Wheeling photographers Neal Warren and Rebecca Kiger don't want to take pictures of homeless and low-income local residents. They want to give them.
The photographers have teamed up with the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, local volunteers and other non-profit agencies for the first "Share the Love" portrait project from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at the coalition offices, 84 15th St. The project is part of the international Help-Portrait movement started by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart as a way for photographers to give back to their communities.
The idea is to provide individuals, couples or families with portraits of themselves to keep or share with others. A professional portrait may be a luxury they couldn't otherwise afford. The sitting and prints will be provided for free. Appointments can be made by calling the coalition, 304-232-6105. Walk-ins also will be welcome.
Photo by Betsy Bethel
Meeting at Design & Image Studios in Wheeling to discuss initial plans for the “Share the Love” free portrait event are, from left, volunteer Jessica Leach, studio owner and photographer Neal Warren, photographer Rebecca Kiger, volunteer Erin Mandel and Wendy Scatterday, board member for the Greater Wheeling Homeless Coalition. The event will take place Feb. 10 at the coalition office, 84 15th St., Wheeling.
"There is huge value in having a photograph of yourself that you like," said Kiger, who heard about Help-Portrait through her membership in a group called Fearless Photography. She proffered the idea on her personal Facebook profile and received immediate responses from coalition board member Wendy Scatterday and Warren, who has taken pictures for the coalition in the past.
"I pounced," said Scatterday. "It's a huge blessing for our coalition, for our clients, just for people to reach out and want to help."
"There seems to be a need and there seems to be a response," Kiger said. The Help-Portrait website, help-portrait.com, states more than 76,500 portraits were given in 2012.
On the site's testimonial page, a woman who identifies herself as Brittany from the Nashville Hope Center said she is a 26-year-old mother of two who comes from a broken home and abused alcohol for many years.
"The last time I had my picture taken was when I was 10 years old and I believe it was just a school photo. ... It means so much to me that you all would take time out of your busy schedules to come bring some happiness and joy to us girls who've felt less than pretty for a very long time. Thank you."
Lisa Badia, coalition executive director, said her clients might be skeptical at first about the free offer, and some might be shy or uncomfortable having their pictures taken.
"But I think the people who do participate will have a great time. I think it's certainly something wonderful," Badia said. It is not uncommon, she said, for homeless individuals to lose touch with family members for a year or more. Having a photo to send home may serve as an "icebreaker" to rebuilding family ties.
The coalition is reaching out to other local agencies, such as the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center on 18th Street, the Salvation Army and the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, to spread word of the event.
An initial planning meeting brought together volunteers who work for or serve in various schools and organizations, including Wheeling Central Catholic High School and Oglebay Institute.
Hall of Frame in Wheeling is providing mat board and other tools.
"The heart of photography is doing things you have a passion to do. That's why I want to do this," said Warren, owner of Design & Image Studios. He will be taking and printing the portraits while Kiger will take photos to document the event.
There also will be children's activities and the opportunity to decorate the mats.
"We want to give people coming the opportunity to be involved in the creative process," Kiger said.
For information or to offer to help, call the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, 304-232-6105.