By Corban University
“Ray of Hope Portraits is an intersection of several answered prayers,” says Amy Winsor (’09). “I started this in honor of my friend Sara Swenson. She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2009, and her life before cancer, her journey with cancer, and her death made a huge impact on my life. For the last twelve years I’ve really been trying to find ways to honor her legacy.”
Amy and Sara met at Corban and were “kindred spirits” from day one. “When she went through her cancer journey, I was so impacted by the joy and faith that she carried throughout it,” Windsor says. “It was the first time I really had to wrestle with God. I’ve come to understand God’s goodness better because of Sara’s journey. I have peace that she did exactly what she was supposed to do. We live in a broken world, and I just want to continue her legacy however I can, and that is by giving joy and hope to kids.”
The answer to 12 years of prayer was a combination of two of her passions: photography and honoring her friend’s legacy. Even so, she was hesitant, not knowing where to start. “I wanted to keep things very small, but God made it very clear that I am not the one leading it, that my limitations can’t limit it, and my agendas can’t drive it,” she says. “I want the Lord to use this ministry however he wants. That includes needing other people to come in and use their expertise and help push it to what it can be.”
One of those people is Sara Swenson’s older sister, Kari. “As soon as she told me she was doing this, I knew I wanted to be her biggest cheerleader,” Kari says. “She has an amazing community of people, but I am so thankful that she has wanted to include me and our family.” Kari created the logo for Ray of Hope Portraits and has followed Amy’s journey in support every step of the way.
Amy describes the work Ray of Hope Portraits does as “make-a-wish in a portrait version.” Families with critically ill children can apply or be nominated for the experience by filling out a quick form on Ray of Hope Portraits’ website. A follow-up questionnaire will provide Amy and her team with all of the details needed to make the experience unforgettable for these children and their families.
“I am trying to create a larger-than-life experience for critically ill kids,” she says. “We want them to walk a red carpet if that would make them feel great, or just slip in the back door. We want to know their favorite color, their favorite music, their favorite show, so that we can bring in any aspect that will add that special glimmer to their experience. If we need to hire a professional spiderman character, and go all out on costumes for a child, that is exactly what we will do.”
Amy sees this not only as an opportunity to realize the dream of a hurting child, but to give parents space to sit back and enjoy watching their child experience a moment where their favorite things can come together all at once. “The goal is to give them hope, something to look forward to, and a day to forget about all the hardship in their life and just be blessed and have a fun experience, while gifting the family with memories and pictures to remember forever.”
For Sara’s sister, Kari, remembering her own experience, this is the aspect that means most to her, and why she supports Ray of Hope Portraits so ardently. “There are things during that time of grieving that you don’t even realize that you need,” she says. “Photos truly capture a moment in time, and no matter what the end of the story is for these families, whether the child is healed and lives a healthy life, or whether the child has just another year, or months, that’s going to be a moment in time that is cherished by that family.”
Kari recalls the photos of her sister, many that Amy had a hand in capturing. “My kids never met their aunt Sara,” she says, “but they get to look back and see who she was, her joy, her smile. That’s why I pray for the people who are walking alongside these families to be made aware of what Amy is doing and to nominate these families and give them the opportunity to receive such a blessing that they wouldn’t have thought of on their own.”
Ray of Hope Portraits is currently in the process of building its own dedicated photography studio, with specifications that will allow for the safest and most sensitive treatment of their clients. Initially this space will be rented out, while not in use, to help support Ray of Hope Portraits, but Amy envisions a time when it will function solely to serve critically ill children and their families. “We are looking for monthly donors that would help us fund the studio on a regular basis so that we can just focus on Ray of Hope portraits,” she says. “I would love to see volunteers to be on glam squad, support staff for parents, and people who are willing to help fundraise.”
For Amy and Kari, the mission of Ray of Hope perfectly encapsulates who Sara was, the joy with which she lived her life, and the lasting impact of her death. “Whether or not these families that Amy is working with have a relationship with God, I love that through this work there is a ray of hope that can shine into these people’s lives and hopefully Jesus will be seen through that,” Kari says. “That’s what Sara wanted with her life. She wanted Jesus to be seen.”
Visit https://www.rayofhopeportraits.org/ for more info on Ray of Hope Portraits.
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