This Photographer Offers Free Photo Shoots to Children With Down Syndrome — You Have to See Her Work
When former special ed teacher Gina Whalen left Chicago and headed to South Carolina to build up a photography business, she had no idea the impact her two passions would have on her new community. Whalen had been focusing on shooting maternity, newborn, and small weddings while in Chicago, but after putting out a talent call in Charlotte, North Carolina, for new subjects, a family connected her with GiGi's Playhouse, a Down syndrome achievement center that runs free therapeutic and educational programs for individuals with Down syndrome, and things completely took off from there. After meeting with an incredible family, she decided to begin offering free photo shoots for babies with Down syndrome, and though she's not charging anything, she's getting a ton out of it. "When I started photography, I wanted to still be connected to [children with Down syndrome] in some way and thought this was the best of both worlds," Whalen told POPSUGAR.
And the families in Charlotte are cheering her on. "The reaction has been great. I have heard from several people, who aren't even in Charlotte, thanking me for what I'm offering for the Down syndrome community. It's so wonderful to hear and I hope it maybe encourages others to pay it forward," Whalen said. Offering free photos to children with Down syndrome gives Whalen the opportunity to do something kind for the families in a way she understands intimately. "[It] gives the parents, whom may be overwhelmed with everything, a chance to just relax and have these memories to keep forever," she explained. "I worked in Special education for years before becoming a photographer. I have always gravitated toward children with Down syndrome. They always put a smile on my face and I'm just genuinely obsessed with them."
Whalen's work is truly impressive, and her ability to capture the beauty in everyone is echoed perfectly in a George Carlin quote she used recently in an Instagram post: "Everyone smiles in the same language." When asked why this quote meant so much to her, she responded, "[The Carlin quote] just really spoke to me. I mean, it's so true, right?! No matter your background, color, race, ability . . . Everyone smiles in the same language!"