kids

FAN // linked hearts

I recently had the pleasure of volunteering for an incredible program here in DC, called FAN. FAN's mission (I quote) is to cultivate a focus on youth well-being and positive development in an environment infused with safety, security, and love. The woman in charge of the program is beyond words. Nia (which means Purpose), not only gives her life to these kids, but also her heart. She's one of those people that would probably adopt all of the children in the world that need a home, if she could. Not just the babies, but the teenagers too. She actually has adopted, on top of having her own. {She's the third person down in the color series blog post below}

FAN stands for (I quote) Fihankra Akoma Ntoaso. In the Akan culture of West Africa, the Fihankra is a communal housing compound which symbolizes a "safe enclosure" or "safe house." Akoma Ntoaso means "linked hearts," and is a symbol of understanding and agreement. Many young people do not have access to such safe environments, which are critical to their development.

So I came in and volunteered as a photographer teacher, and taught foster children, ages 6-18 the basics of photography. We made pin-hole cameras out of Quaker Oat's containers, learned about the difference between film and digital. We spent a TON of time playing with a polaroid camera (instant gratification). Really, I was there to show them love, guidance and creativity. And we had a lot of fun in the meantime! I showed them that they could count on my arrival every Friday throughout the summer. My mission was to break them out of their shells. To get them to smile, laugh, and be free.

You can see in some of these photos the difference between a closed heart, and an open heart. These kids just need love, guidance and someone they can count on. This program gives them that and much, much more.

The most rewarding part of my time with them was when one of the teenage girls–who was usually pretty quiet and closed-off (and didn't smile very often)– opened up her heart in front of my camera and started BEAMING, dancing, jumping and laughing. It was so incredibly gratifying. I saw her true spirit, and I captured it. When two hearts touch, there is no greater reward.

You just have to spill your light onto others, so they know that they too, can shine their own.

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The sweetest

I had the pleasure of photographing one of the sweetest families I know. Big brother Evan and his little sister, Ellie are just two peas in a pod! They both are seriously mini-me versions of their parents. I love it! Evan is such a smart little guy, who says the funniest things (Hey, Mr. Photographer Man, can we try that big light on your camera for the next photo?). He was a pure natural at tree-climbing, and oh-so-fearless! Ellie is an old soul with twinkly blue (greenish) eyes and a big, beautiful smile (but shares it selectively, which I love). She loves to play chase and tickle her big brother too! I can't believe how much bigger these two sweeties have gotten since last year...

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My little cousins

Once removed cousins, that is. Or whatever. That stuff confuses me. It's too late, so don't ask! Tomorrow is Friday, that's all that matters! 

These adorable kiddos are my cousin's kids, which I am lucky enough to live closer to  since moving back east. It has been so wonderful being close to family. I have a ton of super-amazing relatives, and it just so happens that my cousin married a super-amazing woman. I seriously feel like I'm related to her too. She loves when I take photos of her mini trio, and I am more than delighted to use them as my little models. Especially when they have the cutest outfits (for a wedding they were in)! The oldest, Hailey, is blossoming before my eyes. Such a beauty. James is the MOST energetic child on earth. I adore him so much. One time when I visited, he was wearing a daisy costume and pouting by the big window as I left. He is so fearless and full of life. You'll see his eyes twinkle if he stays still long enough. Ava, the youngest.. is just the sweetest sweetest girl. She is a tiny little peanut, but as fearless as her big brother. And never stops smiling!

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My Muse

About four years ago, I did my first "official" photoshoot with the adorable Mr. Grady. I was so incredibly lucky to have such a handsome little man pose for my first photoshoot! I was also very lucky to capture many more photos of this little guy over the next few years. Sadly he is living on the west coast, so I rarely see him these days. But I will be forever grateful for that first opportunity, which opened many doors for me! I am so very grateful to be taking photographs of SO MANY beautiful children on such a regular basis. Truly blessed.

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