Gallery opens its heart to foster children

by Lee Adams

Photographer Abigail Seymour has a big place in her heart for children, specifically children in need of a home, children who are up for adoption.

LaDonna Wattley also has a heart for those same kids. For the past 10 years she’s worked with foster children as a social worker, a parent educator and the director of a non-profit organization helping children find homes. She currently works with the North Carolina Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network.

Neither one had met before a few months ago, but fate changed that.

November is National Adoption Month and both Seymour and Wattley wanted to present a Heart Gallery exhibition, a group of professional photographs of children up for adoption across the state of North Carolina.

The idea of the Heart Gallery began four years ago in New Mexico where a group of professional photographers donated their skills to photograph children in need of adoption. Seymour read about the gallery in Parade Magazine and was inspired to get one going here, so she began to contact photographers she knew and ask for their help. Many were supportive and eager to donate their time, but Seymour was having trouble finding children that could be photographed. Red tape and confidentiality laws kept her from finding children who could be photographed and put on display. Not willing to give up, she booked a space for the gallery downtown and continued her efforts.

Meanwhile, Wattley’s director at the Network wanted her to set up a Heart Gallery for the same month. Wattley had a list of children that could be photographed and were in need of homes, but she knew no photographers. Not willing to give up, she, too, called the same gallery to book a space for the month of November.

The coordinator of the gallery told her it had already been booked for the Heart Gallery and Wattley was dumbfounded. How could it be? She hadn’t told anyone else about it yet. The coordinator gave Seymour’s number to Wattley.

When the two talked about their idea on the phone together they realized a force much greater than the two of them was at work. Wattley had the children and Seymour had the photographers, a perfect match.

Seymour quickly put 21 photographers to work, supplying them with information on children in their immediate area that needed to be photographed, and each photographer was given creative freedom to shoot in their own style.

The results are truly amazing. Each portrait is like an open window to the child’s soul, showing soft interiors, eager to love and be loved after years of being shuffled from foster home to foster home.

Wattley hopes people will realize not just infants need homes but older children as well. Most kids in need of adoption are over eight years old, says Wattley, with the average age being 13. There are a lot of siblings and teenagers up for adoption. After the teen years they need a family, someone that they can come home to during college and Christmas break, Wattley says. In North Carolina alone there are 850 such children.

For Wattley, organizing Heart Gallery has been the most gratifying experience she’s ever had. Seymour says many of the photographers who donated their services were touched by the lives of those with whom they worked.

Seymour and Wattley moved Heart Gallery from its original location where the two first met. The display will now be held at the Greensboro Public Library with an opening reception on Nov. 6. The Library, Wattley and Seymour say, turns out to be a better location and one that will get more public exposure. In spring of next year the display will go on tour throughout the state.

Prints will range in size from 16×20 to 30×40, presented on easels for up close and personal viewing. Wattley and Seymour invite you to come to the library and view, and grow a heart for a child in need.