Hello, and happy Friday!
I don't know about you, but nothing makes me happier than making others happy. Early on in my life I was taught the important value of giving back and helping others. In elementary school I was involved in Pixies (now Daisies) and Brownies. Later on I became really involved in National Charity League from 7th-12th grade and then after college I got involved with a couple of different alumni groups. I volunteered at the hospital, convalescent home, animal shelter, raised scholarship money, organized silent auctions, and all kinds of other stuff. It felt good to give back. When my kids got to elementary school I switched over to the PTA. These days I work in my son's class and am room mom for my daughter.
Volunteering and doing nice things for others is extremely rewarding. For example, right after I graduated from graduate school I joined USC Town & Gown Junior Auxiliary of Orange County. Our group awarded scholarships to incoming and existing USC students. I was the scholarship chair for a year or two and I had the pleasure of informing parents and students that they were receiving money from us. I remember one phone call in particular with the mother of a future USC student. I called to inform her that her daughter was receiving money from us. The mom burst into tears and told me that this particular scholarship finally provided enough money so that her daughter could go to the school of her dreams. I got pretty teary, too. I hung up feeling so amazing, knowing that my group and I made a real impact on this girl's future.
These days, I find it hard to give back as much as I'd like. My photography business has gotten pretty busy (thanks to all of you) and my kids have multiple activities after school. I've taken a step back from the PTA but do manage to still get into the classrooms and help out there each week. So, when a big opportunity like Together We Rise presented itself, I was totally on board!
So you might be wondering what actually is Together We Rise. Well, their website describes them as:"Together We Rise is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization comprised of motivated young adults and former foster youth. Our vision is to improve the lives of children in foster care, who often find themselves forgotten and neglected by the public. We collaborate with individuals, companies, and community partners to bring resources to foster youth and use service-learning activities to educate volunteers on issues surrounding the foster care system." In other words, they are amazing people who do amazing things for children in need of love and guidance. They work hard to improve foster children's quality of life and they put smiles on their little faces.
What does this have to do with me, or rather, what do I have to do with them? Each September Together We Rise puts on an amazing event called Disney Days. This event takes place over two days both at Disneyland in Anaheim and at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. They reunite siblings in the foster care system who have been separated and give children a day to play and be "normal kids" at Disneyland. The kids get to ride rides, eat ice cream, see parades, and they even get money to spend in the gift shop at the end of the day. When they arrive, most of the kids are strangers. By the end of the day, they are all friends. This even requires a lot of volunteers. These volunteers help to serve as chaperones, help to pay for the day, and (here is my part) help to document the day through photos. Close to a thousand photographers offer to volunteer at this event. We all submit samples of our work, our websites, etc. I think they took about 40 of us. WOW! What an honor!
My experience: My Disney Day started off bright and early. I had to be at the Disneyland gates by 8:00 am to get checked in, assigned to a group, etc. I was lucky to attend with a fellow photographer friend, K.C. Crow so we got to experience this together. I was also fortunate enough to be assigned to the BEST group ever! My group was made up a a group of friends who decided to volunteer together. They were all young (compared to me, haha) and energetic and amazingly fun. They were great with the kids and I was so lucky to get put with them.
Once we were put into our chaperone groups (about 6 chaperones, plus two social workers, and one photographer per group), we got to meet our kids. Our group (called Donald) got the young kiddos ranging from about five years old to about nine. None of these kids had been to Disneyland before. NOT ONCE. They were so excited, a little nervous, and a little shy. But the nervousness and shyness did not last long and within about an hour or two everyone was having the best time!
We were in the park from about 10:00 am- 8:00 pm. We went on rides, saw shows and the parade, ate ice cream, had lunch and dinner, and the kids got to buy their souvenirs. Not once did we have tears, tantrums, harsh words, etc. Our kids were PERFECT! This day was truly rewarding. It made my heart so full I thought it would burst. Seriously. It was a highlight of my life.
Around 8:00 we were done and I turned in all of my photos. Days later, after a LOT of culling and editing, I officially turned in my final picks. We were told to narrow our photos down to about 100 top favorites. Then Together We Rise put them into a book for each child and volunteer. These kids will forever have this photo book reminding them of the day they got to be normal kids, having fun at Disneyland.
So...the purpose of this blog? To share with you an amazing day I had and to encourage you to go out there and find a way to give back. AND, if you find this group interesting, check them out and maybe even offer to help THEM! The Together We Rise Disney Days event is annual and they are looking for monetary donations, volunteers, etc. Their website is www.togetherwerise.org. Together, we can all make a difference in this world!
Scroll down to see more of the "faceless" images from that day. For safety reasons, I cannot share their faces without sunglasses but you can see that they were having a fantastic time!