Talk about a picture-perfect idea.
Allison Violante moved to Buffalo in 2005.
Before she came here, she lived in Cleveland with her husband and baby boy. At just six-months-old, her son was diagnosed with cancer. One day, when Allison was in the hospital with baby Jude – a woman – also Allison – came in to take photos. It seemed a bit odd, and although Allison originally declined, she ended up doing the photo shoot. And boy is she thankful, “This made me feel happy and hopeful and normal for about five seconds. It also captured the moments of my six month old baby – I didn’t know at that time what was going to happen.”
Thankfully, Jude recovered and their cancer nightmare ended with a healthy baby. But that day – that photo shoot – will always be special.
For Allison, it was a calling and she got a local chapter up and running in Buffalo.
A local chapter of Flashes of Hope, where photographers, makeup artists, volunteers and families communicate, collaborate and make a difference. They all donate their time.
Volunteers transform the hospital playrooms and camp areas into photography studios. Each child is photographed individually and with their closest supporters – siblings, parents, sometimes even a favorite nurse. Each family is presented with framed enlargements and proofs of all the images. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers and donors, all services are provided free of charge. Moms and daughters get hair and make-up, too. What a special and bonding experience.
It’s amazing. Each photograph is a remembrance. A treasure. A moment in time capturing the grace, and dignity that child fought cancer with. So much more than just a photo on a wall – a testament to a family’s love and strength.
It shows the support system who helped every step of the way.
Allison says local photographers jump at the chance to help, “Oh yeah. Sometimes I have three or four calling me letting me know they’re in.” It’s not surprising, Western New Yorkers are always up for helping, especially a sick child.
I asked Allison – who does not get paid at all for her time and effort – why it’s so important to her, “I always feel like I’ve done what I am supposed to do in my life. I’ve always tried to figure that out. I mean you have to make someone else feel better everyday. Everyday. It doesn’t matter how – you just have to. So that’s what I try and do. And, you know, when that was done for me and my baby, well, I will never forget that. Not ever. I just want someone else to feel the way I did, if only for just a short time.”
The Usiak family knows what’s it like. Stella has been battling cancer for half her life. She is brave and beautiful – and each photo captures that. Her family, always incredibly supportive, by her side in the journey and the pictures.
Stella has had a number of Flashes of Hope photo shoots. Jen Usiak tells me the photos are gifts, “Stella loves being glammed up when hair and makeup people are there at shoots. It’s amazing, Allison took her experience with her son’s cancer and led Flashes into Buffalo and Western New York. Some of my friends who have lost their kids treasure the photos she’s brought together for them when they needed just one more.”
They follow the child’s journey. Capturing moments with family. And friends like Lucas.
Jen says the Christmas photo shoots are her favorite.
It’s a way for these children and their families to see their own beauty, “It is a way for them to not feel so horrible; in a clinic or hospital you can’t help but feel bad, so it’s a way to feel better, to smile.” Allison says, regardless of the outcome, the photos will always be special, “If they lose their child, it gives them something to hold onto forever and if they beat it, it shows what they went through and their fight.”
Flashes of Hope holds fundraisers for pediatric cancer research.
If you are a professional photographer, make-up artist or hair stylist and would like to donate your time or if you would like to donate to their cause, you can find them at flashesofhope.org.
859 children have been photographed by Buffalo’s chapter of Flashes of Hope so far!
A wonderful organization capturing moments in time, providing incredible, priceless gifts to hundreds of families.