Your Story: Sarah Stepan with Heart Gallery

"It combines 3 things that ignite me: photography, advocacy, and the outcast."- Sarah Stepan

I'm so blessed to share how local photographers are helping sweet children find forever homes! I had the opportunity to interview one of my very favorite photographers who is also president of Heart Gallery of the Permian Basin, Sarah Stepan! Today she is sharing her heart about adoption, photography and how you can get involved with Heart Gallery.

Photo by Greathouse Photography
What is the Heart Gallery?

The Heart Gallery is a non-profit organization that uses the talents of photographers and videographers to create inspiring portraits and videos of kids in the foster care system that are considered harder to find adoptive families for. Their portraits are displayed all over the state of Texas, and even the country, with the hope that their forever family will find them.

How did it get started? 

A woman by the name of Diane Granito, who was a foster and adoptive parent recruiter for the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department, conspired with a photographer (and adoptive mom), Cathy Maier, to host an art gallery event showing art-quality portraits of kids waiting in the foster system that were available for adoption. The event was attended by 1200+ people and eventually the Heart Gallery as we know it today was birthed. Almost every state has a Heart Gallery chapter. And some, like Texas, actually have more than one.
Photos by Rachel Austin, Event For Addy's Hope hosted in her home!

As a photographer and adoption mom yourself, tell us how you got involved and what it means to you!

I'm going to be honest here- I don't remember how I first heard about the Heart Gallery. But HollyAnn Petree, who did our home study for my first son's adoption and is a longtime friend, was the president of the HG board for our area so I would hear and see snippets of what was going on and occasionally see portraits around town. My husband and I have a heart for kids in foster care and plan on adopting out of the system. So that, combined with me being a photographer, just made it a natural fit. I filled out the necessary application and background check paperwork to become a volunteer photographer last year. The short time you spend with these kids is life changing- for you and for them. You get to see past the news stories and statistics and see that these kids aren't just their baggage, family background, or even their own bad choices. You get to hear about their likes and dislikes, their hobbies, their siblings, and sometimes even what they hope their future family will be like. They're regular kids that love art class, hate broccoli, and just want to be rooted permanently in a family that's stable and loves them. After my first session with a 16 year old boy named Charles, I was all in. Eventually, the president's position for our Permian Basin chapter opened up and I've been blessed with the opportunity to step into that role. It combines 3 things that ignite me: photography, advocacy, and the outcast.

Photo by Kayla Barker Fine Art Photography
What is the heart behind Heart Gallery?

Everyone involved in Heart Gallery, whether you're a photographer, board member, or church/business hosting portraits, is advocating for these kids and rallying around them hoping there's a family out there that sees the worth in them we do. We want to get a snippet of their story out there that will be the beginning connection for their future family to them.

Have you seen it make a difference in the lives of local children and families?

I have! I love the stories that start off with, "I was walking past/flipping through/looking online and saw him/her/them. And that was the beginning...". It's especially sweet when I get an email that a child or sibling group I've personally watched over the years on TARE (Texas Adoption Resource Exchange) no longer has a need for the Heart Gallery because they're finally being adopted.

Photo by Greathouse Photography
How can we get involved?

There's tons of ways!
If you work at or own a business that the public visits, we'd love for you to host the Heart Gallery. It could be a one-time special event where you're expecting lots of traffic, or even a more long-term partnership where you display one or two portraits and we swap them out every few weeks for new faces.
Host the Heart Gallery at your community event. It could be anything, really- an art walk, a family fun day or festival, etc. We'd love to come set up and be on hand to answer questions and talk to people.
Get your church involved. Talk to your pastor or missions coordinator about having the Heart Gallery come out for a weekend. We'd even be willing to share with your congregation what the Heart Gallery does, what the statistics are for Texas and our specific area, and about the social orphans we have living right here in our very own communities. Or you could keep one or two portraits in the lobby for a few weeks or couple of months and have your church commit to praying very specifically and intentionally for those kids to find families.
Become a volunteer photographer or videographer and meet these kids yourselves! If you're interested in doing this or any of the other opportunities listed above, please feel free to email me: sarah@sarahstepan.com. The Heart Gallery of the Permian Basin doesn't have our own website currently, but we work closely w/ our sister chapter in San Angelo, the Heart Gallery of Northwest Texas, and you can view portraits on their site atheartgalleryoftexas.org or on TARE. But we do have a Facebook page where you can see kids we're highlighting and also updates, success stories, news, etc.: https://www.facebook.com/heartgalleryofthepermianbasin

For those that live outside of the Permian Basin or Concho Valley areas you can visit http://www.heartgalleryofamerica.org and see if there is a Heart Gallery in your area that you can become involved with. And if there's not one close to you, I can promise you that there are foster kids in your area that would benefit from there being one. Maybe you're supposed to be the one that gets it started.

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