Blondes Turning Heads in Prison

jbrady_april2014_0685
paws4people.org, one of the non-profits I volunteer with, is truly changing the lives of prison inmates, veterans, children and anyone who crosses paths with their programs.

It starts with adorable puppies, who begin their training at the Lionheart School working with children with autism. Later, the puppies are transferred to prison where 0014
male and female inmate trainers with convictions ranging from drugs to murder, train assistance dogs for vulnerable populations of adults and children. I have seen it myself, redemption, even among those who seem the most lost, is possible.

The work paws4people.org is doing strikes a chord for me as many children who age out of foster care end up in the prison system.  In fact, a reported 70 percent of those incarcerated in California have spent time in foster care, 75 percent in Connecticut and 80jbrady_april2014_0062percent in Illinois. And a study of the Midwest found that 60 percent of men who spent time in foster care had been convicted of a crime.

paws4people.org is developing a new program, paws4potential, to catch ex-foster and other at-risk kids before they end up in prison.

In the meantime, enjoy this window into the difference a pack of gorgeous four-legged
blondes are making both in-and out-side of West Virginia’s Lakin Correctional, through my package in the Connection Newspapers:0084

Trained in Prison. Healing in Northern Virginia … Beyond Orange is the New Black.

Sharing the Burden of PTSD… Serving 7 – Life

You are not your Mistakes… Life without Parole

If you would prefer the PDF version:  Trained in Prison, Healing in Virginia.

 

 

Posted in Fostercare, Inspired, Kids At Risk, paws4people | 2 Comments

2013 Highlights

2013 was a year of exciting business growth as I expanded my children/family work and entered the contemporary business/social media portrait market, capitalizing on the new reality; that your image has become a key part of your brand.

With the onslaught of new clients, I switched from a natural light studio to the consistency of artificial light.  I was terrified, but with the support of several photographer friends, I’ve successfully made the transition.

In my non-profit work, several of the foster kids I work with were adopted this year and I hope more will be in early 2014.   My work with paws4people.org continues to grow as the organization grows and I’m very excited about what 2014 is likely to bring.

Here are some of my favorite images from 2013:

For Profit

Robin's response to seeing this image of Midnight,  "I know I'm off-camera, but I can tell from his eyes that he's looking right at me -- that's the exact way he looks at me, with all of that love -- and that gets me every time. That's something that I'll treasure most is being able to always see the way he would look at me."

Robin contacted me to photograph Midnight, because Midnight has been sick, Cancer.  In response to seeing this image she wrote, “I know I’m off-camera, but I can tell from his eyes that he’s looking right at me — that’s the exact way he looks at me, with all of that love — and that gets me every time. That’s something that I’ll treasure most is being able to always see the way he would look at me.”

I put in a studio this year and have loved having the choice to shoot indoors, when the weather is bad.

Sophia and David

I've been photographing this awesome family since Matthew was born. This year, the kids came to the shoot with their own concepts.  The pyramid was William's idea.

I’ve been photographing this awesome family since Matthew was born. This year, the kids came to the shoot with their own concepts. The pyramid was William’s idea.

Doug

This was scheduled as a dog shoot, but Danny was a good sport, getting into the act.

This was scheduled as a dog shoot, but it didn’t take much encouragement to get Danny into the act.

Jacob likes to be very close to the camera.

It seems like yesterday that was doing Jacob’s newborn shoot.

Lucy is a therapy dog who goes to work with Jackie, a local therapist. http://www.wellness.com/dir/6145066/counselor/va/vienna/jackie-stout-lcsw

Lucy is a therapy dog who goes to work with Jackie, a local therapist. http://www.jackielstout.com/

I've been photographing Will and his sister Laura since they were born. They are both big swimmers, so it was fun to mix it up with a pool shoot this year.

I’ve been photographing Will and his sister Laura since they were born. They are both big swimmers, so it was fun to mix it up with a pool shoot this year.

