Hopeful Photos Brighten the Day for Sick Children

December 26, 2006  |  Posted by Chandler Brown

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/26/06

With a daughter undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, Carrie Pinotti didn't feel much like sending Christmas cards this year."It just wasn't something I wanted to think about," said the stay-at-home mother of 2-year-old twins Claire and Julia.But one day while Julia was undergoing a three-day round of chemotherapy in October, Pinotti and her husband, Tom, were persuaded to have a family portrait made by a volunteer photographer at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston."It's the most beautiful picture," Pinotti recalled last week as she and her family inspected the 8-by-10, black-and-white picture.

"When I got the photos back, I wanted to share them with my family and friends." Pinotti had a smaller version of the photo printed on her Christmas cards, surrounded by red and green polka dots. "I'm so glad I had it done," Pinotti said. "It's a wonderful gift during anotherwise painful situation.”

Like hundreds of other families across the country, the Pinottis, who live in Brookhaven, discovered Flashes of Hope, a nonprofit agency that provides a bright spot during a dark time: professional portraits of children with cancer and other life-threatening ailments, and their families.

Once a month, Flashes of Hope sets up shop at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, alternating between the Egleston and Scottish Rite facilities. A professional makeup artist helps prepare the patients " who are sometimes hooked up to IVs or breathing machines " along with any family members who want to participate. A photographer takes dozens of pictures during a 10- to 15 minute shoot. And it's all free
"It really is a nice thing, especially this time of year," said Diane Henderson of Snellville, whose son Travis had his pictures made with sisters Caitlin and Sara Grace on a recent morning at the Aflac Cancer Center at Egleston. Travis, 12, is in remission from lymph node cancer. "It was really cool," he said of his 15 minutes of fame.
Roberto Carballo drove from Athens so his daughter Katherine, 8, could get her pictures taken. After a quick application of pink lip gloss and a toss of her short brown curls, Katherine stepped in front of the camera. "I had a good time," she said afterward, grinning. Her father was moved too. "For a moment," Carballo said, tears welling in his eyes, "my daughter forgot she was sick."

Allison Clarke of Ohio founded Flashes of Hope in 2001, after her 18-month-old son who was battling cancer lost a friend he had met in the hospital. "I remember wishing we had a photograph of him " one that captured his special spirit," said Clarke, whose son is now cancer-free. Clarke, who had a background in modeling and broadcast news, persuaded photographers and makeup artists to donate their services, and Flashes of Hope was born.

Over the next few years, Flashes of Hope opened chapters in Boston, Denver, Philadelphia and other cities. The Atlanta chapter, the first in the Southeast, opened last year. Chapters in Orlando and Virginia are planned for 2007.

Amy Green, a photographer who lives in Dunwoody, runs the Atlanta chapter from her home. She does not have a sick child, but was touched when she heard about the organization through a work contact in 2005. Green gave up her photography business to volunteer full-time for Flashes of Hope."It's very fulfilling, seeing these kids get to be so happy, and their parents have something to cherish forever," said Green, who recently was given the "Ms. Dunwoody Mom 2006" volunteer award during the north DeKalb community's holiday celebration.
Becky Lavender, a social worker at the Aflac Cancer Center, said the pictures provide benefits far beyond the photo shoot.

"They make these children feel like celebrities," Lavender said. "I look at these kids, and look past the pain and see their beautiful smiles.There's so much hope in the photographs. These photographers are like angels."
Back at home a few days before Christmas, Carrie Pinotti agreed. "It's priceless, having these pictures," she said. "For a time,we were all together, and we were able to capture a happy moment and preserve it in time."

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