Photographers capture tender moments
Photographer creates a project to capture tender moments
There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others. – Mandy Hale, author
Stephanie Freeman of Greenwood is proof of that, as are the moving newborn photographs that are a product of her organization, Evan’s Project.
Evan’s Project is a charitable organization that provides professional photography services to parents of infants in neonatal intensive care units. The goal is to provide tangible memories of a child’s earliest days at no cost to the parents.
The project was inspired by a couple of Freeman’s personal experiences. When her son, Jake, was born in 1996, he was unexpectedly taken to the NICU, where he remained for 10 days. Solely focused on getting her son well enough to take home, pictures were the last thing on her mind.
“One of the nurses was kind enough to snap a Polaroid of him during those first few days,” Freeman said. “It is the only picture I have of Jake from his first week and a half.”
The second experience came 13 years later. Freeman’s dear friends, Sean and Monica Bumgarner, gave birth to a boy named Evan, who was diagnosed with a rare condition known as Trisomy 13. While in the NICU, a nurse encouraged Evan’s parents to take pictures, but they were too overwhelmed by his recent diagnosis to find the time. Fortunately, a nurse at Arkansas Children’s Hospital picked up a camera and snapped some of Evan and his parents. Evan lived only six days.
Eventually, Freeman surrendered and things got rolling with “a lot of prayer and a phone call.” She reached out to Ronald McDonald Charities of Arkoma, which worked with Mercy Fort Smith to obtain the proper permissions for the project. The go-ahead call came on March 10, 2011 – Evan’s second birthday.
Following Evan’s passing, Freeman was determined to help her friends during their time of grief. “I knew I wanted to do something,” said Freeman. “God started just working on my heart. He gave me this idea and I admit, I didn’t listen at first. But He kept putting it on my heart.”
“The timing of it all was further evidence that the Lord was at work and that this was all coming together in His perfect timing,” said Freeman. Freeman began placing calls to several of her photographer friends, asking if they would be interested in volunteering their services. She received an overwhelming response.
“It was amazing to see God opening their hearts to see a vision of a project I hadn’t even figured out yet,” she said.
Freeman exemplifies what it means to have a servant’s heart and, because of that, more than 500 families have been blessed with beautiful photographs of their babies during their earliest days. The program has served families all over Arkansas, as well as in Oklahoma, Texas, Washington and Connecticut. For a handful of these parents, they are the only photographs they will ever have of their child.
While incredibly humble in her endeavors, Freeman’s kindness is inspiring to those around her.
“Her compassion for others and uncanny desire to serve those in our community is absolutely amazing,” said Ginger Thompson, Evan’s Project board member. “Every family means something to her. She becomes their friend. She knows the names of every baby that has been photographed.”
Freeman’s service extends far beyond Evan’s Project. She is a devoted wife, mom, church member, employee and volunteer. She and her husband, David, have been married 20 years and have two sons: Jake, 17, and Jackson, 11.
“I believe the first ministry God gives us is our family,” said Freeman. “With everything else, they are really my focus. Most of my time is spent following my boys’ athletics. Both are baseball and football players and their schedules keep us pretty busy.”
When she is not shuffling kids to games, snapping photographs for Evan’s Project or working as an employee benefits specialist for Konecny Insurance Services in Fort Smith, Freeman can be found serving at her church, Greenwood United Methodist, or volunteering for the American Cancer Society and Ronald McDonald House Charities. She also operates her own business, Diamond Memories Photography. Freeman is passing on her heart for service to her family. Jake now volunteers as a photographer for Evan’s Project.
“It is pretty amazing to see him in action,” said Freeman. “He told me one day that he believed he could serve as a real encouragement to the parents. He said he thought it would be helpful for the families to see that he was a NICU baby and that he came through and grew to be strong and healthy and that their child can, too.”
Freeman seems to have found a balance between faith, family, job and her mission work. Her kindness and eagerness to serve has blessed the lives of hundreds of families all over the nation and has even received international recognition. Ronald McDonald House Charities recently obtained permission to use Evan’s Projects photographs in its marketing, which is seen in 57 countries.
Because of her willingness to follow her heart, Stephanie Freeman has undoubtedly made the world a more a beautiful place.
How to become a part of Evan’s Project
As Evan’s Project has grown, Freeman has had to step back from doing so much of the photography and focus on the more administrative tasks. She spends a significant portion of her time sending out calls for photographers and responding to requests.
“We could really benefit from some volunteers to help with scheduling and outreach,” explained Freeman. “I think it would help a great deal if we had area coordinators to help schedule the photographers, arrange for back-up photographers and assist with outreach.”
As with any nonprofit, donations also are always needed. “Our biggest expense is insurance,” Freeman said. “We offer our services free of charge and all of our photographers donate their time, but we have expenses, including our organization’s insurance, as well as postage and other items.” For more information about Evan’s Project, visit evansproject.org.