October 02, 2006 | Posted by Ladies Who Launch
An epiphany struck Allison Clarke as she spent time in the hospital with her 18-month-old son who was fighting cancer. She wanted to create beautiful, empowering and uplifting photographs of children suffering from serious pediatric illnesses.
A few weeks later, Clarke launched Flashes of Hope (www.flashesofhope.org), and now, three years later, the non-profit organization has professionally photographed more than 600 children battling cancer, providing their families with a way to capture the spirit and beauty of their children and to help their children to feel better about themselves.
Award-winning photographers and make-up artists volunteer for Flashes of Hope, which was invited to the White House in 2004 and is now expanding beyond its headquarters in Cleveland.
The Spark for Flashes of Hope
"My 18-month-old son was diagnosed with cancer and during that time, you meet a lot of other sick kids and families because you're at the hospital all the time. My son and I became friends with a boy who passed away. I was thinking how nice it would have been to have a photograph of him, one that captured his special spirit. In an instant, the whole idea for Flashes of Hope was there."
Starting Out in Cleveland
"I knew photographers could make kids look beautiful. I had been a model earlier in my career, so I called the head of the agency and asked her what she thought of the idea. She gave me 10 names of photographers and a few weeks later, we were shooting in the hospital (Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital)."
Giving Families a Cherished Gift
"About once a month, we set up photo shoots at the hospital for about 10 to 15 kids. We're able to reach a lot of families at a time when they wouldn't think to do something like this on their own. I can't cure cancer, but I can give the children and their families the gift of a cherished photograph, and my job is to give as many gifts as I can to as many children as I can. Often, I will get a call from a nurse or a doctor saying, 'I want to tell you how much this meant to this family.'"
A Gift for Survivors, Too
"(My) son is six years old now and considered cured, which is fantastic. I also have a four-year-old little girl and a two-year-old little girl. I was two weeks away from having our second baby when we found out Quinn had cancer."
"A lot of these kids make it... cancer survivorship among young children is close to 75 percent. These images are just as important for those kids because they have lots of long-term survivorship issues. Years later when they look back, the photo is not one that their parents took of them with bad lighting and hollow eyes. It's a beautiful image that approaches survivorship from a position of strength."
Finding the Funding
"(Flashes of Hope) is not terribly expensive to run. The photographers and make-up artists volunteer and I have never taken a salary. We pay for processing and framing, which isn't something that you need $100,000 to start, thank goodness. In the first year, my husband (an investment banker) covered the expenses as far as the processing and start-up costs. Then we held a fundraiser with lots of friends, family and business people, and raised $15,000, so we had enough money where we could also do framing. We opened our own studio in 2004 and just recently moved into a new one that has been donated to us. We have raised $200,000 since we started, which now lets us to go into other cities."
Moving Beyond Cleveland
"We figured out that we were photographing 80 percent of children with cancer in Cleveland. We spent a year coming up with a complicated plan of chapters and boards to expand to other cities, then one day I had a moment in the shower where I thought of a much simpler way to do it - create volunteer directors in each city."
"The director in each city only needs to spend about 10 hours a month facilitating shoots and doing quality assurance. We're launching our first chapter in Atlanta on September 8th. Then we'll determine which city to take on next. The organization is run by me and by one other mom in the office. We can't get too far ahead of ourselves by trying to be in 15 cities in the next year without hiring someone with national non-profit experience."
Many Careers Before Flashes of Hope
"I went to Boston College on an athletic scholarship and graduated in '92. During my senior year, I started modeling to earn money for spring break cash. I did that full-time for about a year and got tired of it quickly. So I went into TV news - from desk assistant to assistant producer to producer to finally on-air at ABC in Cleveland. I got to where I wanted to be, and realized I didn't have it in me to be at the network. So when my husband and I moved to Seattle, I decided to go into PR and advertising. When I had Quinn, we moved back to Cleveland. Ironically although I have no non-profit training, every piece of (my work experience) prepared me for what I'm doing now."
The Big Picture
"Because of our experience with Quinn, a lot of our ideas about values and what's important shifted quickly. My husband and I started to be grateful for things other parents take for granted. Our secondary goal is that we know we have an opportunity through Flashes of Hope to put a face on childhood cancer. We hope that through our work someone is so moved because they see an image of a 14-year-old that they're inspired to write a $10,000 check to research. We want to make lives better for people who have cancer."
"Taking an idea and turning it into a reality. It really was just an idea. I thought, 'I don't know if it's going to work or not.' To be able to reach so many people in a meaningful way."
"Learning about how non-profit organizations work. It's been kind of overwhelming. Had I not had so much to learn, we probably would have been in 10 cities a year ago. Getting used to the pace of the non-profit world, which isn't always as quick as a newsroom. I'm passionate about what I do, but I'm not great about sitting across the table and asking someone for money. That's a talent I've had to get good at."
Words of Advice
"Never be afraid to ask questions. I've gotten such great direction from people that way. As we were doing our expansion plan, I met with a businessman who's highly respected and on the national boards of several non-profits. He grilled me for three hours and in the end he suggested a better financial structure. It wasn't that different from what I was thinking, but there were distinctions that became important. He appreciated that I was asking him to let me borrow his brain instead of write me a check."
Source of Inspiration
"I met one little girl who was about three-and-a-half years old and had been in the hospital for six weeks for a bone marrow transplant. She wore a bikini every single day that we saw her there - she also wore Mardi Gras beads, carried around a boom box and did dance routines. She is what our whole organization is about. She didn't stop being a three-year-old kid because she's sick."
"The fact that she could spend the better part of her life in the hospital and still have that aura... I learned more from watching her for five minutes than I probably learned in four years of college."
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