I Am Protective

There are approximately 6,000 children currently living in foster care in Alabama, according to the Alabama Department of Human Resources. Some need foster care for a short time until they can be united with their biological family. About 300 others cannot return home and are put up for their adoption.

Heart Gallery Alabama is helping these children in Alabama find forever families.

It all began in 2005, when Michelle Bearman-Wolnek co-founded Heart Gallery Alabama, a nonprofit organization that create a photographic portrait exhibit of children in foster care who are eligible for adoption. The exhibit travels across the state sharing compelling and authentic stories about these foster children. Photos, a brief bio, and a video of each child can also be found on the Heart Gallery Alabama website.

Bearman-Wolneck came up with the idea after reading a news article about a social worker in New Mexico who had success finding adoptive parents for foster children in her state after starting a similar program. Bearman-Wolneck thought that showing the faces and personalities of Alabama’s foster care children could help these special kids find permanent families as well.

Professional photo shoots are provided by volunteer photographers and are held at various locations across the state, including the Birmingham Zoo and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Last September, Protective Life offered to host a shoot.

“The beautiful grounds were perfect for shooting the portraits of the children, and there was a quiet meeting space where we could tape the interviews with children,” Bearman-Wolnek says. “It was perfect.”

The Heart Gallery Alabama exhibit will be on display at multiple locations throughout the Protective Life building from November 27 through December 15. The Company will also be collecting gift cards for the children from November 27 through December 8.

“We know that if we can get the photos of these kids in front of people, that is the best way we can tell their stories and get people interested in exploring the thought of adopting these kids or helping them in some way,” says Wendy Evesque, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Protective Life. She also serves as Vice Chairman on the Heart Gallery Alabama Board of Directors. “Protective is a very value-centered company and our employees are very generous. I am confident they will respond in some form or fashion.”

The photographic portrait exhibits have been a tremendous success for Heart Gallery Alabama, and have helped find families for more than 65 percent of the children who have been photographed.

“I admire what the Heart Gallery does and the unique way they are able to spotlight the stories of the children. I think it’s just incredible.” Evesque says, adding that the success stories and Bearman-Wolnek’s passion help keep the board members and volunteers focused on the organization’s mission.

For Bearman-Wolnek, however, the driving factor is far more reaching. “These children are our future. I can’t find anything more motivating than that.”

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