By Shannon Behnken
TAMPA -- When Ramon Rosado, 16, was handed a digital camera in January, he felt awkward.
"I didn't know what I was going to do with it," he said. "But I got the hang of it really fast. I was surprised that I had some talent."
Rosado is one of six students who recently completed Focus on Mentoring, a 10-week photojournalism program for youngsters living in public housing.
Four of the students were recognized Wednesday at the Tampa Housing Authority's monthly board meeting at Audley Evans Multi-Purpose Youth Center. Their pictures, from events such as Gasparilla and the Florida State Fair, lined the walls.
The program was developed by David Handschuh, a photographer at the New York Daily News, and Mary Fox, director of public housing programs for Planergy International, an energy technology business hired by the Tampa Housing Authority.
The students met weekly and took field trips to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg and to The Tampa Tribune.
Handschuh, also an adjunct professor of photojournalism at New York University and past president of the National Press Photographers Association, said he wanted to do for others what had been done for him.
"I started taking pictures when I was 13," Handschuh said. "Someone put an arm around my shoulder and said, "Here's what you do.'
"Nurturing kids artistically keeps them out of trouble and gets them started in photography. I am so proud of these guys. They did so well. They just lit up. Their tough facade just melted away."
Handschuh and Fox hope to spread the program to housing authorities in other cities and put the students' photos on the Internet.
Doug White, a local photographer who helped teach the program, said he was surprised at the quality of some of the pictures.
"When they started, they didn't have any experience," he said. "But they got over their shyness and came out of their shells as journalists."
Handschuh was injured while photographing the World Trade Center during the attacks Sept. 11. Rosado said hearing of Handschuh's passion to document events excited him.
"I can't say that I could photograph the attacks, knowing I could get hurt," he said. "But his story inspired me."
Cecelia Cantave, 11, who lives in North Boulevard Homes public housing complex, said she didn't know what photojournalism was before she took the class.
But now, "that's what I want to do in life," she said.
Her favorite photograph is of her mother and grandmother.
"They were getting off of a ride at the fair, and they were laughing," she said. "It's the first picture I've taken of them, and I love it."
The 10-week program will be repeated this summer. The students' photographs can be viewed at the Tampa Housing Authority, 1514 Union St.