In Sacramento County, about 1500 children are eligible for adoption. Since 2005, almost 100 of these children have been introduced to the public through Heart Gallery, a traveling exhibit of professional photographs that capture the spirit of each child and raise awareness about the need for permanent and loving homes. This weekend, Heart Gallery opens a three-week display of photos at Discovery Museum in Old Sacramento. Just before the last exhibit at Sac State closed, I looked at the photographs with Mary Tarro, program manager with Child Protective Services, which is one of several Sacramento agencies that sponsor Heart Gallery.
Donna in Gallery:
We’re standing in a gallery filled with photographs, black and white, some in color, of beautiful children, beautiful young people, a whole range of ages. Let’s meet a couple of them through their photographs.
Okay. We have Heather, who is 14. You can tell from her smile, she’s not afraid. She really wants you to see who she is and what she has to offer. Does Heather have special needs? Yes. Is it a special family that will say I can help her? Heather has siblings that she is not currently placed with and staying connected with those siblings will be very much a part of who she is in her future. And so we have a fourteen-year-old young lady who’s getting ready to be a teenager.
D: And each of these kids when you look at them, you see their beauty, you see potential, you see goals and dreams in each one of these kids, no matter what their age.
M: Absolutely. We have Jesuve. Beautiful, beautiful child. He is very aware of his aware of his biological family, and is connected with his biological family, and with many of the youth, that’s an important piece for any potential adoptive family to know is, How do I reconcile that mixed loyalty, and will I be challenged by that?
D: Why can’t you just put these photographs on the website? Why is it important that we come in person and see large photographs?
M: By physically coming to an event and standing in an art gallery that shows children, they become very precious, and in that moment, it becomes a very serious prospect. That someone would come and be part of this, and say, I would support this, I would become a foster parent, I am interested in becoming an adoptive parent. It informs them as to what their decision would be, and we don’t do that sitting at our computer kind of surfing the net.
D: Can I just ask a dark side question? Every Easter and every Christmas, the animal groups say, Don’t take home those cute little fuzzy chicks, don’t adopt puppies, because in six months, you may not think they’re cute anymore. Is there a danger in this situation of people seeing someone who in a photograph is so adorable … and then a reality sets in?
M: Absolutely. That’s probably one of the most fundamental questions anybody who looks at the Heart Gallery or participates needs to ask and ask themselves. But it’s our job to do the disclosure that lets them know this is not going to be easy. These are children of trauma. They’re connected to families that did not willingly give them up. How do you feel about stepping into what could be pretty frightening for a lot of people. You’re really adjusting to a new child, and that child is adjusting to you and your family.
D: There must be so many children who are in this system who are eligible to be adopted, eligible to be foster children. How do you decide which ones to photograph?
M: It’s kind of a process. Everything we do, especially with the children in the Heart Gallery, is youth-driven. They must want to do this, because it is a vulnerability for them.
D: And who are the photographers? They do wonderful work.
M: Well, the photographers started out being Sac State photographers. There are a number of folks, and I can’t name them all, but there was a significant number of photographers who said, You tell us when, you tell us where. We’ll there to photograph these children … as volunteers. And they came to know these children as well as the social workers. And outside of that, as other people have seen Heart Gallery events, other photographers from the community say, I want to help.
D: Mary, thank you very much.
M: Thank you.
Tag: Mary Tarro is Program Manager for Child Protective Services in Sacramento County. Heart Gallery travels to galleries around the area. The photographs of children available for adoption will be at the Discovery Museum in Old Sacramento November 3rd through 23rd. For more information about Heart Gallery, go to our website – capradio.org.