Last Saturday, Cason & I had the privilege of helping at Nashville’s Help Portrait event. Help Portrait is a movement of photographers giving back to people in need in their local communities. It was started in 2009 by a well-known photographer here in Nashville (Jeremy Cowart). This year, Help Portrait events were held in 47 US states and in 46 countries. 7,015 volunteers and 3,550 photographers donated 54,526 portraits to people and families in unique circumstances (the homeless, people in addiction recovery programs, families who lost everything in a fire or flood, families who may never have had a family portrait taken before).
That’s the overall gist. I heard about the event last year and was eager to try and volunteer this time around. Cason & I have no notable photography/editing/photo printing skills, but wanted to see if we could help in other ways.
So we ended up as Patron Guides. We were the ones that got to escort the guests around through the whole experience and make them feel special and loved on. At the event here in Nashville, that included a breakfast or lunch area with donated food brought in for people to eat, an area with Vanderbilt doctors doing free optional head and neck screening exams, a donation area with coats, blankets, shoes, for those that needed them. My personal favorite was the next area – hair & makeup. The hair & makeup artists would do quick makeovers on the women (& an occasional man) and make them feel really beautiful. That was an integral part to making many of the women feel special & valued. There was also a kid’s area with crafts and a Santa to take pictures with. Finally, there were the rows of photographers, ready to go to work.
My first patron of the day was Amy. I wish I had taken a picture of her with my camera. She was a really neat woman. She came in with a group of women from the Magdalene House – a residential program for women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction. Read more about it here. Amy was extremely outgoing and friendly. She was just loving being there. The part of her story that I heard is that her Dad died a week before the infamous Nashville floods, then she and her mom both lost everything in the flood. She hit her lowest point this summer and at some point entered the Magdalene program. But she says she is doing really well in her recovery program, is back in a church, etc. Amy was almost more concerned about going around and visiting with the other women that came in from the same program and making sure everyone else was having a good time. She was just a treat to be around.
Cason got to spend time with a man named Jimmy. One of the only men that I saw that wanted to get some makeup. He was a hoot! He told the makeup artists to make him look like Morgan Freeman! He was the first adult to go sit on Santa’s knee for a picture. He also said he was proposing to his girlfriend later that day and posed in his picture with the ring.
There were some sweet families in the middle of the day that we got to escort around. A mother with her young daughter that started crying as she was getting her photo framed and was thanking everyone.
The last group of the day that we were there for was the most impacting for me. It was a large group of homeless men, brought in as part of the program they were in. If I’m to be completely honest, one group of people that intimidates me the most are (stereotypically speaking) hardened-looking, older homeless men. The kind that you can’t imagine smiling or striking up a conversation with. I feel intimidated and awkward, not sure what to say, etc. And so I was assigned to a group of 4 of them. It was awkward at first, but I really ended up having a great time with them. A couple were pretty young too (in their 20’s or early 30’s). I found out where they were from, how long they had been in Nashville (a couple days for one, a couple weeks for another, one all his life). But my absolute favorite part though was when they were posing for their pictures, trying to be all tough guy and not smile. One got tripped up by the flashes & would crack up. Another one the photographer got to laugh and it was that picture that turned out the best. It was great! I love seeing “tough guys” crack their shells.
Cason & I had to leave soon after that. I remember walking out into the parking lot afterward and just suddenly feeling emotional. We hadn’t done anything ground breaking. It was really even such a simple concept – make people feel special. And for me, I have a hard time being outgoing with strangers. I am some type of introverted extrovert. Extroverted if I know you & already feel comfortable with you, and yet sometimes introverted with new people or people I may have associations with, but still don’t really feel comfortable around. So to go in somewhere, where the only person I know is Cason (who I barely saw the entire time), and then have such a great time interacting with complete strangers.. It was amazing! Totally the Lord working through me to help make them feel cared about and loved. It wasn’t about me at all and it was great. I can’t wait until next year – December 3, 2011. The date is already set & reserved on my calendar.
I haven’t found a summary from this year, but to watch an excellent summary video from last year’s event, watch this: