Big News! 1st Place Virginia Press Association Award.

“Murder.” “Life Sentence.” These are the words that jumped off the screen of my computer when I googled one of the youngsters I had tutored 15 years ago. At that time, he was a 3rd grader in foster care. He had bright brown eyes and a thirst for learning. When I last saw him, it was expected that he would be reunified with his family. His dull-eyed mugshot told me things hadn’t turned out as planned.

In the past 15 years, I have mentored and/or tutored more than 70 young people in foster care and have touched the lives of many more. Some days I’m moved to try to find some of the many kids who have passed in and out of my life. Other days, I just don’t want to know.

Incarcerated. Homeless. Parents before they are ready. Those are the cold realities of what can happen when children are broken by their parents, torn from their families and raised by a government system.  In many cases, at 18 or 21, these young people are simply dumped onto the street without the education, personal resources or support to succeed.

So to give myself a little hope, I set about to find foster care alumnae who are not just surviving, but are thriving. Last year, the Connection Newspapers published three pieces in the resulting series.

Over the weekend, it was announced that I’d won a first-place award from the Virginia Press Association for a feature series; my series on foster care alumni success stories.

And I couldn’t have been more shocked. If it had been for one of my photo essays, maybe. But for something I had written? No way. You see, when I sit in front of a keyboard, the voice I hear is one from 30+ years ago. The voice I hear is that of a college professor who took me aside to tell me, “I’ve never had a student write as badly as you.”

Today, I’m humbled to be listed among so many of Virginia’s distinguished journalists. I’ll be forever thankful to Mary Kimm, Publisher and Editor at Local Media Connection (Connection Newspapers), for giving me the opportunity and platform to raise awareness of topics that are close to my heart.

I will never stop appreciating those who reach out to connect with children in foster care and who stick by them after they age-out of the System.

And, I’d like to give a very special thanks to my subjects, who trusted me with their very personal stories.

Joel’s StoryAfter foster care: Architecting his own path.
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Victor not Victim Leading by example.
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Mentoring Guides Foster Care Alum: “If God doesn’t have a plan for you, have a plan for yourself.”
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And, while I won no awards for my photo essay on “Senior Dogs,” I’m throwing it in for all of my like-minded, canine obsessed, readers.

 

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RNC: 2008

I had planned to go to the RNC this year.

I tagged along to St. Paul in 2008, where my husband was working, figuring it would be a great place to take pictures. I wasn’t disappointed. But I did get more than I bargained for.

In 2008, I got tear gassed for the first (and only) time; my heart beating as percussion grenades went off in the stinging smokey darkness, giving me a small sense of what it might be like to be in a war zone. For a novice, I had no way of knowing that what I was hearing wasn’t machine gun fire. I might have been crying. In fact, I definitely was.

But as 2016 rolled around, with Cleveland a fairly easy drive from VA, that feeling of terror had dimmed against visions the beautiful day, Rage against the Machine playing to an adoring crowd and the tangible experience of living in a democracy.

After watching the news of the past few weeks, I’ve reconsidered.  Instead, I’m posting pictures from 2008, which, when compared to 2016, might be indistinguishable.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

 

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2014 Wrap-Up!

Scroll down if you want to head straight for my favorite images from 2014.

2014 has been a busy year. In addition to forming a new company (Spirited Media) with my husband and launching our first website (Billy Penn), I launched two new photography projects that I’m really excited about.

  • Priceless Puppies, I’ve been photographing puppies destined to be assistance dogs for paws4people for over 5 years now and figured it was about time I figured out a way to share all of that puppy cuteness.

In 2014, I blogged less, but wrote more, as I began writing for Connection Newspapers. Links to my pieces are below the pictures.

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Photo by photography student, Will F.

I met an inspiring teacher, Al Faraone and his post-high school student, Will.  An aspiring photographer, Will had been taking pictures at school events and wanted to learn more. Al figured out how to rig my Canon 5D Mark iii to Will’s wheelchair, so that he could look through the viewfinder. With limited use of his hands, clicking the shutter was difficult. Using a remote trigger, he worked hard to capture the images he wanted. Interested in learning more? 


Presenting 14 from 2014: For-Profit Work                                                              (click on each picture to view larger)

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Presenting 14 from 2014: Non-Profit Work with paws4people.org               (click the links to learn more about the dogs and the difference they are making. Click on the pictures to see them larger.)

Adam, a veteran, recently told me that things have really changed since KENAN had come into his life. In fact, he invested in getting his teeth fixed.  If you never smile, your teeth don't matter, Adam told me. http://paws4people.org/give/adam-campbell/

Adam, a veteran, recently told me that things have really changed since KENAN had come into his life. In fact, he invested in getting his teeth fixed. If you never smile, your teeth don’t matter, Adam told me. http://paws4people.org/give/adam-campbell/

MEMPHIS is currently training to be an assistance dog at Lakin Penitentiary in West Virginia.

MEMPHIS

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GRIFFIN

Getting those litter shots takes a lot of puppy wranglers.

Getting those litter shots takes a lot of puppy wranglers.

I have also photographed Cory with his assistance dog, SAMPSON, but this is the image that really touches me, Cory with his two teenage daughters. Read more about Cory's journey post Marine Corps:   http://paws4people.org/give/cory-will/

I have also photographed Cory with his assistance dog, SAMPSON, but this is the image that really touches me.

THORNTON is currently training at Lakin Penitentiary in West Virginia.

THORNTON

AVERY has much more patience than my beagles.  But that tongue was at-the-ready for the command that AVERY knew would eventually come.  http://paws4people.org/give/robbie-combs/

Robbie on AVERY, ” [I]  used to always say get busy living or get busy dying. Because of AVERY I have gotten busy living.”

SAYLOR and WALKER, best buddies.

SAYLOR and WALKER

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Destined to be assistance dogs.

I couldn't do the top 14 and not include SIDNEY. She is the smiliest dog I have ever seen.  She is a demo dog for paws4people

SIDNEY, a demo and breeding dog, is the smiliest dog I’ve ever seen. Next year’s goal is to get David  to smile as big!

GUS clearly brings Lexi and here family so much joy. Read about their journey: http://paws4people.org/give/lexi-haas/

According to Lexi’s mom, Susan, “Thanks to GUS, for the first time ever, neighborhood kids stop to talk to Lexi.”

JACKSON has made such a difference in Walter's life that he and his wife, Susan were able to realize a life-long dream, to travel to Alaska. Read more about his journey from Vietnam to meeting JACKSON: http://paws4people.org/give/walter-parker/

Because of JACKSON, Walter and his wife, Susan, were able to realize a life-long dream, to travel to Alaska. Read more about Walter’s journey from Vietnam to meeting JACKSON: http://paws4people.org/give/walter-parker/



Links to Connection Newspaper articles

This was a multi-part package, taking up several pages of the paper. This link goes to an intro and then all of the links to each of the associated pieces.  Blondes turning Heads in Prison

We wanted to come up with a different way to talk about adoption. No stats. No pleas for help. Rather, the story of how a wonderful family was expanded through adoption. Hover over each image to see captions and read about the story of the Havlovick’s.  How Three Became One

Photo gallery of assistance dogs and their handlers. Click on each picture for description.

Envisioning a Launch Pad for Young Adults

Puppies Destined for Important Work

Columns

I’m not a parent, I just act like one.

November is Adoption Month

Nurturing Happy Memories

Small Acts of Kindness

Assistance Dogs: Making Connections

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Blondes Turning Heads in Prison

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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.

 

 

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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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