Right now in Vermont there are 82 children and teenagers living in state’s custody without a loving forever family and a permanent home. The Heart Gallery is one of the ways that Project Family, Lund’s collaboration with the Vermont Department of Children and Families, tries to find homes for these children. The Heart Gallery is a traveling photo exhibit featuring portraits and short bios of children who are legally free for adoption. It is displayed at libraries, community events, transit hubs, workplaces, any place that people might gather or pass through in order to put real names and faces to the children in need of homes. Not only does it introduce the particular children to the public, it also raises awareness of the need for more foster and adoptive families in the state.
The children featured, and their social workers, are actively involved in the process of taking the photos, selecting which ones to use and writing their bios. The gallery is refreshed and updated every year to keep the photos current and to add new children as well as retiring the photos of children who have been placed with families or adopted. This year, volunteer photographer Julie Richards of Julie Richards Photography, took new photos for the Heart Gallery. Julie is a long term volunteer and great friend of Lund. (She can be found on Ride for Children day hanging out of the sunroof of her car taking photos of the bikers as they speed by!) Of this experience she said, “Being able to photograph the kids of the Heart Gallery gave me a chance to see deeper into what Lund is all about. It was very powerful. The most enjoyable thing about the photo shoots was giving the kids the message of ‘It’s all about you right now’. We laughed, took serious photos as well as silly ones, while giving them hope!”
This experience is not just about taking a quick snapshot or a formally posed photo, it really depends on what the children themselves choose. “Some of the kids wanted to come across professional,” says Julie, “Others wanted to have his/her picture with an item that was near and dear to him such as a skateboard, or bicycle, and others kids wanted that chance to say ‘It’s me! The new member of your family’. As the digital camera gives me the ability to show the kids some of the photos immediately I saw their reaction as pleasing. Looking at a photo of themselves gave them a feeling of control confirming they were portraying themselves the way they wanted to send a message to the potential new family.”
“One day I photographed two boys about the age of 10. They had very different personalities. One was very quiet and shy of being photographed. The other boy was very talkative and enjoyed the camera as he worked on his fun poses. This boy loved imagining the families who would see the photos and come and get him! He even gave hope to the quiet boy saying ‘What if the same family adopts both of us?’ To me this was such powerful hope, that this boy can dream about and look forward to the his new family while passing that hope on to others.”
The Heart Gallery helps find families for children who need them. Julie’s help with the photos is crucial to this mission. ““We’re so grateful to the talented Julie Richards who has been a great volunteer at Lund for over 15 years,” says Associate Director of Adoption, Heather Simmons. “Her photographs are beautiful and I know that the young people featured enjoyed their time working with Julie to get exactly the pictures they wanted.”
To see some of Julie’s photos, visit the Project Family website.