More than Charity

I’ve been struggling for the words to define my feelings on this subject ever since it happened. I’m not sure if I only just noticed it at this level and if it’s always been there. The Pleasant Hill Elementary Education Foundation (PHEEF) auction happened in March, but as in most things it really started way before that and lingers on afterwards with clean ups and reconciliations. The Portrait Project just had its’ sixth year as part of the Spring Gala and maybe what I am feeling is the momentum of this amazing project.

We concepted the project in 2007 as a way to surprise the parents who purchased tickets for the auction, with a photo of their child greeting them at the door as they checked in. That first year we raised $3,200 selling prints for $40 with all monies going to PHEEF. Some people don’t buy their photo because they think it costs too much, or their child’s hair isn’t combed or the child is wearing a sweatshirt that day. I understand all that. AND…I see people at the auction bid on a “chance” or other opportunities that don’t have a tangible take-home. Why not donate your $40 and take home a portrait of what your child really looks like every day? I’ve heard other people say there isn’t a bad looking kid on the display board. That’s because we’re seeing their truth. Not their dressed up, hair combed, fake smiles. Their truth. I won’t press the button on the camera until I see it. Or I won’t stop until I get it. That’s what I look for. Their Truth.

Each year we’ve refined our project to open it up to include people not attending the auction, or the PHE alumni in middle and high school and even a few babies and toddlers who have older PHE siblings. In our minds, each additional person we include adds another $40 to the success of the auction fundraising. As the years have gone by we worked our way up to $4,000(!), then past $5,000(!), with this year reaching $5,600!!! In addition to the portrait display project I have donated portrait sessions through the Silent auction and last year was moved to the Live auction. The excitement in the Live auction is always breathtaking!!! Many many thanks to my auction winners as you make the Portrait Project possible! We always include these in the fundraising totals as they go hand in hand with the Portrait Project.

In total over six years we have raised approximately $30,000 for our school! Together!!! Approximately 140 kids a year who sit in that little chair, rain or shine, the parents who purchase their images, the volunteers who organize the lists and round up the kids for me to photograph, more volunteers to help with packaging, my retoucher who discounts her rate by 50% as her way of giving back, the Sequoia moms and Debbie Shess who encourage parents to take the step to say yes to their beautiful child and support the school; Nobody goes it alone.

Before the auction I could feel the excitement mounting. The questions started with “are you taking pictures again this year?” to “I have a row of photos from the last five years and I’m looking forward to adding the next one” to “how long will you do this project and when does your son graduate?” I’ve had such a feeling of gratitude towards the parents that understood what we were trying to do and valuing every year’s glimpse of the Truth of their child through the project. The parents comments to me reminded me of the value of the project. Realizing the project raises approximately 10% of the total auction returns helped us understand how intertwined the two have become.

Even though it is I who press the button to find the Truth in your child and give of my time and expenses, that is insignificant without the value of the parents and teachers and children who work with me, trust in me and purchase their child to create a powerful fundraiser that is so much more than money. It builds community, morale, trust and friendship. It builds self esteem and pride in the kids and it creates options for P.E. and Computers and other important things we would not otherwise have.

I am honored and grateful to be a part of this most important fundraising opportunity and most thankful to the parents and people who support it!

P.S. Huge gratitude to Stacey Schiager, Tara Campbell and Debbie Shess who developed and expanded this project with me giving it their full respect and gratitude. They are truly great givers to the community!!!


  1. Kathleen Nagel-Holmes

    Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to this project. If it weren’t for you I would not have annual pictures of my kids. In fact, the Reagan, we never had any baby pictures of her taken. Poor second kid. But you have taken her photo as you know, since she was nearly one! We treasure them all.

  2. Brittney Hall Joachim

    You are amazing! Our community is so lucky to have you!