"November is national adoption month," said Patricia Hale, a foster and adoptive parent recruiter for the state's Children, Youth and Family Department. "This exhibit is a way to reach out to families that may want to adopt, and it gives them a chance to see the faces of children who need forever families. The hope is that people may view the photos and see their own future child's eyes in one of the photos."
The portraits were taken and donated by well-known professional photographers from around the nation. They have been placed on a 20-foot-long canvas, which is affixed to large gallery-quality panels.
Hale said often the photos, displayed in such a prominent and visually appealing way, lead to connections between the children and prospective adoptive families.
The Heart Gallery project began 10 years ago in New Mexico, but exhibits are now being held nationwide, and some in Canada, Hale said. Additional exhibits take place locally throughout the year, Hale said, depending on her ability to locate venues to host them.
Children become available for adoption for various reasons, including neglect or abuse. The children whose portraits will hang in the Heart Gallery exhibit have been in the foster care system but can't be returned to their biological families.
Hale said that another purpose of the photographic exhibit is to help educate people about the need to find local children safe and loving homes.
Wendy Mangum, family contact for the FIESTA Project, which provides monthly support and training sessions for adoptive families, agrees. Mangum, an adoptive parent herself, adopted her son in 2008. She said that adoption has been a big challenge but also one of the most fulfilling things she's ever done.
"It's so rewarding to see a child take steps that he or she would never have taken if they hadn't been adopted," she said. "I think it's great that they're doing this exhibit, because it's important for people to know that there are kids right here in the state that need a forever home. People need to be aware of that," she said.
Hale hopes to continue identifying local venues where the children's photos can be displayed, to increase the likelihood they will find homes.
"This exhibit is beautiful and empowering, and really helps connect families with kids, so I hope people will come see it," she said.
The Heart Gallery Portrait Exhibit takes place from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the San Juan Center for Independence, 1204 San Juan Blvd. Refreshments will be provided, and Hale will be available to discuss fostering or adopting a child. The exhibit will be on display through the end of November.
Photos and information on New Mexico children who need an adoptive family can also be viewed by visiting www.cyfd.org.
For information on hosting a Heart Gallery exhibit, or for more information on adopting or fostering a child, contact Hale at 505-327-5316.