Giving back is in our Fotostrap DNA. In addition to empowering and equipping our community of storytellers, we were founded to help support the nonprofit Fotolanthropy, which uses film and photography to chronicle powerful true stories about those who have defied great odds. To be a part of something big and redemptive fuels our spirits, and we greatly admire individuals who use their time and talent to serve others. What's beyond inspiring is that we've learned about so many of you who do just that. In our new series The Golden Hour, we're excited to use our blog space to highlight photographers who use their camera for good.
Sweet Nectar Society was created to give cost-free photography sessions to children with complex medical needs. Each “Sweetie” receives an outfit for their session, a keepsake photo book, and their story is shared on our website and social media pages.
As photographers, we understand the value of a photograph. We have experienced how a simple image can transport you to a moment in time where all of the feels come flooding back into your heart.
As parents, we know that each moment in the lives of our children will quickly pass by, in what seems like the blink of an eye. We feel that having the ability to revisit precious milestones in life through photography is the most amazing gift anyone can be given.
To parents of children faced with complex medical needs, these milestones are especially treasured. The reality that each moment could be the last, is a very real possibility.
The mission of Sweet Nectar Society comforts, connects, and celebrates each child through the art of photography.
What led you to found this organization?
The inspiration of Sweet Nectar Society came through a very difficult experience I faced as a parent. In 2009, my husband and I welcomed our first child. As a photographer, I naturally captured every aspect of our daughter’s life- her itty bitty fingers, long eyelashes, her smiles and even her pouty lips. When she turned one, her doctor became concerned that she was not growing and immediately sent us to the children’s hospital for further testing. After many months of appointments and testing, her doctors pin-pointed the cause, hypoactive thyroid, Common Variable Immune Disease (CVID), and Human Growth Hormone Deficiency. Now at age 10, after regulating her treatments, our daughter is thriving. This experience was terrifying because I could not control or fix the problems. We had to learn to trust, push and be patient. For years, we felt like we were stuck at various forks in the road where her diagnosis could go one way or the other.
The silver lining always finds a way to shine though the darkness. The photos taken over the years of my daughter are precious gems. I clearly saw my frail, tiny, little princess as a warrior who always had a smile on her face even in the not-so-fun times. These are the chapters of her story that are captured through photographs.
I believe every experience can be used for good, even the most difficult… especially the most difficult. God had placed a mission on my heart to help others, and for years, I tried to find my place but nothing seemed to speak to my soul. It wasn’t until my passion of photography collided with what I love most in life, my family, that I actually found my purpose. Having the ability to comfort others during their trials through the art of photography is my purpose. Once Carrie Anne and I connected, Sweet Nectar Society took flight and together we have been able to give over 800 photography sessions in our area. Sweet Nectar Society has made living out our purpose a possibility, and the opportunity has been given to other photographers who are also seeking a deeper meaning in their craft and life.
You are both serving others, but tell us about what you are receiving in return?
While our journey with Sweet Nectar has brought us incredible purpose, it has also placed an amazing amount of perspective in our lives. Everyday moments, blessings, even struggles have a whole new meaning. We don’t just photograph our Sweeties and their families, we hear their stories, invest in their battles, and cheer for their triumphs. The little day to day problems don’t seem so important, when you meet and fall in love with a family, and then see them lose their three year old son to cancer. You might see someone post a silly vent on Facebook, we’ve all done it, and you just think of how small that issue seems compared to what you’ve seen. Some might be wishing, for that kind of vent to be their greatest worry. It’s an incredible blessing to be grateful in the present and appreciate the moments while you are in them. This is just one of the many gifts that we have received.
Can you share a story from your work with Sweet Nectar Society that is especially moving?
