Sometimes a thousand words doesn’t tell the whole story, even with a picture.
For instance, sitting for a holiday photograph with Santa symbolized a new beginning for Carissa Charland and her three children.
The littlest one Josie Tarasovich, 5, was all dressed in red and donning a Santa hat. Her siblings 8-year-old Nolan Tarasovich and 11-year-old Calvin Tarasovich, along with Mom had the color of the season on to match. While the outfits were perfect, this was their first family photo since Charland’s divorce.
“We’re all just starting over,” she said.
The free portraits were part of Help-Portrait Schenectady at the Trinity Community Center on Curry Road in Rotterdam, which is operated by the Messiah Lutheran Church on Guilderland Avenue. Help-Portrait is an international movement, begun over a decade ago by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, according to a church press release. The idea is to find someone in need, take their portrait, print it and deliver it to that person.
Help-Portrait Schenectady was back for its third year after last year was canceled, due to COVID. During the event, photographer, makeup artist, hair stylists and volunteers produce photos, which they will then print and frame for those they have served.
The event is all about building community, said Pastor Dustin Wright.
Wright said he loved seeing everyone, each with their own story, come together at the center. Besides getting photos people could also participate in some arts and crafts and enjoy snacks and holiday music.
“There’s not a lot of places where all different people bump into each other,” he said.
Hope Carter, 5, munched on a sugar cookie shaped like a tree that was covered in frosting and sprinkles as she sat at the craft table decorating a tiny tree made out of green-painted Popsicle sticks and yarn.
“She’s a crafter,” said Amanda Carter.
Amanda Carter, who was also there with her daughter and Hope’s mom, Robin Carter, and their Lhasa apso Fenway, wanted to get a family portrait while their 19-year-old dog was still alive.
“We think it’s his last year,” Robin Carter said.
The group also came dressed for the occasion, sporting matching pajama sets they bought at Walmart that featured designs from The Grinch — even Fenway had a set on.
Robin Carter said the event is great because Hope gets to be around other kids.
“We’ve been cooped up in the house,” she said.
They will be hanging their photo on the wall when they get home.
Sitting across from Hope Carter was Elena O’Keefe, who turns 2 next week, with her mom Christina Testa and dad Justin O’Keefe. A friend of theirs had told them about the event, so they decided to see what it was all about, Testa said.
They were glad they did.
Elena O’Keefe was smiling from ear to ear while wearing a red dress and red bow in her hair. She looked around the room, eyes wide, picking up on posters on the wall and all the arts and crafts. After taking a photo with Santa, she sat at the table also making a tree.
It was the family’s first holiday photo, Testa said.
“Because of the pandemic we haven’t been able to take her to see Santa,” she said. “It’s nice to see so much Christmas spirit in spite of the pandemic.”
Testa also said it was very generous of the church to host such an event for the community.
The church’s hope was to provide 100,000 photos. However, the biggest goal was to just bring smiles to people’s faces, Wright said.
LaQuan Boyd, 7, raced around the room full of energy, his lips curled up as he grabbed wrapping paper and, with a little help from volunteers, wrapped gifts for his mom. Boyd was there with his aunt Carla Cappiello and cousin 9-year-old Antwone Uzzelle.
It was their second time attending the event, having gone in 2019. They hung out eating some snacks while preparing to meet Santa.
Uzzelle said he needed to tell Santa what was on his list this year — a PlayStation 4 and two Spider-Man games.
The event was great, Cappiello said, noting it was extremely thoughtful of the church to provide everything for free to the community.
The event brighten participants’ spirits, but it was great for the volunteers, too. They were able to listen to people’s stories and see the joy on their faces after receiving their photos.
Makeup artist Zach Apkarian and volunteer Heather Zimmer said it touched them when one woman came in and told them her stepson had passed not too long ago, and she was trying to still cope with the loss. They said she got her makeup done, a picture and even stayed to color a picture for a while.
“The fact that we can make them feel so amazing about themselves and make them feel so pretty is great,” Apkariuan said.
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Categories: Schenectady County