A couple weeks ago, I had a second opportunity to volunteer my time for a cause I believe in with all my heart. After the success of the Mini Sessions for Kindness, I was approached by Jennifer of Regan's Acts of Kindness to photograph a big event. They held an outdoor movie night, complete with vendors, snacks, and activities. I can't remember having so much fun photographing an event.
Whenever I photograph an event, I always try to get a variety of shots. From the small details that someone took the time to plan out to action shots of guests having fun, from candid moments between a few guests to big crowd shots, and everything in between. This event, though, was a little different for me. This was a celebration, but it was also a type of memorial.
Regan Shetsky was struck by a car earlier this year and killed in the parking lot of her preschool while her dad, a firefighter, was dropping her off. She was only three years old. The story of this tragedy reverberated throughout the community. The Shetsky family is well known and well loved. Even people, like myself, who had never met Regan were touched by her story. When I first read about what happened, I cried and hugged my own three year old a little tighter. Not long afterward, I started hearing about Regan's Acts of Kindness. Through their grief, the Shetsky family chose to honor their little girl by encouraging others to spread kindness, to bring some of the happiness to others that Regan brought to everyone who knew her. The movement already has over 5,000 followers on the Facebook page, and countless posts from people sharing their stories of acts of kindness given or received in Regan's name.
Regan's Acts of Kindness also has a number of projects that they are raising money to support. They have already installed a beautiful pavilion at The Wild Animal Park in Chittenango. They are also working toward a playground expansion at a local school and a memorial for Regan. Regan's Movie Night raised funds for those projects.
Guests were able to purchase tickets to use toward some amazing raffle prizes, activities for the kids and craft stations. There was face painting, henna, balloon animals, a bead station, bubbles, soccer, make your own slime...and other fun activities that the kids could do until sundown when the movie was scheduled to start.
My husband and son came with me so that Oliver could play while I worked. He had a blast going from station to station. He danced around to the dj's music, waited patiently in line for a balloon "fishing pole", and kept going back to the soccer station over and over. Every child there had a smile on their face.
There were vendors with tables set up so the parents could shop while the kids played. I walked around and introduced myself to each one and took a photo of them. Even though I had never met these vendors before, it felt like we were all part of a community. We were all there for the same reason.
What's a movie night without popcorn? The snack station had drinks and snowcones and was a very popular stop. The huge outdoor movie screen was provided by FunFlicks, and we were able to watch them blow it up while the kids played and families set up their blankets and chairs in the field.
So, even though I had previously done mini sessions to raise money for Regan's Acts of Kindness, I had not yet met the Shetsky family. When I arrived at the athletic field at LeMoyne College where the event was being held, I was informally introduced to Regan's mom, Kelly. I didn't consciously think about it at the time, because everyone was just trying to get set up (and it had just down poured on us), but I think I expected her to have some kind of visible super powers. I have been in awe of the strength she and her family must have to push through what has to be the worst time of their lives and create something so beautiful out of that darkness. It occurred to me later that, while I still believe they are stronger than most, Kelly is...well...just a mom. A mom like me. And it really hit me hard...the reality that what happened to Regan could happen to a child I know, to my own child.
At some point, I stopped thinking about just documenting the event, and started thinking about what would Kelly, as a mom, want to take away from that night. What would I want to look back on and remember if I were in her shoes. And I realized it wasn't the lines at the ticket table or the giant movie screen or the vendors' carefully set up displays.
It was the joy on the faces of those children. The joy that SHE made possible.
So that's what I photographed. And it filled my own heart with joy.
I watched kids concentrating so hard on their coloring or their bead craft and then light up when they finished. I watched kids trying their hardest to blow the biggest bubble and the glee when they popped it. I watched my own son's face swell with pride when he figured out how to kick the soccer ball through the loops. I saw kids playing games where there were no winners or losers because everyone was laughing. I watched a little girl who was convinced she could hula hoop with three hoops and a time, and I watched her jump for joy when she succeeded.
I witnessed beautiful moments between children and their parents. Moments that, while I didn't know their names, gave me a glimpse of who they are and the love they share. I always look for those moments when I photograph an event or a session, and maybe it was my heightened emotional state, or maybe it was because of the reason for the event, but it seemed like those moments were everywhere I looked. I couldn't click the shutter button fast enough.
That joy...those moments...the Shetsky family, along with their band of volunteers, made all that happen. They gave us all the opportunity to create happy memories with our children that will live in us forever. That, to me, is the greatest act of kindness.
At the end of the night, the families started to settle down onto their blankets and chairs with their popcorn, ready to cuddle up together and watch Regan's favorite movie. Before the movie started, we were treated to a video about Regan, with photographs and video snippets from her life. I feel like I know her just a little bit now.
Regan's life was far too short, but her impact on this community has been immense. If you would like to find out more about Regan's Acts of Kindess and the amazing work the Shetsky family is doing around Central New York, please visit their Facebook page here. You can also donate money to help fund their various projects here.
Cassandra Zingaro - photographer, mom, wife, owner of HeartStrings Photography and first time blogger