Sometimes it's just about capturing a moment.

Mathew and Megan

grace4

Grace

I photographed a lot of dogs this year. Sir Bentley was absolutely one of my favorites!

Sir Bentley

Non-Profit

I've been photographing Erin, Solomon and their family since 2009.

paws4people: I’ve been photographing Erin, Solomon and their family since 2009. To learn more about Erin and her sister click here: http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/tips/8890_Conjoined_Twins_The_Story_of_Erin_Jade/index.html

Rachael and her assistance dog, Dawson. The flag in the background was the flag given to her family when he died. And the picture she is holding, is her grandfather.

paws4people: Rachael wanted to find a way to pay tribute to her grandfather, lost earlier this year. The flag was the flag they received at his funeral and the picture, of course, her young grandfather.

Alex graduated from high school in last June and we did his pictures at his school, so we could include his favorite teacher.

paws4people: Alex graduated from high school in  June and we did his pictures at his school, so we could include his favorite teacher.

Alex and Kingsley

paws4people: Alex and Kingsley

Josh and his assistance dog, Mason.

paws4people: Josh and his assistance dog, Mason.

Here's Rachael again, this time Dawson is demonstrating how he can bring her a pizza. Not a skill my beagles could master!

paws4people: I was stunned when Rachael told me that her assistance dog, Dawson, could take a pizza in a box and deliver it to her, still intact. Sure enough, here he is!

joanbrady_lily_1_13_0132

paws4people: I love photographing the litters of puppies who will be trained as assistance dogs. In addition to breeding dogs for temperament, paws4people.org also trains rescue dogs, including dogs from Afghanistan.

adam_kenan_jbrady_oct2013_0598

paws4people: Adam, a veteran, and I met at one of the prisons where paws4people.org dogs are trained.  Just months later, with his new assistance dog, Kenan, Adam’s entire demeanor has changed.

I'm not able to share most of my images of foster kids. But this is one of my favorites. The hand on the left is attached to a warm-hearted young man who has aged out and unlike so many kids who age out, he has a job and a place to live.  The hand on the right belongs to one of my kids who was adopted. She started college this year.

Foster Kids: I’m not able to share most of my images of foster kids. But this is one of my favorites. The hand on the left is attached to a warm-hearted young man who has aged out and unlike so many kids who age out, he is working and has a roof over his head. The hand on the right belongs to one of my wonderful girls who was adopted about 2 years ago.  She started college this year.  I’m so proud of them both.

Jaheim, a child who has spent 10 years of his 11 in foster care, came by my studio to learn about photography. http://www.nbcwashington.com/video/#!/news/local/Wednesdays-Child–Jaheim/229003691  If you are interested in learning more about Jaheim, call: 88-to-adopt-me

Family

Jim finally had the opportunity to go with me to photograph a litter of paws4people puppies.

Jim finally had the opportunity to go with me to photograph a litter of paws4people puppies.

Dontae LOVED dressing up in a tux and going to the prom.

Dontae LOVED his prom tux.  I was surprised he didn’t want to sleep in it!

Fred and Hank

Fred and Hank

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Dontae

Fred and Hank

Fred and Hank

Wishing everyone all the best in the new year.

Joan

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Change of Pace: Found Some Great Subjects in New Zealand

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paws4people.org: A Little History, Pictures from the First Annual Family Reunion, Graduation 2012 and More!

Below is an except of the post that ran recently on the paws4people.org blog, to read the entire post, click here.

——————

Photographing the 2009 Fall Graduation at Hazelton Penitentiary was my first official shoot with paws4people.org. Witnessing the caring and committed trainers as they somberly said good-bye to their 4-legged charges, now ready to make a difference for appreciative veterans, young children and their families, was one of the top three moving experiences in my life.

Parents, whose children were receiving assistance dogs, couldn’t wait to show their appreciation to trainers.

It was exciting to share in the joy of the recipients (paws4people “clients”), who had waited a long time for the big moment when their assistance dogs would come home with them, for good.

