The Story Beyond the Statistics: Gary Wachter, Making an Impact as a Volunteer

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Gary Wachter first walked into Avenues for Justice’s (AFJ) Lower East Side community center in November 2020, hoping to make a short video about our work through his non-profit organization, Charity Docs. Fast forward to a year later and Gary has already led a 6-week, 25 hour/week summer videography internship for our Participants and is now providing after school training as part of our new communications program funded by New York Community Trust. 

With 40 years of experience in New York’s advertising and film industries, Gary approached the summer internship with two goals in mind. The first goal was to gain the trust of a population that he had never worked with, and the second goal was to provide our participants with a platform to tell their stories. Over the 150 hours that he spent with AFJ participants, he accomplished both of these goals. 

The summer culminated in The Andy Awards Film Festival where participants presented videos of their stories to a live audience of 50. Topics ranged from a story about a participant’s dog, to how exercise changed a participant’s life, to a personal story about police brutality, and much more! Gary described these projects as a window into the souls of the participants. The Andy Awards was a pivotal moment for AFJ participants as it gave them an opportunity to shine, to showcase their creative projects to an audience, and to receive the accolades that they deserved. When presented with his own award, Gary was moved to tears at the progress they had made. 

After a successful summer cohort, Gary continues to teach videography this Fall as a weekly 90-minute after-school class which is part of AFJ’s new Communications Program. The class combines videography, digital literacy, social media and writing instruction, with civics and legal rights workshops and mental health support, teaching our youth how to tell their stories and speak on justice issues which impact them. Gary has found that the participants have been even more focused and interested in the art of filmmaking. However, since the classes are weekly as opposed to daily, Gary is honing in on individual interests and expertise, rather than coordinating a large group project like The Andy Awards. He looks forward to developing a few participants who can then mentor the Spring cohort! 

“On December 8th, 2020, AFJ changed for the better. That was the day I finally met the seasoned film veteran Gary Wachter. Gary has a soothing way about himself always putting whoever is in front of the camera at ease. From that first day I knew we needed to incorporate him into our program. We had several meetings to see how we could collaborate, and finally agreed on including videography training in AFJ’s Summer Youth Employment Program. From there I began to see other amazing qualities, humility, compassion, thoughtfulness, and generosity. Here is someone that ran his own company, renowned expertise in his field but is getting instruction from someone else. Gary quickly gained the trust of our Participants, something that does not come easily if at all due to his genuine compassion. He was quite nervous about never teaching before, however, for 6 weeks he was an example of an instructor, facilitator, teacher.  The act of kindness displayed to the Participants, Staff, and others does not go unnoticed. This man lost his mother during the summer and yet felt motivated to come to class the next day. It has not quite been a year yet since I met Gary, but I consider Gary an integral part of AFJ and a good friend.” ~GAMAL WILLIS, Manager of Court Advocacy

AFJ is grateful for volunteers and partners like Gary who generously dedicate their time to teaching our Participants marketable skills, which in turn results in some of the lowest recidivism rates in the country. By giving our youth the opportunity to work on positive goals, on average just 5% are re-convicted when tracked for three years after enrollment at Avenues for Justice, which keeps our streets safe and allows our youth to reach their true potential.