Photographer Laura Kilgus of Providence wanted to feel a connection with her nephew Tommy, who lives in Buffalo, New York.
Because Tommy, now 5, has Down syndrome, Kilgus reached out to the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island (DSSRI) four years ago to volunteer her services and has since offered numerous complimentary photo shoots for members of the support organization.
To kick off Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Kilgus is hosting a showcase of the photography she has done with DSSRI at the Warwick Public Library on October 1st.
DSSRI was started in 1982 by a group of parents and with 300 families is now dedicated to advocacy and support for those individuals with Down syndrome.
Executive Director, Claudia Lowe, who has a daughter with Down Syndrome, said that although the organization doesn’t provide direct services, DSSRI offers a community where parents can discuss possible challenges, services and programs related to Down syndrome. The organization also offers a specialized brochure and package to educate new parents of children with Down syndrome featuring many of Kilgus’ photos.
Lowe said she isn’t sure if a gallery like this has ever been hosted before, but is very excited children with Down syndrome will be “showcased in such a positive light.”
“Her photos really capture these kids,” Lowe said. “They say a picture says 1,000 words, and with these pictures you get a sense of these who these kids really are. The unconditional love that is unique to these families and that’s something these photos capture”
Kilgus has hosted several of these shoots since she began with DSSRI, and whenever the word gets out that she will be having one they shoots fill up right away.
Many of the shoots have taken place at Goddard Park or the Roger Williams Botanical Gardens. Kilgus lets children play, “be in their own element,” and capture those happy moments while working at the families’ pace.
Lowe, said typically, with a photographer those families feel “stiff” and like they can’t be themselves, but “that doesn’t happen here.”
Kilgus said she has met great families, and “great smiles” through these shoots and working with the DSSRI families is a different experience from any other.
“All of the shoots have been really special I don’t know how to describe it, “ she said. “It’s such a joyful groups and the parents are always so grateful.”
Kilgus is happy to be able to give back to the community, in this way, gifting these photos to parents, and admits that she often gets more from the shoots than the families do.
Lowe said there is often a negative connotation associated with Down syndrome, but one you meet someone with the condition you realize, how special each one is, with their own personality and sense of humor.
“You are able to rejoice and each and every one of them,” Lowe said. “They are just like anyone else. I still learn every day about the things they are capable of.”
Both Kilgus hope that people come out for the showing and that maybe some new families can be introduced to DSSRI, especially because October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
Kilgus said, “I would love to help bring more awareness to DSSRI and the friendship they offer families.”
The photo gallery will be on display at the Warwick Public Library on October 1 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
For more information on DSSRI visit www.dssri.org. For more information on Kilgus and her photography business, 9 Ten Photography, visit www.9tenphoto.com.