An Eternal Impact: One Person at a Time

My New Life Story: Jon Atwell, Class of 2010

Jon Atwell is a photographer “focused on capturing the best of humanity. Working in mainly humanitarian settings, Jon aims to photograph people in the most positive and empowering light,” according to his website. “My goal is simple, I want everyone who is a part of my work to walk away with a smile.”  

Jon graduated from New Life Academy in 2010. Since then, he’s spent his time doing big things. After NLA, he went to the University of Wisconsin – River Falls to study Marketing and Communications. From joining the circus to traveling internationally and telling stories, Jon has great goals and dreams.  

Currently, Jon works for an organization called Alight, formerly known as the American Refugee Committee. Alight is a humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization. They work as an advocate for humanity, helping displaced people, fighting sex trafficking, doing social enterprising for marginalized communities all over the world.  

According to Alight’s mission, they exist to be “human-centered changemakers by building meaningful lives for and with the displaced.” Alight helps displaced people internationally and also domestically at the US-Mexico border. Alight has also helped to establish social enterprising in the Congo in South Kivu, delivering reliable water and clinics to communities and helping them become self-sufficient.  

Alight has been providing humanitarian assistance to millions of people for over 35 years. Their goal is to “help people rebuild lives of dignity, health, and self-sufficiency.” Another program of Alight’s is partnering with Catholic nuns in El Salvador as they help fight sex trafficking and violence in the area.  

“We work with anyone who wants to do good in the world,” said Jon. Alight knows that there are a lot of great people and organizations that already do good things, so they work to connect them and come alongside them. “Our intention is not to recreate the wheel, so to speak, but to form partnerships and come alongside existing organizations to do the most good,” said Jon. It’s important to ask questions like “how can we partner with them? How can we add value to what they’re already doing?”  

Jon has worked with Alight for 3 years doing communications, photojournalism, and social media. His official title is Roving Correspondent, which he says “is just a really cool way of saying I do photojournalism. I love being able to meet people and tell their stories,” said Jon. 

Jon used to work for an ad agency, when they had Alight as a client. Jon had the opportunity to travel to Uganda to cover a 5K. “I’m very grateful to have ended up here because I had no intention or idea that I would one day be doing this as a job,” said Jon.  

Recently, he was able to travel to Thailand and capture what Alight is doing to fight malaria at one of their borders. He directly saw the impact of their organization and how lives were being changed. “This isn’t a religious organization or a mission, but I’m able to demonstrate my faith in how I’m interacting with people and showing up in the world, especially for people who’ve gone through such difficult things.” As a Christian, Jon recognizes this unique opportunity to provide people with hope. 

Being raised in the Church, in a Christian family and at New Life Academy greatly impacts Jon’s life today and his work with Alight. “I think it definitely impacts how you work with people and view people,” said Jon. “It gives you such a greater love for people and a greater worldview. I know that there’s a greater reason and purpose for what we’re doing.” 

Graduating from New Life, Jon talked about the significance of Christian education, “you’re fostering faith, and it’s good to grow up in an environment that shapes and prepares you for the life you want to live later on.” Having a solid foundation in faith helped prepare him for the future life he wanted and to love people well. 

“New Life Academy is fostering faith, and it’s good to grow up in an environment that shapes and prepares you for the life you want to live later on.”

Having teachers that encourage students in their faith is so meaningful. “I remember seeing teachers caring for their students on an individual level, by personally getting to know them and support them,” said Jon. “The teachers genuinely care about you and want you to succeed; I had specific teachers who made the effort to make learning interesting and relevant.” 

Jon’s background and how he was raised is still relevant to his life today. “I was taught to show up in the world in the best possible way, how to treat people well and see value in people, and how to see the bigger picture outside of yourself,” said Jon. 

What’s next? “I really like what I’m doing, and I’d like to do more of it,” said Jon. “I love the opportunity to travel and connect with people through photography. As long as I’m doing that, I’m happy,” laughed Jon. “I want to continually get better at telling stories and communicating to people through visual media. I do want to visit 30 countries before turning 30, I’m on track to do that and almost there.” 

“I have a way I look at the world: Everything is always better than you think it will be. Or as Frank Sinatra says – ‘The best is yet to come,’” said Jon. “I want to tell current students: you don’t have to have it all figured out. Be flexible, things will change all the time. Enjoy the season.” 

And when Jon puts down the camera? He’s also a World Champion Unicyclist. “Yeah, we dropped my sister off at band camp when I was in middle school, and there was a guy riding a giraffe unicycle. I went home and ordered a unicycle, and eventually I competed in Denmark and became World Champion in 2008,” laughed Jon. “I also joined the circus and toured with them.” 

Our graduates are impacting the world by serving and loving others. Jon has joined the many other NLA graduates who have harnessed their talents and knowledge to change the world.