Since then, it’s been quite an adventure. I have been back to Hazelton several times and I will be making my second trip to Lakin Correctional Facility this Monday. In both places, I have been there when the new puppies arrive to meet their trainers.

To read more.. click here….

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“Miss Beverly is awesome!”

"My mother was a woman of faith, and our faith played a large role in our lives. My mother's goal for me was that I would go to college." Beverly Howard

When Beverly Howard was in high school, she aspired to be just like her French teacher, “a beautiful, poised, sophisticated black woman.”

Today, Beverly is a dynamic, enthusiastic spitfire and her foster-kid-charges will tell you that she is absolutely perfect just the way she is.

Beverly’s mom worked as a housekeeper, so as an elementary school student, little Beverly would get herself home from school and lock the door tightly behind her, her protection against their dangerous DC neighborhood.

Before she was old enough to work, Beverly’s summers were spent with her grandmother in South Carolina. She loved those summers far away from DC and filled with kids, some related, some not… so many kids needing a safe place and finding it among Beverly’s family.

"Miss Beverly is fun, energetic and spontaneous." 20-year-old boy in foster care

Beverly says that she was always the smallest in her class and so was easily left out. She would insinuate herself into the group by always having ideas of fun things to do.

In junior high she earned her way into the Junior Honor Society, juggling academics with acting and sports.

Beverly started working with kids as a teenager, working at one of DC’s summer camp programs. When it was time for college, she had several scholarship offers and chose the one that would keep her on the path to becoming a doctor.

It was during her pre-med classes that she realized she hated being around germs. She transferred to the University of Maryland, earning her undergraduate degree in psychology and then her Ph.D.

While her actual age is a carefully guarded secret, Beverly has lived long enough to boast a

long career of making a difference. She was the Executive Director of National Urban Internet, Inc., where she wrote grants to secure funds to support the organizations efforts to bring technology, entrepreneurship and golf lessons to youth living in public housing in DC. And when she couldn’t find a golf teacher to work with the kids, Beverly jumped in and taught them herself.

She identified and wrote grant proposals to provide self-sufficiency programs for at-risk youth living in public housing.  She was the Director of Community Relationships for the Alexandria, VA Housing Authority where she managed education and support programs for public housing residents for families and youth.  In addition, she spent many years working tirelessly in several substance abuse/addiction and psychiatric programs for youth-aged children.

By the time I met Dr. Beverly Howard on a Wednesday’s Child/NBC-4, shoot seven years

"I truly believe that every child should have at least one adult whose face lights up when he or she enters the room – someone who is always happy to see them. All too often, our kids in foster care don't have that." Beverly Howard

ago, she was working for Fairfax County, VA with older kids in foster care. She was on the shoot to help make sure that two of her foster-charges put their best feet forward, in hopes that someone would see these terrific boys on NBC-4/DC and want to adopt them.

I was there taking pictures, so that the brothers would have pictures to remember this

special day when they got to spend time with Barbara Harrison/NBC-4 at a carnival.

Before I knew it, Beverly was asking me if I would be willing to come photograph one of the events she ran for foster kids in Fairfax County, VA.  She told me about the program she ran for kids in foster care who were older and most of whom were available for adoption, but were at an age when they are less likely to be adopted.

These were children who didn’t have many positive role models and didn’t have people in their lives who thought they were special and important.  The group came together two – three times per month and some of the mentors, mentored kids one-on-one during the month as well.

I met a dozen or so kids there that day, all dressed in matching bright blue Fairfax Families4kids t-shirts. I met a 14-year-old boy whose big brown eyes told me about a lifetime of sadness, a 13-year-old girl who shyly showed off her voice as she sang a popular song for me and two brothers who nervously shook my hand as they awaited the arrival of their potential adoptive parents.

I saw the impact Beverly had as she interacted with each child. Beverly Howard sees every child as having potential. She leads by example. Children don’t need to first be likeable, before they are liked.

