By Siobhan Connally
RENSSELAER — Angelica has a whole life ahead of her. At 16, the straight-As student is like most kids her age; she has dreams of college and a career in corporate law. The only thing missing is a family to be there as her future unfolds.
She is one of 6,000 children nationwide who are eligible for adoption, and this week she joined a growing number who are hoping to find “forever homes” through Heart Gallery, a program that pairs kids in foster care with professional photographers.
Founded in Santa Fe, N.M., in 2001, Heart Gallery is a high-profile traveling photography exhibit that grew out of a simple realization that the photographs used to in the recruitment efforts for adoptive families really looked like mug shots.
Today there are more than 100 Heart Galleries across the country, including the latest one unveiled Tuesday during at the Rensselaer Rail Station. A companion exhibit will be on display simultaneously in New York City’s Penn Station.
“This is still very much a grassroots movement,” said Laurie Sherman Graff, board officer of Heart Gallery America and founding director of Heart Gallery NYC. “The main thing we do is to get these beautiful photographs out into the community and to raise awareness,” she said, noting that since its start, Heart Galleries have helped facilitate the placement of thousands of children who are eligible for adoption.
“The talented photographers who volunteer their services capture so well the personalities and spirits of waiting children in need of their ‘forever home’.”
According to William Gettman Jr., executive deputy commissioner of state Office of Children and Family Services, 220 young people from the Capital District were adopted during the last three years, and 1,300 are still in need of homes statewide.
“It is critical that we find permanent homes for these children,” said Gettman, “They are our future. They are our strengths for what they will bring to the family and for what they will bring to the state.”
CDTA Executive Director Carm Basile called the placement of the photographic exhibit on the main floor of the Rensselaer Rail Station a “no-brainer.”
“This is the ninth busiest train station in the country, 800,000 people come through here each year,” said Basile. “We welcome you, we welcome the photographs, we welcome families, and we hope that people who look at these during the holidays maybe will pick up the phone and start the adoption process.”
Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino and Albany County Executive Mike Breslin were both on hand at a late morning press conference at the train station to thank CDTA and lend their support to the cause.
Breslin, himself an adoptive parent, also gave an emotional appeal.
“Nothing gives a greater joy — not contentment, not satisfaction but joy — than making a life for a kid.”
To find out more about Heart Gallery and the local children who are in need of adoption, visit www.ocfs.state.ny.us or call 1-800-345-KIDS.
For more information about Heart Galleries or to volunteer, visit www.heartgalleryofamerica.org.