By: Lisa Cencula, Flashes of Hope and Outreach Manager
Flashes of Hope, a program of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, turns 20 years old this Fall. Which means for 20 years, nearly 2,000 photographers have volunteered and donated their time and talents in 87,000 photography sessions for children battling cancer.
August 19 is World Photography Day, and I cannot think of a better day to highlight the incredible work of the Flashes of Hope photographers.
Flashes of Hope photographers are matched with children and their families who are fighting childhood cancer at hospitals and camps around the country. They may be in treatment; they be near the end of treatment; they might be in remission; or they may be battling relapsed disease. Our photographers don’t know these details nor do they know a particular child’s diagnosis. They simply go to the photo shoot, do their job as a photographer and create lasting memories for children and their families.
It might seem like a little thing to have a nice photo, but for these children, their families, and the photographers behind the camera, the donated portraits truly represent hope. It is hope for another good day. It is hope for more time. It is hope for a cure. For our photographers, it is the hope that their work will capture the beauty that exists in the battle. Kids with cancer are still kids first; and that is something cancer cannot take away.
The time our photographers spend behind the lens is life changing. The images they produce show the incredible courage, strength, and innate beauty children battling cancer possess. I asked our volunteer photographers about their time and experiences. I think their stories (below) and their photos (in the slideshow above) tell the Flashes of Hope story best:
Wendy Boedeker, from Denver, recalled one session:
“Midway through the photo shoot his mom said: ‘Tell Miss Wendy that you earned each of those beads on your lanyard for every procedure you went through.’
My heart skipped a beat. Easily over two dozen beads.
Then my heart swelled up with joy and happiness as he smiled so big and so joyfully; healthy once again.”
Michael Hart, from Houston, carries the memories of each session with him:
“Because of HIPPA, we cannot ask what the children are suffering from. You always wonder, will the family be looking at these pictures years after we have taken them, laughing and saying ‘Oh, remember when you didn’t have any hair?’ Or will they be saying ‘I miss her so much…”
Cat Gwynn, from Los Angeles, had finished a year-long treatment for breast cancer, including radiation and chemotherapy that left her bald, and shared this story:
“There was one little girl I photographed that truly touched my heart. She silently took me in when we met, then quietly proclaimed: 'You’re bald.' Her family and I burst out laughing at her astute observation. She earnestly shared that she was bald because she has cancer. I commiserated that I, too, was bald for the same reason. Then, she worriedly asked, 'Are you going to be okay?' Choking back tears, I solemnly nodded yes. Her genuine smile filled my lens with joy.”
Len Tucci has been changed by his experience with Flashes of Hope:
“Shooting portraits for Flashes of Hope is always the most humbling and inspiring day of my year. In the midst of the most challenging moments of their lives, the children and teens exude an irrepressible joy that fully defies the difficulty of their circumstance. I have witnessed their pride, their strength, their defiance and calm resolve. They find beauty and hope where many of us would only see darkness. They change you. And the memories and lessons learned these days remain long after the gear is packed and the day is done. The good people of Flashes of Hope are always quick to express their gratitude for the time we volunteer. But, in truth, it is an honor to serve this organization, and I am always grateful for the opportunity."
Donna Green and Kathy Porupski have worked together with Flashes of Hope and shared this insight from their years:
“For what might seem like a daunting task; it's truly anything but that. Meeting the families, spending time with the kids in the hospital and making memories they can take home is such a gift to us. There isn't anything more rewarding than a parent coming up to us crying and thanking us for the photos they were never able to have done because their child was too sick to go to a photo studio or they simply couldn't afford the luxury of a professional photo. We will continue to offer photography until no child has to face cancer.”
Sandy Powers, from San Antonio, has been moved by the bonds and the depths of love she witnessed between brothers and sisters:
“One of my favorite memories is two beautiful identical twins. The soul connection between them was so tangible, it wrapped itself around my heart and made it ache as I prayed for healing for my gorgeous model. Another favorite was a young boy, so early in his treatment that he still had all his hair, but it was so obvious that he did not feel well at all. His big brother was so protective of 'his' baby that it seemed to put a shield of strength around his little brother.”
Ivan Martinez from Phoenix, recalled a session with a joyful, funny kid:
“I sat there taking it all in. He taught me a priceless lesson that day. No matter how hard your situation is, there is still time for joy. I became a better person that day. I will not forget that session for as long as I live.”
Steve Sattler, a Flashes of Hope volunteer photographer, feels he gains more than he gives:
“It is impossible to pick one favorite memory in working with Flashes of Hope. I’ve now photographed the kids four times, as well as photographing the photographers (behind the scenes) once. Each time is very, very special. And each time creates memories I will carry throughout life. I know how important the portraits are to the parents and families of the kids. And I know most of the kids want their pictures taken and have fun posing and playing around. But what I love most about volunteering is what it does for me personally. Knowing what the kids have gone through, and will go through, their positive attitudes and inner strength make me a better person. And their smiles bring a smile to my face.”
You don't get a second chance to capture a once-in-a-lifetime moment. That's why Flashes of Hope works exclusively with the best professional photographers in the country, all of whom donate their time and talent.
Flashes of Hope is grateful for the support of Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), the leading trade associations for commercial photographers.
Flashes of Hope is a program of Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation that creates free uplifting portraits of children fighting cancer. Award-winning photographers turn a routine day into a celebration, capturing smiles and forever preserving images of courage, beauty and dignity.