“I just wanna say thank you…”

February 23, 2015

Austen with shutterbugs
Austen Williams has been a volunteer with The Pablove Foundation in New Orleans since 2011. Austen joined the Pablove Shutterbugs team as a teaching assistant when it launched in New Orleans in 2014 and has been sharing her (Pab)love with students ever since.

When I heard that the Pablove Shutterbugs program was coming to New Orleans, I immediately smiled (and may have done a little dance).

You see, I love investing my time with organizations that actively seek positive change within the communities they serve. It recharges me in the way that nothing else can. I began volunteering with The Pablove Foundation during my first semester of college back in 2011 by speaking with hundreds of passersby at the Voodoo Music + Arts Festival in New Orleans about the heart and vision of The Pablove Foundation.383619_10150425331345891_626726659_nPablove volunteer, Austen, with fellow volunteers Kiko and Kailyn and Fitz and the Tantrums in the Pablove booth at VooDoo Fest 2011.

When I told people about the Pablove Shutterbugs program, there was an overwhelming amount of people who told me how they wished they or their loved ones had such a great opportunity when they were living through childhood cancer. These conversations ignited a sense of urgency in my spirit to make this necessary program a reality for children affected with cancer in any way I could. So, when I got word that Pablove Shutterbugs would be coming to New Orleans, I was 100% on board.

As a teaching assistant, I had the distinct honor of guiding a group of sweet, sassy, and creative 6-9 year olds, and let me tell you, what a group of characters I had.https://www.pablove.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/AustenVolunteering.pngAusten and Christian work on photo selections together.

Each child brought such dynamic outlooks to the group and was able to support as well as challenge their peers artistically. A particular student named Ray comes to mind when I consider the influence of this program on the children’s lives. On the first day of class, I recall feeling concerned about making connections and building trust with each student, and when class began to draw to a close, Ray excitedly said, “Let’s take a group picture!” As I tried to arrange their little bodies into the shot, Ray took both of my hands and held them until the photo was taken, and, my heart melted. Throughout the duration of the sessions, Ray exhibited amazing drive and took leadership among his peers.

When graduation came Ray was gleaming with pride and accomplishment. Our Teaching Artist Olivia asked for a student to speak about their experience as a Shutterbug and Ray’s hand shot up. In a room filled with family and friends, the time came for his speech. As he reached the microphone, a confident “I just wanna say thank you…” came out, followed by silence as he turned and burrowed his face in Olivia’s arms, crying. His emotional response sparked the entire room into tears. Ray, alongside the other children I have been graced with meeting, all have such a bright light deep inside them that can never be dimmed, even by cancer.https://www.pablove.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/ShutterbugRay.pngPablove Shutterbug Ray is all smiles for the big celebration on the last day of class.

Last fall, I attended the Gallery Show which exhibited the amazing pieces created by Shutterbugs students here in NOLA. The number of people that came to show their love and support for the program amazed me. Throughout the night, I would run into my students with their families glowing with excitement that something they created was being displayed in a real professional gallery to be seen by so many people! Everyone that night came together not only to celebrate the beautiful photographs, but also the young artists who created the images.Ray captures a playful snapshot of some dreamcatchers for his Gallery Show image, titled “Beginning of My Story”.

I was driven to volunteer with Pablove Shutterbugs because it is such a unique program. Not only the students reap the benefits- there is a great sense of unity found within the parent room as the children have class. Families fighting cancer are able to come together to share their stories, hurts, and fears. They transform into one another’s cheerleaders. Volunteering with this program has benefitted me more than I could ever put into words. My life has been so enriched by the supportive and loving environment put forth by the Pablove Foundation since day one. Being able to take my knowledge of the program from my first experience volunteering at the Voodoo Festival and put those words into action with Pablove Shutterbugs was such an incredible feeling. Seeing the smiling faces of our budding artists opening their cameras on their first day of class is a feeling that cannot be replicated.New Orleans Pablove Shutterbugs at the Audubon Zoo.Pablove Shutterbugs enjoy a field trip to Audubon Zoo.

This is my story, but I want to encourage, even challenge, you to go out and make your own. Helping children in your community living with cancer lead a love-filled life day today and a cancer-free life tomorrow is something you will never regret doing. It is with a heart full of (Pab)love and gratitude that I look forward to our next session here in New Orleans and hearing the stories of other cities touched by this program.

Austen Williams, Pablove Shutterbugs Teaching Assistant, New Orleans

Want to read more?
Read Karen’s story – ““My heart burst wide open!”
Read Dustin’s story – “A day in the life…cows included
Read Phillip’s story – “An anchor in a foggy landscape
Read Zuly and Antonella’s story – “Finding normal through a camera lens
Read Marcy’s story – “Today, I am happy

To Volunteer for The Pablove Foundation, sign up at pablove.org/volunteer

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