Inspired by the Friendship of Two Little Boys…
JB and Jamie, both three years old, became instant best friends after meeting in a playground on the Upper West Side of New York City. JB lived in the Bronx but his father brought him to this Manhattan playground almost every day.
Shortly after the boys met, Jamie’s mother began photographing them playing – climbing on the jungle gym, swinging on swings, tearing up the playground like Olympic sprinters. She also made a special effort to photograph JB with his father, who was elderly, in fragile health and clearly did not have money for photographs or cameras (JB’s mom was no longer part of the family).
Over the next two years, JB’s father’s health worsened and eventually he went into the hospital for an extended stay. A foster care caseworker contacted Jamie’s family to ask if they would they take care of JB during this time. They agreed and photographs of JB now included new settings: walks along the Hudson River, breakfast at a firehouse, JB washing a car. JB eventually went to live with an aunt who lived nearby, and the photographs taken by Jamie’s mother now captured JB’s relatives, family friends, and new neighborhood.
In late 2010, almost five years after Jamie and JB first met, Jamie’s mom decided to create a Shutterfly album for JB with all his photographs. She cropped and arranged his pictures, making certain that those of JB posing with his father, who had passed away earlier that year, were prominent. Jamie and his mom gave the photo album to JB on Christmas day.
His reaction was unexpected … and one Jamie’s mom would never forget.
JB stared at the first photograph for several minutes in motionless concentration. Next page, same thing. The boy who rarely sat still was completely mesmerized. When he arrived at the first photo with his father, JB started talking non-stop: “Remember when my dad would whistle for me in the playground?”. “Remember that hat my dad always wore?” When JB reached the end of the book he flipped back to page one and started his intense gazing all over again.
That day Jamie’s mother realized the full significance of the album. Those photos helped JB piece together his disjointed childhood AND, equally importantly, they gave him a way to share his story with others. She knew she had to make him a promise. For the rest of her life she vowed she would keep his childhood photographs safe for him. He would always have photographs from his early days.
That pledge led Jamie’s mom to start thinking. She e-mailed JB’s case manager, Shanequa, with questions about other children in foster care. Did they have photos? Do they need photos?
Shanequa’s response was the start of Photo Safe.
Click here to see the e-mail exchange between Photo Safe’s co-creators, Karen Segal and Shanequa Anderson.
Hi. Yesterday I was thinking about “your kids” because ... JB was over for xmas dinner and, as one of his presents, I gave him a Shutterfly book full of pictures I’ve taken of him since he was 4 or 5 (including some of his father). It made me wonder ... do some of the kids from Good Shepherd grow up without a lot of photos taken of them/their family (that don’t eventually get lost)? If so - and if you think photos matter to them - I have an (overly ambitious) idea or two to help with this given that digital cameras make pictures cheap to take and store.
Good Morning Karen!
Happy New Year! Thank you so much for your beautiful holiday card and donation to Good Shepherd! Good Shepherd’s children are so appreciative of your consistent presence and dedication. Seeing your babies on the holiday card just made my day!!! I really loved their photo, they look so happy and grown up!
Let me tell you, the gift that you gave to JB was PRICELESS! We actually made some attempts to get into his father’s apartment to see if we could find photos and maybe a special toy or two to give him and were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. Too often our kids do not have any photos or memorabilia of their birth family and it is awful. They don’t have the luxury (like I do) to go back and look at old photos of themselves or their family, and it really creates this feeling of a “lost” or “non-existent” identity. Over the past two years while I was supervising the Saturday Visiting Program, we began making small photo albums as resources and staff permitted it. Although successful, even that activity only reached a small number of young people/families.
I would love to hear more about your idea—overly ambitious or not. Where would we be if we didn’t dream big!
My best to you now and always. Please also share my regards with Jill, Rory, and Jamie.
Shanequa Anderson, LMSW, MPA, CASAC