Keisha and her four children wore matching shirts and matching smiles as they posed for the photographer one recent Saturday at the YWCA Central Alabama.“This is our first time to have family pictures together,” she said. “When they told us about it, I couldn’t believe it. It made me feel real good.”
It didn’t seem possible for Keisha’s smile to get any bigger, but as soon as she saw the pictures, it did. “I just love them,” she said as her eyes filled with tears. “I want to just cry. This is my Christmas right here.”
Keisha and her children, who are staying in one of the YWCA’s two confidential domestic violence shelters, were among the 32 families who received the free Help-Portraits as part of a global initiative aimed at providing keepsakes for those in need. The project was started in 2008 by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart in an effort to give people who otherwise couldn’t afford photography the chance to have a family memento.
Rabbi Barry Altmark has organized the event in Birmingham the past three years, and local photographers, editors and makeup artists donated their time and talents. Two massage therapists also gave chair massages to the families, who live in YW housing and area shelters, as they waited for their portraits to be printed.
“A lot of these families come from situations where things aren’t so great,” said Kris Pruitt, one of the volunteer photographers. “I always look for ways to give back. Photography and helping people are both passions of mine, so this is a perfect fit.”
Kids made holiday crafts and played in the gym while their mothers got makeovers and massages. Jack’s donated chicken fingers and drinks, and Chef Bob contributed a variety of wonderful desserts.
Shereeta Hill, who lives in YW housing, was excited about the opportunity to have pictures made with her 7-year-old son for the first time. “Pictures these days are really expensive, and I didn’t have the money,” she said. “This is a blessing. He’s had pictures made at school, but I’ve never had a picture of us together.”
Photographer Keith Rogers said he hopes the portraits will serve as a reminder of a happy experience. “At the holidays, if you don’t have a lot of family or if you’re having struggles, the memories you make aren’t often pleasant,” he said. “Years from now, maybe some of the kids will look back at these photographs and think, ‘That was a really fun day.’”