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Channel District: Wanted: Homes with love for kids

Forty-seven portraits in an art exhibit capture the images - and hopes - of children who need a place to live.

By DENISE WATSON BATTS
Published February 13, 2004

The Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay opens Saturday and promises to tug the heartstrings with 47 portraits of children available for adoption.

The Children's Home, African American Families Unite and Hillsborough Kids enlisted area photographers to photograph the children and highlight the need for adoptive and foster-care families.

About 400 children in Hillsborough County whose moms and dads have had their parental rights terminated need homes, said Ellen Fisher, family recruitment coordinator for the Children's Home.

"I don't think people have any idea of the statistics, the numbers in this area," she said.

The exhibit at Artists Unlimited on 12th Street in the Channel District will showcase 77 children, several of them grouped with their siblings. Organizers selected the most difficult children to place: minorities, older children and those who want to stay with brothers and sisters.

Fisher modeled the exhibit after one held in New Mexico in 2001. That gallery opening drew 1,200 people and prompted 36 families to begin the adoption process, Fisher said. One of the exhibit's photographers eventually adopted her subject.

Locally, Fisher approached the Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association last fall to recruit photographers. About 40 signed up immediately. They had the license to capture the children in color or black and white, at a studio or in a more relaxed setting.

Jesse Miller couldn't wait to get involved. Miller works as program manager for education and humanities for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and is developing a nonprofit group to use photography to help community organizations.

Miller, 26, was matched with a 5-year-old boy named Kaprian, who lives with a foster family in Plant City. She spent three hours with the boy to get the perfect photograph.

"He just loves everybody," Miller said. "I felt it was so important to represent his character. I wanted to make sure I got something really special for the show."

Miller signed up for the exhibit because she believes artists can highlight community issues.

"It's amazing what artists can do when they get together," Miller said.

The photos will be on exhibit until March 4 at Artists Unlimited and then will be sent to the Museum of Science and Industry for a two-week stay. From there, the exhibit will go to various locations, including libraries and churches, for a year.

If successful, it could become an annual event.

"That would be my dream," Fisher said.

- Denise Watson Batts can be reached at 226-3401 or dbatts@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 12, 2004, 12:51:07]

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