When a Maryland woman read about a photographer who stopped a photo shoot for a child with Down syndrome because he didn't have "the time or patience for it," she saw an opportunity to give back.
Self-taught photographer Stephanie Smith told InsideEdition.com that when she read the blog post, "it just clicked." She began offering photo shoots for families with special needs children — free of charge.
Smith, 28, titled the new endeavor “Lenses for Love” because she believes love should be unconditional.
“The first family I took on just happened to be a boy with Down syndrome. I just knew as soon as I did the shoot that I found my calling,” Smith said.
That was eight months ago, and since then Smith has carried out 19 photo shoots for special needs children and their families. She finances the photo shoots through a GoFundMe account created by a friend, as well as through money she makes from paid lifestyle gigs.
Smith had been searching for a way to pay it forward after her sister, who is paralyzed from the chest down due to a neurological disease, received $450,000 through “Chive Charities” to make her home wheelchair accessible.
“I personally know the financial strain, emotional stress, and fear of judgment that families go through,” Smith said. “My goal is to teach people to see these children as kids first and not their disabilities.”
Smith’s photo shoots go beyond the norm. She builds relationships with each of the families she meets – and even poses with every child she photographs.
She keeps the memories in an album at home with the hope of teaching her 3-year-old son to love everyone.
“It’s never a just a photo shoot,” said Smith. “I have built relationships. We spend so much time stressing and complaining in our lives. Then I meet these kids and I think about their struggles. It puts things into perspective.”
Smith has received more than 150 requests for photo shoots with families through her website, and another 50 photographers countrywide now want to join the cause.
Her website not only documents the stories of the children she meets in an effort to spread awareness, but also tries to match families with volunteer photographers in their area.
It’s the families who reach out without asking for anything, however, that surprise Smith.
“Some people are just thanking me for what I’m doing because a lot of them have fear of people judging their children,” said Smith. “It’s such a shame. They face so many challenges already. If we can change what our society says is beautiful then we can change the world.”