To some, a photo of sparkly shoes and brightly colored socks, shows nothing more than childhood whimsy. But, to the 6-year-old girl behind the camera, it illustrates her dream to become an artist.
Jennavicia Ormsby was one of 10 children who participated in Pictures of Hope, an annual event in which photojournalist Linda Solomon teaches underprivileged children how to illustrate their hopes and dreams through photography.
“These children have had difficulties economically and don’t have homes,” Solomon said. “So, to give them an opportunity to share their dreams and their hopes, it really shows them that their dreams matter. And we all need to feel that.”
Armed with a point-and-shoot camera for each child — donated by Walgreen Co. — Solomon and mentors from the community visited children who live in transitional or affordable housing through Our Family Services, to help them write down their hopes and dreams and take pictures that reflect them.
Solomon will choose one or two photos from each child to be printed onto greeting cards that can be purchased through Our Family Services. One hundred percent of proceeds go into the organization to support its programs. An unveiling of the chosen photos will be held in October.
“This program gives kids in our program hope, something that’s in short supply for many of them,” said Chris DeGraff, development director of Our Family Services.
The morning started with a brief tutorial taught by Solomon, with each child getting a chance to compose and take a portrait with Solomon’s camera.
Jennavicia, 6, one of the youngest in the group, was the first to get her hands on the camera. With help from Solomon, she posed the girl seated next to her and took her first photo.
Following the tutorial, about 20 other adults entered the room as mentors, including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and H.T. Sanchez, superintendent of Tucson Unified School District, among others. NBC Nightly News was in attendance, as well, working on a feature that will air in coming weeks.
“This is my fourth year being here, and every year it’s satisfying to go out with the children and explore the community with them looking for images that reflect their dreams,” Rothschild said. “It’s a really great way to give these children a sense of self worth.”
“To think any family goes without in my community is unfathomable,” said mentor, Betsy McKenna. “To be a part of something that’s making a difference is an honor.”
Each child was paired with two or three mentors to help him or her write his or her hopes and dreams on the paper.
Dreams varied, but, one common thread was woven through all — none were wishes for material items.
Rather, they dream of things like going to college, ending world hunger, siblings growing up strong, leaving mom a love note, becoming a teacher, getting the family back together or to live in a house.
“You don’t see one iPad on their lists,” Solomon said. “The best dreams are for others and I think these children express that. They are dreams to help others, to have a home, for education. With that said, the message of Pictures of Hope is that the values expressed by these children are the values that are the most important.”
Solomon looked over and marked two of the items on each child’s list for them to photograph with help from their adult mentors.
Jennavicia’s assignment was to photograph her dream to be an artist and a teacher.
Cathy Borinstein, arts and culture advisor for the mayor’s office, has mentored for Pictures of Hope since its inaugural event five years ago, and was one of Jennavicia’s mentors.
“I love the program. The kids are so wonderful. They just pull your heartstrings,” Borinstein said. “To see through children’s eyes is amazing.”
Borinstein, along with two other mentors — Debi Chess Mabie and Deb Goodman — piled into a car to take Jennavicia to Sarnoff Art & Writing to make a photo that illustrates being an artist and leaving a love note for her mom.
On the way there, Mabie chats with Jennavicia about school.
“What grade are you in?”
“I’m in kindergarten. I passed,” Jennavicia says proudly.
Jennavicia loved her teacher — so much so, that she too, wants to teach some day.
She said she plans on taking her new camera with her every day so she can take pictures of her family and friends.
Upon arriving at the art store, the owner, Henry Sarnoff, sets Jennavicia up at a table with markers to create a card for her mom.
While she writes “I love you mom” and draws on the card, Sarnoff comes back with a surprise gift. It’s a watercolor set.
Her face lights up.
“Thank you,” she says.
Once the card is made, Jennavicia sets it on the palette that a wooden artist’s mannequin is holding in front of the store. With the help of her three mentors, she steps back, frames her shot, and pushes the shutter.
Another smile. She’s happy with her photo.
Next stop, The Drawing Studio, to photograph artists and teachers at work.
A pastel class, taught by Pat Dolan, is taking place.
Dolan takes Jennavicia around and shows her what the artists are working on and talks about her job as an art teacher.
Jennavicia observes and takes pictures, capturing the teacher’s and artist’s hands moving over a drawing, and an artist’s glasses.
Dolan tells Jennavicia how much she loves her bright socks and shows her own off — black with green shamrocks — as a common bond in creativity.
With that, Jennavicia photographs a portrait of her artsy, multi-colored socks.
Back at Our Family Services, the children and mentors trickle back, talking about the photos they took and places they visited.
Vivica Platz, 13, dreams of ending world hunger, studying animals in college and adopting dogs from a rescue shelter. To illustrate that, her mentors took her to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and the Community Food Bank.
“I took a picture of a really lazy cat,” Vivica said. “It was adorable. The Food Bank was awesome. I went into a fridge that smelled like cantaloupes.”
Vivica’s and the other children and mentors’ excitement at the end of the event was tangible.
“Every time I come here, it’s always exciting,” Goodman said. “It never fails to amaze me. I love these children. They see they can make things happen and they matter.”