Heart Gallery Focuses on Foster Children

Heart Gallery Focuses on Foster Children

Freddie Mac's photography exhibit targets foster children in need of adoption.

To fight the quiet crisis of children being trapped in foster care, the Freddie Mac Foundation started the Heart Gallery that displays portraits of children to the public.

The Freddie Mac Foundation celebrated the opening of the Heart Gallery, which exhibits photographs of Washington area foster children in need of a home, for Arlington County at Rock Bottom Restaurant in Ballston Common Mall on Monday, June 12.

THE NIGHT kicked off with a reception to honor the children who need homes and the people who made the Heart Gallery possible. The theme of the evening was "build ties that last" in honor of Father's Day.

"This is one of the most moving efforts this foundation has embarked on," says Renette Oklewicz of the Freddie Mac Foundation.

The program (started by Freddie Mac) began in November of 2005 and has made appearances around the county. So far eight children have been adopted. The Freddie Mac foundation also funds NBC-TV's "Wednesday Child" series, which airs in five cities. Cheryl Clarke, the director of Foundation Giving at the Freddie Mac Foundation, stresses that the program's goal is to place children in loving homes, raise awareness of foster care children, and get rid of the stigma that foster children are bad.

Across the United States there are over 500,000 foster care children, who stay an average of 44 months in the system. In Arlington County, there are 128 children in foster care that need homes now. Many of these children are in large sibling sets.

"[These children have] qualities, spirits, light and beauty. They are regular children who have dreams and hopes. Just like all children," says Clarke.

The program includes 40 professional volunteer photographers who take portraits of the children. The photographers spend several hours with the children in order to learn about their personalities and to capture the children on camera. The photographers work on a volunteer basis, with Freddie Mac paying for any costs.

"Having a picture taken," says Jenna Duffy, an Arlington Social Worker of two years, "gives the children a one-on-one connection. It captures who the kids are. It singles them out in a positive way, as opposed to a negative way the kids are usually portrayed."

THE THEME of the evening, which celebrated the opening of the exhibit in Ballston Common Mall, was creating family ties. Placed strategically around Father's Day, the event stressed that families need more than dress ties, but family ties between parents and children.

The event brought Arlington community members to one place to talk about the foster care system and foster care children. Community members present included Chris Zimmerman, the chairman of the Arlington County Board and Valerie Cuffee, the chief of Child and Family Services in Arlington County.

"[The program is] a great opportunity in helping us to get homes for children who desperately need them," says Cuffee, who has held her position for three years. The program tries to place foster care children in loving homes, but the Heart Gallery also focuses on giving visibility for families and the community to help start the program.

Speakers at the event included Madieu Williams, who plays professional football for the Cincinnati Bengals. Williams, 24, adopted brother Michael, 13, after their mother died. Williams, who was focusing on starting a career, took on his younger brother and now stresses the gift he has received.

"He and I had to stick together. I get to be his parent," says Williams.