Recently we were asked to our local children’s hospital to photograph a baby girl who was born with a genetic condition and heart defect. A few minutes after we arrived and began our Sweetie’s session, the baby’s momma rushed into the room and proudly announced, “I have clothes, I have pretty clothes for my baby!” She was beaming with excitement. This session was not just a photo shoot of her baby, it was a moment of normalcy. These photos were something she’d expected to do when her baby was born but due to the circumstances, newborn photos were not an option. This sweet momma displayed a bag full of tiny dresses, with little bows and matching shoes onto the hospital bedside table. One thing that caught our attention were all of the price tags dangling from each dress; this was a firm reminder that this momma had prepared for her baby girl. She had expected to bring her home after she was born, but instead she is soaking up these moments in the hospital. As mom tenderly dressed her baby it was easy to see this was special for her, and capturing these moments was important to us.
We photographed this perfect Sweetie then quickly uploaded, edited and added the images to a Pixieset gallery for mom to view. As we were re-entering the NICU to photograph another Sweetie, we saw mom, grandma and three other mommas gathered together in the waiting room, all were glued to the sweet photos on mom’s phone. They hugged us and expressed their heartfelt appreciation for this gift. Since then, each of the other mommas have nominated their babies for photos and they will all soon become Sweeties as well. This is why we are so dedicated to our work with Sweet Nectar Society. We feel that these sessions are impacting the lives of others and bringing comfort to families in so many ways.
What is a challenge you have faced running a nonprofit?
I would have to say the most difficult part of running a nonprofit is finding a healthy balance. We feel so passionately about our cause, it was very easy to put all of our energy into our project. We quickly discovered that finding our own balance was so important. Without balance it would have been incredibly easy to get burned out.
Creating a nonprofit seemed easy enough, “Use our talents to do something good for someone else. Make a difference. Repeat.” But in reality there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. We are two, go with the flow, free spirited, energetic, wear our hearts on our sleeve, rose colored glasses wearing, creatives who saw the need and wanted to make an impact. Now, I am not saying that it wasn’t in our wheelhouse to run a successful organization with these dominating qualities, I am just saying we had a steep learning curve, a lot of grace with ourselves, and a lot of help. Our vision has always been centered around giving love through photography but once we added: fundraisers, lots of emotions, donors, taxes, more emotions, annual forms, bi-annual forms, boards, extra emotions, volunteers, admin duties, etc.…all on top of our simple mission- It was a full plate for two moms, who in addition, each run their own businesses and have full family schedules. Luckily, throughout the years we have found our groove and have created a healthy balance between running Sweet Nectar Society, being present in our personal lives and maintaining our emotional wellbeing.
Tell us about your team of volunteers. What does their service mean to your organization?
Sweet Nectar Society is so near and dear to our hearts that we have done our best to protect every aspect- our Sweeties, Sweetie’s families, photographers, and our brand. Slowly, we have added additional volunteer photographers to our Sweet Nectar family. Together our team covers California’s central valley, and most recently, a new team member in Arizona. Having dedicated photographers is the key to Sweet Nectar Society reaching as many Sweetie’s as possible. It has been very important to us to grow slow and steady to ensure that each of our families receive the best experience and high quality images during their session. Due to the very emotional circumstances of our sessions, we have made it our priority that our volunteer team members feel comfortable and emotionally supported during shoots.
In addition to our volunteer photographers, we appreciate the volunteers who help us with all of our extra events, fundraisers, and to all of those who comment, like, and share our posts.
How can others support Sweet Nectar Society?
I am sure every nonprofit would agree that donations are always appreciated. But truthfully, the very best way people can support our missions, is to become a part of our community. The photos we take are a huge part of our purpose but what happens after the session is mighty important as well. We celebrate, encourage and advocate for each Sweetie by sharing their story. It is amazing to hear how a simple comment or heart on a photo can impact a Sweetie and their family.
Years ago I photographed a teenage Sweetie. Her mother later shared with me that she had never been told that her daughter was beautiful until her Sweet Nectar Society session. People commented on her photo complimenting her smile and how pretty she was. This mother told me that for the very first time she felt as if others saw her daughter the way she had always seen her- perfect! She said that on the hard days she still goes over to her post and reads all of the comments. It just goes to show how a little bit of support can go a long way. Something that takes just a few seconds for one person, can make an incredible impact on another.