"My goal is to change the way photographers and the general public look at children with special needs."
After her disabled grandson was turned away at a portrait studio, Karen Dorame, 64, of Glendale, AZ, quit her job to create Special Kids Photography of America, a nonprofit that trains professional photographers in how to take pictures of children with special needs.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work do you do?
Karen: When my disabled grandson was one year old, my daughter took him to a professional portrait studio to create a celebratory portrait after months of doctor's visits and therapy sessions with the little one. The photographer took one look at the boy and gave the expression of, "You want me to take a picture of HIM?"
In tears on the way home, my daughter conceived the vision to create a nonprofit organization that would train professional photographers to work with disabled and seriously ill children. We have since learned that many ill children have been turned away at the photo studio and were asked to return when their hair grew back in. Unfortunately, they didn't live that long.
I quit my job in the Office of Policy, Research and Planning for a county health department in order to research the need and techniques for special photography, form a nonprofit, develop a training program and publish a book on the subject.
Now, 10 years later, Special Kids Photography of America is on a strong path to success, having made substantial progress with organizations such as Professional Photographers of America (PPA), American Society of Photographers (ASP) and Wedding & Portrait Photographers International (WPPI).
What is the name and location of the organization?
Karen: Special Kids Photography of America (SKPA), Glendale, AZ.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Karen: We receive so much enthusiastic support from families of special children who desire very special photos of their little ones "enjoying a moment of life" but are apprehensive about approaching a photographer to complete the project.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Karen: After five years of thinking about my daughter's original idea, I called to ask if she really wanted to do it. The answer was yes. So I rather apprehensively quit my job and lived on savings and a small pension from county government.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Karen: The most wonderful thing about this work is the gratitude of the parents and especially the excitement of the newly trained photographers who are anxious to go out and reach families of special children (disabled and seriously ill).
What is/was the hardest part?
Karen: As we are becoming better known, it's getting easier. At first, however, since we are the only ones doing it, the challenge to get the attention of photographers was very great.
What was the biggest surprise?
Karen: At a recent international WPPI convention, we were among 7,000 professional photographers. The executives took us under their wings and considered each one of our proposals for partnering with them. We were invited to be a two-hour program speaker next year.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Karen: Since I have a few years of experience under my belt, it's more like I'm looking at all the things I have done in my life (starting with my mother who was an experienced amateur photographer). They seem to have culminated in the tools I needed to found and operate this nonprofit. My goal is to change the way photographers and the general public look at children with special needs.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Karen: EVERYONE (including youth) should be devoting a fraction of their life to volunteer work. It provides for an unselfish, balanced existence.
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