I began the year with more interviews at the Rescue Mission. During my first evening back, I sat down with 27-year-old Tasha, whose daughter's hand is photographed here. Tasha gave birth nine months before she was released from prison. "I got to spend four days and three nights with her," Tasha told me. "I was up the whole time. Nonstop. No sleep, no rest. I was like, 'I can sleep when I go back.'" Tasha's six young children are very close. "If you see one, you see them all. They're so close that my boys taught her how to walk, because I wasn't there."
A few days later, I spent a sunny afternoon with Joy, a Project Hands interviewee battling the final stage of ovarian cancer. My goal that day was simple: Be with Joy and her caretaker Shirlene, and witness their abiding friendship.
After my first lunch at the Mission and a trip to Joy's favorite library branch, we ended our day in their shared living space at the Rescue Mission. It was bright and roomy — much like their hearts, I learned. I took portraits of Joy by the window, in her flowered armchair and reading from the books that uplifted her. Then I left, feeling once again bettered by their presence, warmed by their light.
In the handful of times I spent with Joy, she lived up to her name, often flashing her cheek-plumping smile and laughing — all while fighting the war that raged inside her. With an open, faithful heart, she made the most of the time she had.
But it's the opposite that strikes me most about this photo — it's a rare peek into the inevitable worry, fear and sadness that only someone with a terminal diagnosis experiences. Joy passed away nine months after that visit, on Oct. 21.
This is Jasim, an Iraqi refugee I interviewed for Project Hands. I took this portrait — one of my favorites, ever — during a warm February afternoon at the Rescue Mission. When I visited him that day, I expected to see the same scared and lonely man I had met a few months earlier. But I was wrong. The Jasim that greeted me in the reception area of the Rescue Mission was comfortable, almost sanguine. His demeanor wasn't unlike the sun-drenched hallway where I photographed. He spent most of our time together smiling and laughing. He told me he's learning more English from books at the library. He goes to his doctor appointments. He told me that he's looking forward to one day having his own apartment (which he has now, by the way).
Carrie, who poses here with images of her four children, was one of the last Rescue Mission guests I interviewed for Project Hands. I met with her in March, after being contacted by The Roanoke Times about a story on Project Hands. Arts Editor Mike Allen joined me for this interview.
At the time of our sit-down, Carrie hadn't seen her children in almost three years. "My sister committed federal kidnapping," said Carrie, who traveled to Virginia alone in an effort to get her kids back. "She had custody in Montana, and only Montana. Then she left the state."
Speaking about her children was emotional for Carrie, who had only been at the Rescue Mission for two weeks at that point. "It's probably scariest for my youngest. He doesn't know his grandparents. He doesn't know his dad. But my kids are very close. My second-oldest likes to be the mommy while I'm gone."
Her two youngest children have mild forms of autism.
"Watching my daughter get tested for autism, I cried. It was like watching me. It saddens me that she's going through it. I've been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD. Learning doesn't ever stop for me. When I was younger, I thought my parents took me out of school because I was having problems getting caught up after a respiratory flu. I had been out for two weeks, and couldn't catch back up. But they had taken me out because the kids were making fun of me.
I have a lot of ideas for creating programs for people like me and my children. I've heard about ones that have horses for therapy. Not only does it create jobs, but it also creates self-esteem for the children who come."
No matter what's happening on the field at a Salem Red Sox game, my attention is usually on the team's mascot, Mugsy. How can you not love a giant puppy that takes selfies in the rain?
This photo of my 2-year-old niece is from a post I wrote on how Project Hands has shaped the way I approach photography. "Since then — and especially since I began photographing at the Roanoke Rescue Mission — I've shot differently." I wrote. "I see a story in everything, every expression and of course, every hand. Ironically, by spending months focusing on one object, I've opened myself to a world of otherwise unnoticed details — ones that reveal who we are and what we hold onto the hardest."
With so many of our friends getting married this year, my husband and I spent a lot of time on the road. This is my favorite photo from a June trip to Norfolk.
This summer, I photographed at the annual Salem Fair, the largest free-gate fair in the world. I hadn't been to the fair in 15 years or more, so it was like experiencing it for the first time.
Here's another favorite from the fair. I lapped the grounds about five times that evening, realizing that too often we forget that our own backyard is bursting with unexpected, untapped adventure. Hundreds photograph the colorful event each year, but no two experiences are the same.
Later that month, I was asked to photograph Pack the Park, an annual Rescue Mission event that promotes the Drumstick DASH and treats a group of Mission children to a game. Bombarded (I didn't mind) by excited requests to take their photo, I realized something huge that night:
Most of us take for granted the ability to capture moments with our family, our children, our friends. From iPhones and video recorders to hour-long sessions with professional photographers, our happy moments are extensively documented. Probably like most of you, I grew up with stacks of albums and DVDs filled with moments of my life. Those memories help me remember who I am and who I want to be — they forever anchor me to happy times. It breaks my heart to think that children of severely low-income families might never have that.
This summer, I came across a Nature Valley commercial in which producers interviewed three generations of families. They asked each, "What did you like to do for fun as a kid?" The grandparents and parents responded with activities like fort-building, sledding, fishing and gardening. Smiling, they recalled vivid memories of friends and family.
The children, though, excitedly squeaked about video games, texting and their latest binge-watching accomplishments. I almost teared up, as some of my own childhood memories came rushing back — building snowmen, jumping in huge piles of leaves my dad would rake, playing made-up games with my neighbors. Instantly, I felt a renewed appreciation for growing up in a world void of smartphones, tablets and Netflix.
So when my 5-year-old nephew asked to have his annual camp night one weekend in August, I was even more eager to take photos, to document an evening in the life of a simple childhood and to remind us all to make little things like camp night important once again.
Another favorite image from that night. I love my niece's very serious expressions.
I saw my first drive-in movie this September in Lexington. After losing a bet back in July, I had to plan a special date for Tyler and me. We started with a stop at Devil's Backbone, one of Tyler's favorite breweries. Then we grabbed some burgers at Pure Eats in downtown Lexington before heading to Hull's, the nation's first non-profit, community-owned drive-in theater.
My nephew Caleb holds his new brother for the first time this October (analog photo). We had all been anxiously waiting for Connor — not just because we wanted to meet him, but also because his due date fell on the day before my wedding. When he came along nine days early, we all breathed a happy sigh of relief.
The wind whips through a tourist's hair on an evening ferry ride to Alcatraz. Tyler and I had been looking forward to this part of our honeymoon since buying the tickets in July. One bonus of the night tour is getting to see a sunset-drenched San Francisco from the Bay.
My nephew shows off his Halloween costume. This was the year of the superhero obsession.
A beautiful moment from my first official family session.
Photos of my parents in front of their two-stocking mantel in Decatur, Ill. They're my favorites from a photo story I finished this Christmas, about the intricate stockings my mom hand-sews for every new member of our family. I love these images because they represent the start of something big. Before there were any children, son-in-laws or grandchildren, there were just my parents, waiting for the birth of their son and the adventure that would follow.