Help-Portrait brings smiles and memories to adults and children in need

bfortune@herald-leader.comDecember 8, 2012 

Sarita Mays looked at her freshly curled hair and new make-up in a hand-held mirror and broke into a huge smile.

"I feel so special. This is my first time having make-up," Mays, 43, told volunteer make-up artist Melissa Graham, a seventh-grade science teacher at Tates Creek Middle School.

"You're beautiful," Graham said. "You don't look 43. I thought you were in your 20s." Mays was getting a family picture taken with her seven grandchildren — another first, Mays said.

That's what Saturday was all about, said Andrew Fore, who helped organize Help-Portrait for its second year in Lexington.

The idea of Help-Portrait — held on the second Saturday of December — is to find adults and children in need, take their portraits, then print and frame the portraits.

Celebrity photography Jeremy Cowart of Nashville started the Help-Portrait movement in 2009. The event has spread to 60 countries with more than 16,000 amateur and professional photographers involved, Fore said.

Last year's event in Lexington was held at a single location where four photographers took 72 portraits of 132 people. This year, 14 photographers worked at Total Grace Baptist Church, 1313 North Limestone, and The Gathering Christian Church, 162 Old Todds Road. More than 250 people were photographed.

"Most of these people have never had a chance to have their picture professionally taken," Fore said. When times are tough, as they are now for many families, an extra like a portrait is not in the budget, Fore said. But family pictures are a special treasure, and preserving the moment is the whole point of the event.

Hair and make-up artists, assisted by more than 100 volunteers, helped out at the two Lexington locations.

Leslie Diaz came to Total Grace Baptist Church with her two sisters and brother to have a picture taken as a surprise Christmas present for their parents. While Diaz waited to get her hair done she saw that the stylists were overbooked, so she volunteered to pitch in. "I do my mom's hair, so I said I could help," she said.

She curled 4-year-old Brooklyn Sharp's hair. Brooklyn's mother, Elizabeth, brought her four daughters — Makayla, Breanna, Kenadie and Brooklyn — for a Christmas picture. She said the girls might give it to their grandmother.

One of the hair stylists, Cassie Thomas, works at the Salon at the Towers, a condominium building on South Hanover Street. She started doing hair at Total Grace shortly after 10 a.m.

"We were speed-curling there for a while. It's been a blur," Thomas said about 2 p.m., when the crowd had thinned out a bit.

In her salon during the holidays, Thomas said, "My customers are stressed out. Their hair is the most important thing. But here everybody is so laid back. They are so appreciative. It makes me cry. I've teared up all day."

A makeshift photo studio was set up on the stage of the church sanctuary. Large lights flashed as photographers clicked away, coaxing smiles from sometimes camera-shy children and adults.

People seemed genuinely pleased with the results.

Johnathan Jett approved of the photograph taken of him with his aunt, Sheila Combs. "It is so beautiful. Aren't we beautiful?" Jett, 26, said to Combs. "We're beautiful," she replied.

Combs said this picture was special: Since she and Jett had their picture taken last year, she has lost 46 pounds and he has lost 12 pounds. They are eating healthier and exercising, she said. Jett walks from Thoroughbred Park to Triangle Park and back three days a week.

"I'm going to put this in the living room next to the one from last year. It's our before and after," she said.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010

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