Help-Portrait LA organizer Emily Michel Ford shared these highlights from their event Saturday.
It feels like an impossible task to summarize the stories from Help-Portrait in Los Angeles on Saturday.
I have been so moved by the amazing redemption and transformation in these men and women’s lives and I hope you will find joy and hope in them as well.
Among the five sites, we got to serve over 400 guests on Saturday.
UNION RESCUE MISSION
There was so much kindness, compassion, joy and excitement in this room. The group of volunteers who came together from all over the city to serve the homeless and forgotten literally brought tears to my eyes. Over 150 family groups (nearing 200 total people) came through this loud, wonderful chapel room on Saturday.
Over and over again, I have heard of the shock and surprise of many of these men and women in seeing THEMSELVES in a photo for the very first time. They would say how they never liked how they looked, but they liked themselves in this photo.
Women who had not had make-up on or their hair done in their entire lives walked out of this room looking and feeling like princesses.
There were several men who played instruments as people walked past them all day every day that brought the same instruments into this room and were received with praise, attention and care.
Children were held and included in the process – allowed to help edit the photos with our volunteers and proclaim how beautiful their parents were.
One of the residents of Union Mission Rescue, “Louie,” told us about his good friend “Caster” that he had taken under his wing while in the program at the center. Caster has had a hard life, struggling in the gang life, going to prison, etc. and finally ended up at Union Rescue Mission bunking next to Louie. Caster is about the same age as Louie’s son, so automatically, Louie felt the need to look out for him. A couple of weeks ago, Caster gave his life to Christ. One day, Louis saw Caster rapping with another guy in the alleyway behind the mission. The guy was super talented with freestyle. On Saturday, Louis asked him what goals he was trying to set for his life, job, career, etc. Caster said he didn’t know, that he wasn’t good at anything. Louis said how about rapping for Jesus? After hearing this conversation, a few of us encouraged Caster to try this new freestyle for us since we were all believers. This is what happened…
The families that came into this site were those that were involved in the gang prevention section of the LA Children’s hospital – particularly targeting kids ages 10-15 through house visits, interventions and outside programming to keep them from joining into the many local gang movements. What a cool way to show these kids and their families that they have a place, are included and are valued for who THEY are, not what group they have sworn allegiance to.
Even though the room for hair & make-up had blown fuses through half of the room, these amazing stylists were so determined that they continued to do work in only partial light. Many of them, through their bilingual gifts were able to connect with primarily Spanish speaking families and women while doing their hair & make-up for the portraits.
We had a single parent family of five children and their mom come in for their very first picture together. Her oldest child was 15.
A local pastor who had been caring for this community for years and was barely making ends meet, got to come through with his family and be loved on and cared for himself for a day.
Although the total guest count was lower than anticipated, I can say with total and complete confidence that the impact had on those present was INCREDIBLE. After touching base with the site coordinator, she had tons of stories of the renewal of people’s confidence and of how special of a gift this was for them.
There were couples there that day who had never had a photo taken of their wedding or together as a part of their marriage. One in particular finally got to take “wedding” photos together as they neared their first year anniversary at the end of December.
Some of the mothers who came with their children had never had a photo taken of their child since their birth. As many of them struggle to provide and care for their precious little ones, having a permanent reminder of their joy and love together is a powerful milestone as a family.
One sweet woman who came into PATH chose to be there on her birthday. Because we had extra photographers at PATH, when her photo session time came, she was surrounded by 4 or 5 different photographers all taking shots of her and her son. She said she felt like the most important person in the world. This was the first birthday present that someone had given to her in years.
Several families, including one seen below experienced a very similar feeling of how special and prioritized they were:
DOWNTOWN WOMEN’S CENTER
Several women who because of abuse and attack had taken refuge at the Downtown Women’s Center in the past few years gathered the courage to participate in the photos on Saturday. One of them communicated to me that she had not been able to look at her face in almost three years after she had been ambushed and knocked out with her nose and many other bones on her face broken. She just didn’t feel beautiful or worth being seen anymore. To watch the care with which our make-up and hair stylists treated her and the way the room came around her to encourage her during her photo session brought tears to many of our eyes. When she saw her pictures, all she could say was, “God bless you” and “God will bless you.”
There was a woman who came early on who was pregnant with her first child, preparing to be a new single mother. One of our amazing volunteers who was also four months pregnant with her first child and to see their connection and the way our sweet volunteer could encourage this woman in the beauty and strength she possessed was profound. How good are the faithful words of encouragement in remembering the treasure of new life.
I rode down the elevator with three women, one of which had just received her photo and was returning to her room. Upon some encouragement she showed the photo to the two other women to which they exclaimed “DAAAAMN GIRL. You look like a rock star.” and other words of affirmation that just seemed to seep deep into her soul. The look on her face was more beautiful than that of a young girl who just won a beauty pageant. Many of these women do not frequently encourage or build up one another yet that was what was happening among them on Saturday.
One woman’s son took the time to come down and take portraits with her for the day. He has been pursuing a new modeling career and so one of the photographers was generous enough to take a few head shots for him as well.
The site coordinator said that she had not seen the women in this facility so filled with joy all year. What an amazing blessing. The first time she walked into one of the rooms to see the progress, she had to leave to keep from crying.
Everywhere I looked there were women sitting in comfy chairs speaking one on one with such attentiveness and care while waiting for their turn in hair/make-up or for a portrait to print. This quality time meant the world to a lot of women who are there because their families or friends would not care for them or be involved in their life.
Through the time and care of our awesome hosting team, we got to include notes of encouragement with each of the envelopes of photos that women would be picking up the next day, reminding them of how treasured, strong and beautiful they were.
One single mother and her five kids were taking photos but the mom was reluctant to get involved, until the kids begged her over and over again. When she finally came around, the look on her face as she was getting her hair and makeup done was priceless. You can tell that she felt like somebody again. She had recently gone through a divorce and now is living with her sister on a very tight budget. So to have family portraits for this time of the year was such a blessing to them all. They got so involved in all the photos. And to see this beautiful family leave the school together looking like stars really did wonders for their self esteem. You could see it on their faces!
Another single mom who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, was able to participate and have photos taken of her daughter just in time for her first birthday. She had been feeling like an outcast lately – feeling mistreated by her family because of the pregnancy and this session truly showed the beauty of this new family.
Also, a long-term volunteer of Harambee was able to get his family photos taken. He has one kid of his own but had taken in a cousin who was physically abused as a child to where she is disabled and walks with braces. To see them getting all glammored up and taking as many pictures as they like was a real boost to their self esteem as well.