Italy Bound!

13 09 2010

Wow!  I have finished!  I placed 3rd runner-up in the class behind Damian AhChing, who won best portfolio, Gustavo Romero, who was 1st runner-up and Brett May, who won 2nd.  I was followed by Janet Kelley, 4th runner-up, Amanda Gardner, 5th and Deanna Washington, honorable mention.  I feel honored to be listed among such talented photographers.  To be honest, I never would have made it without the patience and encouragement of Kim Harkins, now the ‘former’ head of the photography department at Gwinnett Tech.  She is following her husband to California, where he has accepted the presidency of Orange Coast College.  Congratulations to Sheri Finch, who is now the ‘new’ head of the photography department.  Don’t blink, things change fast around here!  TTFN SDG





Ray Patenaude, Veteran…Thank You for Your Service!

6 07 2010

We just celebrated our nation’s birthday, Independence Day; I’m surprised at how many Americans don’t know or remember our roots.  Our freedom was paid for in blood, the blood of brave individuals who sacrificed everything to defend a country where people can live, work and worship as they wish.  I’d like to thank all the men and women who have served in the Armed Services for all the generations of our nation.

A photography friend, Joan Genest, has donated her uncle’s war memorabilia (seen above) to Warren Mott’s Millitary Museum.  Thank you for sharing him with all of us.  Also at the museum are a number of other displays of very noble individual’s efforts in keeping us, and most of the rest of the world, safe and free.  Happy belated Fourth to all my fellow Americans!  TTFN SDG





Gift For a Child Founder, Rene Gunn

13 06 2010

The entire event I covered this week would not have been possible without the passionate vision and tireless effort of Rene Gunn and her organization, Gift For a Child.  Thank you, Rene, for loving and having compassion on the youth who are thrown into situations over which they have little or no control.  Your heart has been shown to this small group of people; and I, for one, am very proud to know you and your very special man, Garney.  You have both blessed my life immeasurably.  I hope you are blessed, as well, as you witness the accomplishments of those in whom you’ve invested so much of your precious time and energy.  Thank you for all you do!  TTFN SDG





Victoria Rowell and Jonathan Babineaux

11 06 2010

The keynote address at the Celebration of Excellence was given by Ms. Victoria Rowell.  I remember her from her “Diagnosis Murder” days.  She’s a beautiful woman with another message of hope.  She shared words of wisdom and encouragement with the foster graduates and a touching excerpt from her book, The Women Who Raised Me.

Jonathan Babineaux, a defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons, sacrificed his only day off in December to bake Christmas cookies with the kids in a youth home.  He was presented with the Celebration of Excellence Community Service Award.

Jonathan Babineaux with his marketing agent, Cherry Bañez.

The young men and women who attended this event were truly celebrated, encouraged and uplifted during this two-day event, sponsored by the Higher Education Institute; and I was very honored and blessed to have been a small part of it.  TTFG SDG





NE-YO with young Harvard grad and author Kimberly Snodgrass

10 06 2010

I had the pleasure of meeting Kimberly Snodgrass, recent Harvard graduate, author and former foster child.  She shared her story with the foster youth at the recent Higher Education Institute Conference in AtlantaKimberly’s story is amazing in how she managed to keep going under extreme circumstances.  I truly admire this young lady, who not only came back to help with the workshop as one of the volunteers and keynote speakers, but to be honored as a recent foster child graduate.  Congratulations, Kimberly!  Please check out her website and read her book Things Happen For a Reason; it will encourage you to persevere in your passions.  TTFN SDG





Gift for a Child…NE-YO!

10 06 2010

This post is going to be rather lengthy; so I apologize ahead of time, Mr. Jones, and will keep most of my future posts to a shorter format.  However, I would be remiss in expounding upon my adventure of the last two days without discussing the many exciting events I was photographing.  Actually, it was one event with many components.  Gift for a Child, Inc., in partnership with the Georgia Independent Living Association presented “Real Life Prep for High School Graduates” at the annual Higher Education Institute in Atlanta, GA.  This event was directed towards graduating high school youth who are leaving the foster care system and included 250 foster youth from across the state of Georgia.  The kids attending this event walked in knowing only those who had crossed their paths in difficult situations but left feeling loved, uplifted, educated about the future and more prepared to attack it with gusto.  The workshops they attended provided real life scenarios including budgeting, purchasing, housing, higher education, healthy living and credit vs. cash and taught them important life skills in dealing with each scenario.  I photographed the registration process, the team building exercise,  the talent show, The Compound Foundation Workshop, the Celebration of Excellence graduation ceremony and the Casino After-Party.  For security reasons, I will not be able to use images of the youth on this blog or any other media without written consent.  That being said, I do have images of public figures I will be able to use; and I do have a story to tell about the celebrity I listened to for most of Wednesday.

