It doesn’t take a huge amount of your time,” she says. “And it is really nice to work with a student, see them develop more skills and interest, and take your advice and kind of be inspired to try some things. It was just a good feeling to be able to help someone out like that. I’m glad I did it.”

Making a Difference for Students

Gwen Jones, the Family Support Worker with Community Living Huntsville that connected Trevor with the mentorship opportunity, says Trevor and his family are supportive of mentorship because they see the value in it. “And they get to explore nature,” she smiles.

She supported five senior high school students to participate in Student Links in the pandemic. Trevor explored photography, while two others pursued fashion design, another focused on culinary arts, and another studied horse care.

Gwen notes mentorship, whether through Student Links or otherwise, is as much about developing skills and building connections with professionals willing to share their expertise as it is about inspiring possibilities. “Mentorship can take students farther into their interests to a point where they can see the results of their mentors’ support and knowledge,” she says. “You can make a difference in a young person’s life by sharing your expertise and talents.”

Community Living Huntsville is a not-for-profit, registered charity that supports and advocates alongside more than 300 people with developmental disabilities, and their families, to live, work, and play in unique and purposeful ways in North Muskoka. Learn more at Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin.