This was a speech I wrote for Sparrow Clubs given last Friday at the Wings of Hope luncheon. It is a bit more lengthy here and not as condensed. I first want to say thank you to my mom and friends for filling mine and her tables and to the wonderful faces of friends throughout the room Friday. Whether you came for me or the club or a family you know or for all it meant so very much. For those of you who were not able to attend or who would like a bit of a good read on my personal life journey into photography (which I often get asked the question "how did you start") this is it! Its a bit sad in parts and not really a fancy tale but it is mine. If you read to the end there is a gallery of some of the amazing families and children I have been so blessed to work with. I would also like to say I am SO grateful to my husband who when I met him I proudly told from day one "I am a photographer!" And he believed me - every step of the way~
All week I have been experiencing "speechmares" haha! I woke up from one thinking I was Meryl Streep at the Academy Awards at one point and had just wowed you all! (Not likely).
My name is Aly (or if you ask my mother or Jan over there they will tell you otherwise and that is is AlyCIA).
I own a local photography company Hazel Eye Photography. The last years have been a wild ride of both national and international publications and works. There have been some great awards including being twice nominated for one of the top wedding photographers in Oregon. These things are wonderful…and I am so appreciative but most importantly I am appreciative of the growth allowing me to give back even more along the way. Especially to organizations such as Sparrow Clubs which have so much heart.
I was never a great photographer…and if you all remember Mr Mike Murphy here in Grants Pass before he was mayor some time ago…He taught photography at the local high school. In that class I mayyybe escaped with a C. It was just something fun with film cameras (yes I am old enough to have been there for those) and a dark room. I remember failing one themed assignment and my friend Christina saying "maybe her theme is not having a theme Mr Murphy." She might have been more right than she knew!
Have you ever feel like all things at a point in your life lead to to a path of calling though? Seven years ago I had just such a year. In 2011 I had what I lovingly call the "Restart Year." I was a single mom with two young kids. I worked overnight shifts often they were 27 hour sleep shifts and did nails on the side. My kids were bounced between three places/sitters/friends often times from Sundays to Mondays. Eventually due to the kid situation l unfortunately eventually lost my main job. A job helping people with disabilities that I really loved. Shortly thereafter due to this job loss I lost our home.
During that hard year I felt a call to capture what was around me. I frequented the local pawnshops for a used camera. I think I finally wore the Cash Connection guys down. They had one that came in at last. He told me I could afford the camera minus the fancy lens that was with it. I took what I could get happily. I put the last of the money I had on it and declared myself a “photographer” and that I was going to change the world. A lot of people thought I was crazy but it ended up being the best gamble of my life.
The first give back I ever did with my new camera was in support of a local Sparrow child of a friend Kaleb Lahr at a casino night fundraiser. At that time I still really did not know what Sparrow Clubs did. I continued for some time at any opportunity giving back to families with illness or hard times. I did it not to capture the hard times but the joyful moments in there no matter how small and also participating in Help Portrait which I opened for our Grants Pass area. For some time in addition to my dream I kept working 1-2 other jobs at a time to supplement my income.
A couple years later we were losing my Grammy who I helped care for. I attended that Fall Women of Faith in Portland with some friends. On the drive I remember a friend who knew I was into giving back telling me of a doctors wife in town who had lost her newborn and of a photographer who had come in and captured their baby for them through Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and how important the memories were to the family. I remember thinking I want to do something meaningful like that for people. Grammy left us shortly after my trip. One of my most important photo memories dear to my heart was this one I took before I left to Women of Faith. It was of me holding her hand. I knew at that point every day could be one of the last times I ever did. I loved her hands. When Sparrow Clubs began seeking a photographer in the Grants Pass area a week or so later I immediately offered up my services. I still didn’t know a lot about it but I was about to learn so much.
I met little baby Cash for North Valley High School who was my very first Sparrow on a Fall day along with his sister and mother. The first shoot I EVER did in my new fancy studio downtown was with him. I was nervous and excited to meet them. We discussed the weather and the fall leaves as they had all moved from LA to care for Cash's late grandmother. It was now just the three of them. I asked what did he love? Could he be outdoors? Did he have any special things that he took to his doctor visits? I learned he loved Pooh who went everywhere with him.
When we got together it was such a unique experience. One I will never forget. The love and care they showed this tiny human was incredible. They did not care about how many chins were in a photo or if their hair was just right. They simply wanted a moment of happiness and love captured forever.
So that is what we did that day. That little boy with half a heart…. If anyone could have loved his heart to whole again they did. North Valley had already began gathering gifts for the family for the holidays and he was set to be brought in for assembly. Unfortunately on Christmas Eve I got a call that changed everything. Cash had left us. Our hearts were all broken. Writing this down and even reading this still makes me cry to this day.
My journey with this family however had just begun. I remember being asked to photograph the services which I did for the family. I remember floating balloons into the night sky that night and wondering what was the answer to all of this…and I prayed real hard for a right answer.
The answer came sooner than I thought and the messenger surprised me. I had booked a family session during the holidays for January…outdoors! I remember thinking “who does a family session in JANUARY when its 20 degrees?” The family was so kind and sweet even though they were quite frozen and through conversation baby Cash came up. I confided in this kind doctors wife that I had no idea what to do when people cried. I had no answers for any of this. And I was heart broken for this family.
She then told me a story…A story of a baby born before her young daughter I met that day she had lost. She told me of photos taken by a photographer and how much they had meant to her. As fate or God or whatever you believe would have it it was the same woman I had heard of from the Women of Faith trip. She told me of one of the darkest saddest times and of a friend she had. The friend said he only wanted to come over and hold her hand. And cry with her. Not talking, not praying. Just be there. She taught me that day that there are not always words for these situations but just to be there and grieve next to someone and have love for them is at times enough.
So that is what I did as best I could. I was there for the tears and the sadness. This family went through so much. I just continued and tried to be there and do little things now and again. Little by little time passed and there came a day came when I learned the daughter was to have a baby girl. Nothing gave me greater joy then to hear those words. To be there to capture her newborn photos, and her one year and see her birthdays come and go. To see the smiles again. To know that these incredible women enrolled in college and one now is complete in a medical field. The other when done plans to go into serving our community. I am so proud of and will always have so much love these strong ladies. This last Friday would have been their little guys 7th birthday and to see them celebrate it even in sadness with some images from my one day with them all makes me know I did everything that I could do.
Cash forever changed me. I think each and every time I shoot of him. I try to make it the happiest light moments even if its brief for families going through such hard times. I try to capture the details of each beautiful child. Their inner beauty as well as little details such as eyelashes, their funny cowlicks and the cute shoes they will grow out of all too fast. I love getting to know their favorite things be it a toy or their a Pink Floyd tee shirt or favorite song. I love getting to know the people who love them. They are all super hero's to me.
Through Sparrow Cubs the last several years I have watched as hundreds of youth in our community rise to their feet at an assembly in support of a child. I've seen them come up after to embrace a child they might otherwise have not. Seen the tears in parents eyes of joy at the support of these kids and schools coming together with an incredible purpose. And I too have cried at literally every one…especially if you ever hear the inspirational music played for them.
Here is what I have learned about the world since buying a camera that day and a quote by Beth Clark says it better than I ever could:
“People who really want to make a difference in the world usually do it, in one way or another. And I’ve noticed something about people who make a difference in the world: They hold the unshakeable conviction that individuals are extremely important. That every life matters. They get excited over one smile. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind and treat one wound. They aren’t determined to revolutionize the world all at once. They’re satisfied with small chages. Over time though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world.”
Sparrow Clubs to me is just that. We are reaching these kids on an individual level. Letting them see that they can impact someone else's life in as little as one hour of their time- or in some cases it grows to be many hours… or how about a lifetime? Because for some of these children and families it is just that. Lifetime friendships and bonds are formed. I feel lucky to be one of those. By taking away the money aspect we teach the kids and even ourselves that this is more than just about who has money. It has taught me so much even at an adult level this as well. I didn’t start this with much more than time to give. Sometimes that time was photographs. Sometimes that has been a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes that has been helping someone move or finding something their child needed. Sometimes that has been just hanging out and talking about regular life things during a difficult time. Although at times this journey has been difficult I wouldn't change the path. Below I will post a gallery of a few of the beautiful children and families I have been blessed to get to know and some now I am lucky to call friends.
I hope that my story can help tell just a bit of a tale of what Sparrow Clubs is. What it does. How it brings people together and that it will inspire you all as well to love this organization the way I do.
To learn more about Sparrow Clubs and how then support families through our student bodies of schools in the communities please visit: www.sparrowclubs.org