NE-YO, have you heard of him?  Well, I hadn’t; but now that I know where he came from, what he’s doing and where he plans to go, I’m very proud to say I have met him.  Ne-Yo may never see this blog because he says, “I don’t read other people’s blogs because nothing positive has ever been written about me.”  I would like to be the one to prove him wrong.  Ne-Yo and his business partner, Reynell Hay, established The Compound Foundation in order to share their success with the kids in the child welfare system.  I sat in on four sessions as Ne-Yo and his Mom, Lorraine Smith, shared their story, which I would love to share snippets of with you.

Lorraine was in an abusive marriage and divorced her husband to raise their two children alone.  As a single mother, she succumbed to the welfare program in order to feed, clothe and house her small family.  Their were times they had no money for bills and utilities were cut off; they had to use emergency candles for light, which they have now been able to replace with chandeliers.  Through the bad times, Lorraine drew her strength and her reason for living from her children, Chimere (Ne-Yo) and Nicole.  She encouraged them to pursue the things for which they had a passion.  Ne-Yo was an artistic soul, even at a young age, and once, with his Mother’s permission, drew murals on his and his Nicole’s bedroom walls.  Because they were living in government subsidized housing, they had to paint over them before the inspector could see his handiwork.  Ne-Yo’s first job was at McDonald’s, from where he was fired for not cooking the french fries properly.  His second job was at Pizza Hut, from where he was fired for putting too many pepperoni’s on the pizzas.  His Mom was never upset with him, even though family income was lost, because she knew he had not yet found his niche.  His third job, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, gave him the passion he still pursues today.  Working for a back up band playing for a headliner, he discovered the joy of anything music.  Although there were musicians in his background, he did not realize how passionate it ran through his veins until this point in his life.  His Mom knew he was hooked when he continued to work in the same venue even when he was not being paid.

One day Ne-Yo asked his Mom for a four-track. Not knowing what a four-track was; they went to the music store and found one that cost about $400.00. To a single Mom having difficulty paying her $35.00/month rent, $400.00 seemed almost unattainable; but little-by-little the money was saved and the purchase made.  To this day, Ms. Smith claims it was the best $400.00 she ever spent!

Ne-Yo, after graduating high school, had a plan.  He and his band buddies decided to move to LA and play every day outside the Capitol Records building where they hoped the president would hear them and insist they sign with the company.  They acted on that plan, living in their van, only to be told every day by the security guard to move along.  After 12 years of knocking on doors, being told ‘no,’ and continuing to hone his craft, Ne-Yo became an over-night sensation….yeah, right, over-night!  Yes, I said 12….long…years…of hard work, perseverance and passion have finally begun to show some fruit.

Ne-Yo is an award winning musician with his heart in the right place.  He spent almost 12 hours with these foster youth yesterday, encouraging and empowering them for the future.  He and his Mom answered questions, candidly and with insight, because they’d ‘been there, done that.’  He told the kids, “I was you; and you can be me,” because he had come from a background similar to many of the kids to whom he spoke; yet he was able to encourage them to seek out their passion and pursue it with gusto, even when others tell them ‘no’ or give up on them.

I’m a big fan of Ne-Yo, not because of his music…because I’ve still never heard any of his songs or read his lyrics, but because this man gave an extraordinary gift to a group of  kids who needed some support.  Thank you to Ne-Yo and Lorraine, for taking time out of your busy and hectic schedules to mean something to the youth of today.  When you hear Ne-Yo’s name, regardless of what you think of his music, I hope you will remember him for his contribution to society through the kids in the foster care system.  Oh yeah, he stood at the front of the Georgia State Rialto Auditorium last night for about an hour and had his picture made with each of the 265 graduates who crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.  TTFN SDG





Wednesday’s Child

4 06 2010

Governor Sonny Perdue and his lovely wife, Mary.

Fox 5 Anchor, Amanda Davis.

I had the incredible honor and privilege of shooting with Kathy Nesbit, one of the Assistants in the GTC Commercial Photography department, at an event in the Governor’s Mansion last Wednesday evening.  It was the 10th Anniversary of the Wednesday’s Child program, which is sponsored by the Freddie Mac FoundationWAGA Fox 5 Atlanta and the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services Adoption Unit.  It has been a passion of Fox 5’s Anchor Amanda Davis, who was also at the event to help honor and celebrate the children.  For privacy reasons, I will only be able to use images of the adults.  TTFN SDG