"She teaches us how to take the next step in life. A lot of us are at that age when we will be on our own soon. We need guidance to take that next step." 17-year-old boy in foster care

Through Fairfax Families4kids, Beverly has created a family, a family where one might otherwise not exist.

In foster care, kids often go to sleep with the uncertainty that when they wake up, they may be told to pack their meager belongings into a garbage bag, to move to a new placement.

They are often in group homes and residential facilities with staffs who are doing their jobs…some better than others. Often foster parents are also just doing a job. That is not to say that there aren’t caring foster parents and warm staff working in group facilities, there are absolutely are. But in my experience, too many foster kids feel very much alone in dealing with their pasts, their presents and the insecurity that comes with feeling that they have no control over their futures.

"Miss Beverly is awesome!" 15-year-old girl in foster care

Through Beverly’s/Fairfax Families4kids program, the kids truly know what it means to walk into a room and have faces light up with excitement to hear about what they have been doing. They connect with mentors and potential adoptive families and experience new things.

They learn to model appropriate behaviors which are reinforced through positive feedback.  They have a safe haven where they are listened to without impatience and where they know that they will not be judged unfairly or harshly.

Beverly says that being a parent is what most influenced the work she does today.  As a single mom of two boys for 10 years, she experienced the bumps, bruises and emergency room visits that tend to go along with having boys. When she got re-married, her family doubled with her new husband’s two kids from a previous marriage.  But it was when they adopted two preteen daughters, she said, she had to unlearn everything she knew from raising boys, as she tried to figure out how to raise girls full-time and how to successful integrate these wonderful girls into their family.

Today, Beverly is proud of her sprawling family of six children and twelve grandchildren — so far. And she is thankful for all of the experiences that led her down the path to blending a large group of strangers including teenagers and adults, into a unique kind of family for at-risk kids, who would otherwise be without.

Posted in Inspired, Kids At Risk | 9 Comments

He will be missed

My cousin, Joanne (age 86), didn’t get to see her friend, Peter, as often as she would like. So I was happy to play chauffeur for a Valentine’s Day lunch.

I had had lunch with Joanne and Peter before, so I knew to expect lively discussion on a range of topics… from children (his and hers) to grandchildren (his and hers)… to Joanne’s recent trip to Burma… to politics…to the elementary school boy Joanne tutors in reading… to my shoot at a prison, all while enjoying great French food.

As the meal drew to a close, Joanne thanked Peter for all of the Valentine’s cards he had sent. Without missing a beat, he smiled widely at her and responded, “Oh good. You got them.”  To which she replied, “Not a one.” And they both laughed.

It was one of those intimate moments, reflective of two people who know each other well and truly enjoy each others’ quirks.  It was the perfect close to a Valentine’s Day celebration.

I saw Peter several times after that, but his health declined quickly and, sadly, he passed away a few weeks ago.

I was so lucky to have known Peter and to have been able to spend time with him together with Joanne over the past few years.

He will be missed.

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Non-profit entrepreneur and her young daughter touch hearts

I have found that people come into my life just when I need them. When I need to be challenged, when I need to be supported and especially when I need to be inspired.

Like a month or so ago, when I was feeling like there is more bad in the world than good, and I checked my email to find a bright light of hope.

"I had always thought of myself as a giving person, when I am asked to help, I always try respond affirmatively. But when I met Helen and started working with her at Touching Heart, I was truly inspired and I realized how much opportunity there is to look for needs to meet, rather than waiting to be asked to give." Carolyn Pennington

When Carolyn Pennington (Reston-Va based real estate agent, mom and head of education for Touching Heart), contacted me for pictures, we discovered we had a lot in common, most significantly a desire to make a difference

in the lives of children.

We decided to get together for coffee and Carolyn invited her friend, Helen Yi, to join us.

