Mom Donates Her Gift of Photography to Families, Children, and Charities
Inspiration comes in many forms, but for me, right now, it has taken the shape of a petite brunette. She is sitting across from me calmly drinking ice tea as she talks about her drive to ‘give back'. Photographer, Gina Kelly works with more than 20 charities in the St. Louis area. That's right, 2-0.
The questions are galloping through my mind, leap-frogging over one another to spill out of my mouth first: How does she find the time? How does she choose who she works with? Does she have a favorite? How does she give…is it time, talent, or money? Why does she do it?
Gina Kelly's story is amazing. Any given week you can find her photographing (for free) a Mother-Daughter Tea or Bowling Event for little girls with Down Syndrome, flying to the Dominican Republic to document and participate in charity work with the Albert Pujols Family Foundation, (Gina will head to the Dominican for the third time next week) snapping priceless family moments, taking pre-school class pictures, catching a bride and groom in their perfect moment of love, or donating her time to tell the stories of previously homeless teenagers.
But to understand Gina, you need to know where she has come from and how hard she has worked to get where she is.
In the 1990's, under the tutelage of several well-known photographers in the St. Louis area, Gina explains, “I got a great foundation.” She learned the ropes, paid her dues and honed her own innate talent for getting the best shots, developing a special rapport with her subjects and working quickly. But the chance to use this talent professionally was jeopardized by her personal situation.
A victim of domestic violence, she survived an abusive marriage, only to fall in love with a man who would eventually kick her and her two young children out into the street. A mere 8 years ago, Gina was a homeless, single mom.
The photography business she had started on her own had to close as she needed to make money to support her family. Gina says, “Prayer was huge. I did whatever I could. I painted baby rooms. I gave piano lessons. I worked part time at a local deli.”
But, she continues, “I started thinking about getting on my feet. I was absorbing like a sponge – (trying to understand) how is he or she successful?” Gina began working with another local photographer, “(This woman) enabled me to financially get on my feet and try out new stuff.”
This new beginning for Gina allowed her to blossom into the mother, photographer and giver she had always wanted to be. She explains, “I needed someone to light the fire within.” Her epiphany: the realization that ‘to give would be to receive'. "Prayer was huge. I prayed about my husband, about my home and it all happened," she says with reverance.
Her philosophy for photography became, “It happened and you caught it (on film)”
This philosophy, combined with her desire to give, paved the way for Art by Gina, which opened in 2001. With this company, Gina has focused mainly on children, maternity and family portraits. Early on, she began ‘doing little things' to help others. She realized, through work with her daughter's Girl Scouts, her son's day care, and a few local preschools that many families couldn't afford pictures. She wanted to help. Gina explains, “I started throwing in coupons, giving some portraits away for free.”
She continues, “Almost all of my giving is kid based. I did that purposely. I donate where my heart is.”
And her heart continues to grow. Her life has become a beautiful circle. As she has continued to ‘give', she has been blessed with more work, amazing connections and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. For Gina, this means, a greater opportunity to give of herself.
To continue this giving tradition, to allow for opportunities to help others and to continue sharing her talents, Gina started a second photography company in 2003. Lace Images focuses mainly on weddings, corporate events and charity. Each photographer who works at Lace knows ‘giving back' is part of the job. They regularly donate their time and talents to charitable events around the city.
This is a woman, a mother, a photographer who gives back, not by writing checks, but with her own time and talents. In keeping with her desire to help kids, Gina was recently walking through The Covenant House, a home taking teenagers off the streets. She noticed that the walls were bare. When told that there was not yet enough money to put anything up, Gina did what she does best, she offered to help. Her suggestion: use photographs to tell the real-life stories of the teens that had been saved from the streets. Gina did it for free. One by one, she has taken these teenagers to the areas of the city where they were found, photographed them, and documented their current triumph.
Also, touching Gina's heart: The Make-A-Wish Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, the Kurt Warner Foundation, the Pujols Family Foundation (benefitting Down Syndrome), Young Moms of Down Syndrome and the St. Louis Family Church (benefitting inner city kids).
I think we could all take a page out of Gina's book to begin a new chapter in our lives.
Know a "Mom It Forward" mom—someone who inspires you, gives back to others, is changing the world one mom at a time? Nominate her to be spotlighted in our "Be Inspired!" section by writing us at momitforward [at] gmail [dot] com.
About the Author: Danielle Smith is a mommy to two smart and sassy small people, as well as the founder and primary author of ExtraordinaryMommy.com. You can catch her hosting a brand new live show, The Spin Cycle, on MomTV.com every Wednesday at 9pmEST. She also hosts a show on Blog Talk Radio and contributes to WhyMomsMatter and ChicksWhoConnect. Danielle is thrilled to be contributing to MomItForward - as 'giving back' has always been an important part of who she is and what she hopes to teach her children.