Dear Help-Portrait Community,
When my friends and I gathered for that first Help-Portrait event in an old warehouse in Nashville, I had a sense that we had stumbled onto something special.
I saw photographers who compete for business in the same town come together for a common good.
I saw volunteers grabbing hands with people who are normally ignored or shunned on the street.
I saw little kids running around and playing together, oblivious to the differences that set them apart in society.
I didn’t know this was the start of a worldwide movement. All I knew was I didn’t want this to be the last time I experienced this sort of celebration.
By using what we had in our hands (cameras) and in our hearts (a desire to connect), we got out of our comfort zones and received far more than we gave.
What was so simple and everyday to us (a photo) became a symbol for so much more to someone else. It represented dignity, hope, a fresh start, love.
After that first year, we issued a simple invitation for others to replicate the event where they live. I was overwhelmed by the response.
To date, approximately 400,000 portraits have been given in 67 countries. And those are only the numbers that have been reported.
Soon after we started, we set up a nonprofit called Help-Portrait to help people around the world plan events, fundraise, and to help spread the story of what was happening.
The stories that flowed from these events changed me forever.
I’ll never forget the woman in Seattle that I took a family portrait for, and then she asked me to Photoshop in her husband, who had been recently killed in Pakistan.
Or the girl in Nashville, who wept when she saw her portrait because it was the first time she’d seen her face with enough makeup to cover the acid scars inflicted by her mother.
I’ll also treasure the last Help-Portrait event my brother Mike attended. All three of us Cowart boys gathered around the mic to sing Christmas carols like we had done since we were kids. My family always volunteered at each Nashville Help-Portrait event. It was a highlight to serve together. But that year was his last. He passed away just three months later from a heart attack.
But for all of the organizing that happens for it each year, it’s been the movement that’s fueled Help-Portrait, not the nonprofit.
YOU, the volunteers, the directors, the photographers, and the makeup artists have driven this event to become what it is today.
Because of that, after this year’s event, we are shutting down the official nonprofit known as Help-Portrait, Inc.
What I’ve come to realize is that not only is the nonprofit unnecessary, but raising money to fund its existence takes away from the actual events where others can be helped.
Help-Portrait will continue its organic existence as a movement, and we still want to help tell its story. To do that, we’re still asking you to submit your event statistics here: http://helpportrait.wpengine.com/report.
We’ll be updating our website and social media throughout the coming weeks. And our resources for planning events will still be on our website. But we won’t be paying someone to field customer service questions, or updating our Director’s Kit or selling merch each year, and we won’t be organizing the tax-exempt portion through Pure Charity.
Help-Portrait is by no means over. It will continue to live on as long as there are photographers and volunteers who want to continue to give back with what they’ve been given — the ability to see people for who they are and to give them a symbol of their worth and dignity — a printed portrait.
Thank you for taking a simple idea and bringing it to life. Lives around the world have been touched and changed because of your involvement and will continue to be as long as you allow it.
Have a wonderful holiday season… let’s go do some good!