SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
How do you serve your community through your volunteer work?
The majority of my volunteering is done through photography. I take the marketing photos for St. Thomas Aquinas Academy, and I photograph the all school’s Mass for Seton Schools and the archdiocese. For about 12 years, I’ve volunteered for Flashes of Hope, a national organization with chapters in Milwaukee and the one I work with at children’s hospital. I go once a year and photograph the families who have a child who is experiencing cancer. It’s a beautiful way to give back because, in some cases, these are their last family photos they’ll have together. In some cases, though, I photograph them when their child is in remission and it’s a beautiful celebration. Those moments capture a lot of things: the love and the joy and the grief and the sorrow and the pain all wrapped up into one. More often than not, when I leave I’m pushed to prayer; sometimes prayers of thanksgiving but sometimes prayers of deep hurt and confusion. They’re not always easy moments to be part of but I thank God I can show his love to people in this one small way.
You recently used your photography skills to participate in the viral social media Porch Project; what inspired you to do that?
I woke up feeling really helpless and sad and I needed to do something with it. I put it out on Facebook, and said the time and which neighborhood I was going to walk through and said, “If you’re available I’ll take some family pictures of you on your porch.” I did 10 or 12, and it was incredible. I didn’t know what to expect – if they’d put on their coordinating outfits and brush their hair and put on makeup, and some did, which was awesome because I know that not everyone can afford to have those taken often. More people, though, showed up as they were; their kids had marker drawn on them, they were in sweatpants. You could see the emotion in their faces and how they were processing this.
What did you learn from seeing people in that vulnerable place?
I got to have so many amazing conversations with people. There was a woman who was going to have to lay off five people the next day and she was obviously affected by that. I talked to an MPS high school teacher who was so worried about his students. It was such an incredible opportunity to see how this is impacting so many people and then create imagery from that. It was raw and heartbreaking and beautiful.
How have you brought the conversation about the COVID-19 virus home?
The scariest thing I think is that we can’t give our children answers. There’s no end in sight. We can’t guarantee that grandma and grandpa aren’t going to get sick. Children, especially, are so focused on what is just and want concrete answers. It’s really hard to explain that we don’t know how long we’re going to be stuck in the house or what’s going to change.
So what have you been telling your kids?
With my older two, who are old enough to talk to as adults and who we’ve always tried to be really open with about things, we’re telling them what’s on the news and giving them the choice to watch or read it if they want. They don’t have a lot of presence on social media but they do have Instagram to promote their art; so they’re seeing how this is affecting artists, which is very interesting. We’re talking through a lot of it as it applies to art. We’re talking about the impact it’s having on small businesses and anything from how it’s harder to get supplies to how it’s harder to sell. It’s a great opportunity to talk to them about how God is in control; we’re not.
What have you been doing to stay busy?
We’ve been doing a lot of creating in our house, for ourselves and for other people. I’ve got the girls creating these little kitten warmers. We bought socks and rice and they learned how to sew from a class online and they’re sewing covers for them and we’re donating them to MADACC, a shelter for kittens. They’ve been painting rocks, too, and leaving them around the neighborhood when we go for walks. It’s their small way of giving back. We also bring them into the conversation when we give, and let them watch us do what we can with our money and our time. We’ll talk to them about organizations that are hurting and ask how they’d divide up our giving, or where we should volunteer when we go on family vacations. Whenever we do something for ourselves with our money, we try to do something for others, and try to live what we believe the best way we know how and let our children make of it what they will.
Where did your love of volunteering come from?
Absolutely from my in-laws. They’re amazing people who raised six children and all of their kids and spouses grew to have the same desire to give back. They’re an incredible example of living their faith in everything that they do. There’s always a turkey roasting in the oven for some organization, my father-in-law volunteers with St. Vincent de Paul; they just give back whenever and however they can.
How are you leaning on your faith during these hard days?
Through prayer. Through these long beautiful text message conversations I’m having with friends of mine who are stronger in their faith than I am. Listening to others about how their faith lives are changing and developing really gives me the opportunity to have my own faith strengthened.