SAN JOSE -- Their lives may be shaded by worry and uncertainty, but that doesn't stop kids who live in homeless shelters from sharing many of the same hopes and dreams as their luckier counterparts -- whether it's to be a pro skateboarder, or to win the Miss Universe contest, to travel the world, to go to college, or make their parents proud.
On Wednesday afternoon, that's exactly what photojournalist Linda Solomon heard when she brought her nationally acclaimed project "Pictures of Hope'' to the San Jose Family Shelter where she not only empowered 14 children to put down on paper their list of life wishes, but taught them how to visualize their heartfelt feelings with cameras.
By the time they finish taking photos this weekend, each of the youngsters -- ages 7 to 13 -- will have captured at least one picture of a hope or dream that Solomon will select as a holiday greeting card to be sold at the shelter, with all proceeds benefiting San Jose Family Shelter.
"What I've learned is that these kids are hoping for things that truly matter -- other children may take education for granted, but each of these kids had that on their lists,'' said Solomon, who has founded educational photography programs that have reached more than one million children.
She came upon with the idea for this project six years ago as a way of building the self-esteem of children who live in shelters and transitional housing and also, hopefully, as a way to attract
"There are many misconceptions about these children and their families,'' said Solomon. "There is nothing wrong with them except that like many people, they've had to deal with some very difficult things in life.''
She pointed to the first sentence on a list written by 13-year-old Isaac Rodriguez, who was seated at a table in the far left corner of the room, with a T-shirt over his head, trying desperately not to be noticed.
"I hope to become better than the people that look down on me,'' Rodriguez wrote as his first hope. But the teen also followed that up with a dream of going to UC Berkeley and his hope for peace and happiness.
His 7-year-old sister Monique was lost in thought as she carefully printed her hope for a puppy, to become Miss Universe, to someday go to Paris.
Dominic Phommachit, 11, and his younger brother Derrick, 10, wrote their lists, and Dominic was asked to read his aloud.
"It surprised me, some of the stuff he came up with,'' said their mother, Michelle Phommachit as she listened to him recite his list.
"I thought he was going to talk about wanting the latest video game, but what he said was he wanted his dad to get better real fast and his mom to be happy,'' she said, wiping a tear from her face. "And he wants to be an engineer! Where did that come from?'' The boys then took picture of signs inside the shelter that said "love,'' and "live'' and "happiness.''
Solomon said parents often tell her how often these sessions not only inspire kids to get interested in photography, but provide a bonding opportunity for families who may not talk together about their dreams.
"When you take a photo of a dream, it's not just in your heart and head, it becomes a reality,'' said Solomon, adding that several children over the years have seen their dreams come true after people or colleges have made donations.
"Pictures of Hope'' is funded by Chevrolet, and Solomon is halfway through a tour of 12 U.S. cities, where she'll meet with other groups of children in shelters before she wraps up in time to review the photos, select one per child. She'll return to the same cities in November, where a local Chevrolet dealer will host a "Young Artist Reception'' to introduce each child with their holiday card.
In San Jose, Capitol Chevrolet general manager Mike Luner said his company, part of the Del Grande Dealer Group, was pleased to participate. His first task was to distribute disposable cameras to each of the kids.
"I've always thought that when you run a successful business, you become part of the community, and things like this fit right into our business philosophy,'' said Luner, adding that he appreciated Solomon's creative concept.
In San Jose, the children's holiday cards also will be given to new car buyers at the dealership, which will make a donation to the shelter.
As Luner put it, "Who can argue with hope?''
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.
Source: Linda Solomon