By Janna Salmela

My heart literally jumped when I read my first email from the MN Heart Gallery. They were looking for someone to photograph a local boy in the foster care system. This is a subject close to my heart and I had already been thinking about how I could give back. See, my oldest son started out his life in foster care. I often think about my boys and what their lives could have been like if they hadn't been placed with us. If taking a small amount of my time could possibly help another child find a forever home, I was all in.  

Recently, I was asked to photograph a local teen in the foster care system. I had worked with Ashley at True North Salon and Spa on previous projects and so I asked if she was willing to donate a makeover. I was thrilled when she jumped at the chance. I wanted this day to be extra special for the young foster girl. The girls at the salon did a fabulous job on her hair and makeup, they took their time and didn't rush her through. My studio is just upstairs from the salon so when she was ready we headed up. I wanted to keep it simple. This session wasn't about an elaborate shoot with tons of photos, clothing and location changes; this was about getting a beautiful shot of a beautiful girl. A picture for her to print and keep forever, something to say, "I'm here and I'm important." I think we accomplished that!

I love being a Minnesota Heart Gallery photographer. Every child that I photograph touches my heart. They help me appreciate my boys and my life with them.  By giving to others, I receive so much more in return.

By Minnesota Heart Gallery

This act of kindness helped this particular teen to feel so beautiful that day; she was glowing with confidence! For this girl, who has moved from placement to placement, so many of the things that are important to a teenage girl are neglected; simple things like acne medication. When a young girl fails to get this kind of personal care and attention in her day-to-day life, she rarely gets the chance to feel good about herself, or she is left with the feeling that she isn't even worth caring about. A simple Heart Gallery day makeover followed by a fun, special photo shoot helped her to feel okay again - to feel valued. And now, her new pre-adoptive family will have her picture hanging in their home when she visits for the first time. This portrait in her new home will be a reminder for her of the hope of going forward with a family who cares for her, rather than a reminder of the difficulties and neglect of her past.

About The Mission.

Through Minnesota Heart Gallery, children and teens awaiting adoption see themselves as they never have before, and the community is invited to learn more about the right of every child to a permanent family. Together, youth, photographers and families raise community awareness around adoption, foster care and permanency. Youth in foster care often lack the photos that, for most children, serve as a time-capsule documenting their childhood. Most importantly, these images are used to recruit families for Minnesota's waiting youth, helping them to picture a more hopeful future. Because Minnesota Heart Gallery photos capture the extraordinary spirit of young people, and give real faces to the statistics about adoption and foster care, they inspire families to consider how they might help.