Fabulous People: Karen Shell

Karen Shell is the Founder and Executive Director of Kids in Focus and President/Photographer at Shell Photographics. Kids in Focus gives at-risk kids the chance to see themselves and their world in a new, more positive light with the power of photography. Learn more about Karen Shell…

Hometown: Though born in Massachusetts, moved away as a baby.  After a couple more stops, settled in Phoenix at the age of 5. Phoenix is home.

First job: While in high school, and with no confidence at the time, my first job was as a gift-wrapper at Sakowitz department store. That way I could utilize my creative side and avoid having to deal with people.  I’ve found myself and my confidence since then and the skills I learned came in surprisingly handy later on in life.  As a commercial photographer for 30 years, shooting SkyMall covers for a decade, I’ve skillfully wrapped presents as props for many Christmas-themed photo-shoots.

Favorite AZ restaurant: Most places with an outdoor patio. Whether it’s the elegant patio at Lon’s, the charming patio at Chelsea’s Kitchen or the casual patio at The Attic, for me it’s all about being under the open sky. 

Person who has impacted your life the most: I’ll count my sisters as one.  With the four of us being within five years of age of each other, we’re close in age but all very different.  Traveling on this journey of life together provides for me an unbreakable lifelong bond and a remarkable sense of unconditional love.

Your biggest accomplishment in your eyes: Summiting Mount Rainier.  After a long stretch of several big life challenges, I found myself feeling emotionally depleted and without the level of passion I was accustomed.  Since my flame didn’t seem to be coming back, I decided to go find it.  Climbing Rainier was my solution.  Though always an adventurer and a hiker, I had never done any high-altitude mountaineering.  The journey preparing and training for it alone was enough to reignite my flame.  As the only woman in a group of 27 men, half of the group did not make it to the false summit and only three of us made it to the true summit.

The biggest obstacle you have overcome: Founding, building and running a nonprofit on top of also earning a living in a demanding field has been an enormous and exhausting challenge.  I’ve made many sacrifices in every aspect of my life to pull it off.  Maintaining balance in my life has been something I always prioritized but haven’t been able to maintain since growing Kids in Focus.  Now that the organization is eight years old, I am slowly able to regain some balance, though I still have a way to go.

Someone who inspires you: Every day I am inspired by the youth served by Kids in Focus.  Though they face immense troubles and traumas, their willingness to reopen their eyes and their hearts is courageous. 

Favorite quote: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: My advice to someone pursuing a career in either commercial photography or a nonprofit, my advice is to turn your ideas into action.  Great deeds and impact are created only by taking action.

What you think makes someone fabulous: Fabulousness comes from living an authentic, positive-minded, heart-led, passion driven life.  Someone who is grateful, humble, honest and insightful.


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