As we chatted, I learned that Helen had been influenced greatly by her grandmother, her mother and her Pastor

Helen Yi, Co-founder, Touching Heart

father. All were people who did not let anyone go unnoticed; not the sullen girl at the grocery check-out who responded to a smile, the single mom who needed help to feed her kids or the boy being battered by an abusive father.

As a pastor’s daughter, sadness and despair weren’t things she just heard about, Helen saw their impact first-hand and saw the difference a kind word and tangible support could make.

She told me that meeting real people and hearing their difficulties helped her to develop the empathy that she carries with her today.

As she started her own family, Helen wanted to instill in her kids the same values that she had been raised with. With her oldest, she fed the hungry, brought coats to the cold and raised money as a hedge against abuse and neglect.

Taylor, had so much compassion for others that Helen wanted to do more to embrace that giving spirit, while expanding the amount of difference that she herself was able to make in the world.

So she set a goal: By the time she was 40, she must be focused on doing something that was going to make a bigger difference in the world, something that she could do together with Taylor and her younger kids, as they got older.

But 40 was fast approaching and she was no closer. Then, as she worked with Taylor to plan her 12th birthday party. Taylor had an idea, what if instead of getting gifts, she

Co-founders of Touching Heart: Helen and Taylor Yi

asked attendees to make a donation to a charity. After that party they began brainstorming how they might expand on that idea.

At first, Helen thought she could start a non-profit and continue work full-time as a successful telecommunications product manager, but quickly realized she needed to make a choice. Helen quit her job in order to get her 501C3 registered and she and Taylor co-founded Touching Heart in 2010.

The Touching Heart concept is simple: If you teach children at a young age what it means to be kind to another person, you instill in them an empathy that will last a lifetime.

Touching Heart trains “ambassadors” (aged 13-18) who then run seminars for 6 – 12 year olds. Those seminars include role-play and other activities to help the children to think outside of themselves. The workshops have taken place at elementary schools as well as for girl scout troops. Even if the kids don’t participate in Touching Heart after the workshop, the hope is that a seed is planted that will take root.

Both Taylor and one of the Ambassadors I met, Madeline, talked about the connection

they felt to the kids at an orphanage in Kenya, when they were introduced through essays, letters, pictures and the beautiful bracelets made by the Kenya kids as gifts for the US kids. And they loved making bracelets to send back to the kids in Kenya.

Kids are able to register their birthday parties on the website, so that party goers can made a donation to a charity of the birthday child’s choice: One of the several orphanages the group sponsors or a project to help local-VA children in foster care.

The US kids and kids at orphanages around the world, write cards and make bracelets for each other.

What the kids say, “”At first I didn’t know what an orphan [was]. But when I did the workshop I understood what it means to grow up without parents and not have lots of clothes and toys. I think I will help some of the poor kids who are also orphans. I am thankful to have parents who love me and give me whatever I want.” Diya, age 7

What the parents say: “My daughter and I found both letters to be very touching and moving. What a wonderful experience for her. Thank you!! By the way her face lit up with a big smile and red cheeks, I could see that she felt that she had made a difference as well as a connection to a girl her own age though many miles away.”  Marina (mom)

When I asked Helen if she felt that her previous career has helped her to be successful as a non-profit entrepreneur – and she told me that learning to get along with all different kinds of people in all different scenarios was key. She also told me that the network she created while working in telecommunications has helped her significantly in making Touching Heart a success.

In addition to co-founding Touching Heart, Taylor is a cheerleader, plays with a travel tennis team, is an honor roll student and plays the piano.

This April, Touching Heart, chaired by Carolyn Pennington, will hold its first fundraiser. A golf tournament complete with auction and some great celebrity guests including Washington Redskin legends: Darrell Green, Ken Harvey and Brian Mitchell, Virginia State Senator: Mark Herring and NBC Sports Anchor: Dan Hellie.

If hearing about Helen has touched your heart, click here to get more information on how you can get involved.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Aesop

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