I’ve been struggling all week, trying to find the right words to introduce the families featured in this photo shoot with Special Liberty Project, a military charity in San Diego. No matter what I write, I can’t seem to find the perfect words to fit the tremendous gratitude I feel for these families and the ultimate sacrifice their loved ones have made. I’ve received so many questions over the past few days concerning Gold Star Families. The term “Gold Star” refers to a family member who has lost a loved one while serving in the US Military.
The Special Liberty Project is a local military charity that serves combat wounded veterans and Gold Star Families. The military charity provides healing through outdoor adventure. Furthermore, Gold Star Children can be paired with mentors. These volunteer mentors help to build camaraderie and a family-like bond.
Children can learn skills like archery, hunting, hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Gold Star Spouses can bond through paint and sip events, coffeeshop meet ups, and more. Jessica and Cory, The Special Liberty Project founders, pour their hearts into this charity. The magnitude of their appreciation shines through the Gold Star Members they support and the events they host. If you would like to learn more about the Special Liberty Project military charity, you can click here.
If you would like to volunteer or donate to this charity, please click here for more details.
These amazing families are the definition of strength and courage. Many have not had any formal portraits taken since they lost their loved one, so I was honored (and very excited) to spend a couple of evenings capturing a few sweet moments for them to share. The Special Liberty Project put this event together perfectly. While I was on the beach taking photos, children were playing yard games by the dunes, and families were painting fall signage while enjoying a barbecue.
Under the given circumstances, I will admit I was nervous going into this shoot. I understood the significance that these photos held, and how big of a milestone they are. I wanted them to be perfect, but I also feared that this would be a sad experience for the Gold Star Families. Certainly heartache comes with every chance to remember a loved one, but that’s not what presented itself in this event. Instead, I saw strength. The strength of a beautiful woman who lost the love of her life while carrying his child, and then raised that child to become a respectful young man.
I observed a young girl who beats to her own (pretty rad) drum, laugh freely alongside a loving mother who embraces her wild choice in fashion. Then I was greeted with the biggest hug, and listened to a young boy proudly tell me each and every facial feature he inherited from his father (“…except mom’s nose! I got her nose”)…
After that, I met a stunning mother, a sweetheart daughter, and a comedian son who had everyone cracking up.
I met a mother and father who lost a daughter. The mother wore her daughter’s photo etched into dog tags, and told me all about her personality. Each of her children and their families came along to have photos taken in honor of their sister and hero.
I was then greeted by a charismatic, tight-knit family and a proud mother of three young adults, who laughed as they ran full speed into the waves. Soon after, a mother and son duo took lovely photos and even debuted a Varsity Letter jacket!
I stood and watched a resilient mother gaze at a beautiful photo of her late husband with her two children. This one moved me to tears. She’s raising two well-mannered, respectful children with grace.
I met a puppy and it’s sweet young boy. That boy shook my hand and looked me directly in the eye like a gentlemen. His mother wore a necklace with charms that said “Courage” and “Grace”. And she was the definition of both.
Next up, I spent time with beautiful mother-daughter pair that laughed – uncontrollably – together, and they may be some of the most genuine images of that day.
The next two littles won me over in a heartbeat. They introduced themselves using their full names, and ended each sentence with, “Yes, ma’am”.
They have a close bond with their mentor, and the pictures they took with him show that. Their mother should be so proud raising two fine little ones, but I think it’s her we should be proud of. She radiates confidence, and rightly so, because she just finished nursing school a few days prior! Please join me in congratulating this beautiful person for such an amazing achievement!
A free spirited young lady and her mother danced in the waves as the sun dipped below Point Loma. I love the how a vulnerable moment alone in front of the camera translated into a powerful, yet alluring image.
Then, I watched as a calm, mild-mannered teenager stood confidently alone in front of the camera, without reservation, and then shared a warm embrace with her mom.
After that, I watched a beautiful young woman celebrate her sweet sixteen, and I knew instantly that she and her sister and mother are best friends.
Soon after, I had the privilege of celebrating a newly blended family, with some pretty boisterous and hilarious personalities! I loved seeing how happy each kid was for their parents.
I saw families who have been through hell and back stand courageously in the face of adversity and choose to seek the positive in the worst situation they could have been handed. These families are strong. They are graceful. They are resilient. Their loved ones are true heroes. I witnessed these families rally together in support and pass through such a major milestone together.
Lastly, to The Special Liberty Project, I want to thank you for everything you do for these families.
I'm so happy you're here