When Leah Hoskins decided to start a nonprofit to give families affected by cancer free professional photos, she never imagined it would grow at the rate that it has.
The F.I.L.M. Project (Family Images for Lasting Memories) began on Jan. 1 of this year, with about 20 photographers volunteering their services by the end of February. At the beginning of this month, the organization had more than 300 volunteer photographers across the nation. Hoskins said the group grew from about 50 to 100 new photographers each month.
"It's the photographers that are spreading the word about this organization," Hoskins said. "Ninety percent of the people who volunteer for us have either lost somebody they were very close to to cancer, or have had cancer themselves. It's their way of healing and giving back. It's like I tell them in training, the mom that loses her teen to texting and driving is going to get involved in that movement. They're there for that reason. They're all passionate about this cause."
One such photographer is Everardo Keeme, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident who was just selected to be a part of the program.
"Two of my aunts passed away from cancer," Keeme said, who has done a lot of volunteer photography for the American Cancer Society. "It was tough to see my mom go through that and lose her sisters. My dad just had some skin cancer removed, and that was the closest it hit home. With everything my mom went through, now we started worrying.
"It's just a weird feeling, and I don't like it. Everyone is affected by cancer. It's not a matter of if, but when."
The F.I.L.M. Project operates on a volunteer basis, but it still sifts through those volunteers carefully.
The group makes sure that each photographer who joins the organization is truly professional, so that each family that has photos taken gets a good product.
"Because it is such a meaningful experience, they don't want to send a hobbyist out there," Keeme said. "They want to make sure that this is your business, and that you have experience."
Cancer victims or their family apply for photos by calling 1-800-643-0353 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once their request is received, a coordinator finds the closest photographer and asks them if they have time for a session.
From there, the photographer contacts the family and sets up the session. Families are given 20 professional photos from the session, each with the patient in the photo.
The F.I.L.M. Project has also found a few sponsors to be able to provide free prints for the family if they would like.
Hoskins came up with the idea after one of her friends passed away from cancer last year. He was only 28 at the time.
"As a photographer, I was in the middle of my busy season doing weddings, and I didn't think to offer them a family portrait session," Hoskins said. "After he passed, I offered my services to the family and provided them with a slide show with all the pictures they had from boxes and such. I was going through the pictures, and they were a well off family, but they didn't have one professional family photo taken over a 15-year period.
"I came up with the idea for the F.I.L.M. Project in September and by Jan. 1 we had a name and a mission, and we had launched."
Hoskins says she has learned that it is all about the families. They often stay close to families who they do photos for, and provide them with a memory book for the funeral.
"I love what I do," Hoskins said. "It's not work. I love to be able to help these families. It's a very rewarding job. I never imagined to be growing this fast, so the amount of work that is involved is tremendous, but I have a team of volunteers and we love every moment of it."
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