letters to holland interview

Are you interested in donating your photography but still looking for an organization to work with?  A few months back we announced our new Non-Profit Program, created to help get information about different programs out to photographers.  What would be another way to help you learn about these wonderful organizations?  Interviews, of course!  Today we kick off our first Non-Profit Interview with Letters to Holland!

letters to holland interview

by Jodi Arego

letters to holland interview photo

We’d love to learn about this special project, Letters from Holland. What can you tell us about its purpose?

When I first thought up Letters From Holland, I just wanted to begin a personal photography project. I knew I wanted to start a project that would help me grow as a photographer, but also as a person. I wanted the project to be something to inspire others.  One day, I was snapping photographs of my daughter, who was diagnosed with autism at two years old, and the idea just popped into my head. I could photograph special needs children. I could tell share their parents stories. I just wanted to convey that special needs children are still children. They play, they laugh, they are innocent, but most of all they love and want to be loved. I also wanted a place where parents could go to know they weren’t alone in their journey.

The name Letters from Holland is quite unique. Is there a particular story behind it?

The day my daughter was diagnosed with autism was a low point personally. I was introduced to another mother of autistic children. She shared the poem called “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kinsley. This poem talks about planning a trip to Italy, but when you step off the plane you discover you have been taken to Holland. You’re so upset because you’ve prepared for Italy. You’ve spend months learning the language. Your dream was going to Italy. Everyone else has gone to Italy, but you’re stuck in Holland. You go through a period of mourning. You go through a period of anger. You look at your friends who are in Italy and you are envious. However, in the end you realize that Holland is different, but just as beautiful.

I couldn’t have described the emotions of what I went through any better. It took me many, many months, but finally, I discovered that life in Holland, life with my autistic child, was amazing.

I wanted to share my stories and the stories of others. So, “Letters From Holland” is the stories of parents who are experiencing life with a special needs child. Most parents who have special needs children know the metaphor, but I also think that everyone can relate to the “Welcome to Holland” metaphor in some way.

letters to holland interview photo

We understand that Letters from Holland was birthed from personal experience. Can you give us a little of the background of why you decided to create this project?

My beautiful daughter, Kinzie, was born in 2008. When she was about a year and a half, I started noticing some traits that I had known to be associated with autism. I kept a close eye on those traits, but tried not to worry to much. I thought maybe I was just being paranoid. Then, they started getting a little worse. We had her evaluated by a neurologist, speech and occupational therapist who all agreed with an autism diagnosis. It was mild, but at that point there were no answers about how she would progress.

I mourned for many, many months. I cried every day. I mourned like I had lost a family member and I remember feeling like all of the dreams I had for my daughter were flushed away. No one could understand why I was so depressed because Kinzie was the same little girl she had always been. I wasn’t the same mother. I didn’t know how to be a mother to an autistic child. I had so many fears running through my mind. I feared I would never be able to talk to her. I wondered if she’d even be able to attend school. Would she be made fun of at school? Would she ever get married?

Finally, after months of mourning, i pulled out of the fog. I realized that Kinzie was going to be just fine because she had parents who loved her. We could do anything to help her succeed. I realized that my dreams for her life were MY dreams. Kinzie had to be allowed to live her life and create her own dreams. So, now we have given Kinzie all of the resources we can to help her on her journey in life. We will be there for her every step of the way. No matter what happens in her life, we will love her the same.

After looking back on my journey, I realized that I spent a lot of it alone. I didn’t know others going through the same things as me.  I didn’t know that everything I was experiencing was normal. I also didn’t know that less than a year later, I would be fine with that diagnosis.

Now, Kinzie is four and a half. She’s talking so much. She’s in pre-school. While she’s a little delayed, she is exceeding our expectations. She’s amazing.

letters to holland interview photo

letters to holland interview photo

Your blog posts each include tenderly written letters to accompany the images. Please tell us about these special letters.

I knew that I didn’t just want this project to be about photography. While, it is a photography project, I wanted this to be about the kids and their families. To go along with the theme “Letters From Holland,” I decided I would ask the parents to write a letter. They can write it to their child, or to friends, or even to themselves. The letter can say anything they wish. I wanted it to be like a digital postcard where people could go read these letters and know what life is really like for parents of special needs children {in Holland}.

I also have the parents fill out some interview questions so I can learn more about the child, their diagnosis and the range of emotions the parents experienced through their journey.

Are all the sessions featured on your blog ones that you have personally photographed? How might other photographers share their inspiring stories with your audience?

The sessions featured are a combination of my work and the work of other photographers. I would LOVE to have more photographers contribute. They can email me at cat@cat-herndon.com or contact me on the Letters From Holland website. I will have a section for featured photographers. Families can search to find a photographer in their area who wants to participate.

What about families interested in participating in one of these special sessions? Is there a way for them to connect with a photographer in their area?

They can contact me at the email address above. I will find a photographer in their area. Even if they don’t have images to share, they can always write a letter and I will post it on the website. There are buttons on the site for submitting a letter.

letters to holland interview photo

You must meet some extraordinary people through these types of sessions. Has there been a particular person or story that has been especially inspiring to you?

It’s hard for me to choose one story that inspires me more than another. When I read through these letters and interviews, I end up crying every time. I have heard stories from parents of children with a terminal diagnosis to more mild diagnosis. However, the stories are the same in that everyone mourns the loss of the life they planned, but also have learned to love the life they were given. Most of the letters are from the mother’s of special needs children. I am just amazed at their strength. Really, it’s just so inspirational and that is what I want other people to get from their stories.

letters to holland interview photo

What type of impact are you hoping these shared stories will make?

First, I want people to know that special needs children are children. That is what I hope to portray in the photographs. These children have favorite toys, love, laugh, live. They are innocent, beautiful children. From personal experience, after my daughter was diagnosed, people started to treat her different. I didn’t like that one bit. So, I wanted to share my story and photographs so people knew that she was still just a kid.

Second, I wanted to share the stories of parents so other parents who are just arriving in “Holland” will know they aren’t alone. Others have arrived before them and they have survived it.

Looking back at your experience creating Letters from Holland, what is your most significant thought about this journey?

In the poem “Welcome to Holland,” Emily Pearl Kingsley says, “If you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.”

Holland is such a wonderful, beautiful place. While the arrival may be rough and unplanned, the journey is amazing. I just want to share that journey with everyone.

letters to holland interview photo

letters to holland interview photo

Thank you so much for the great interview and the opportunity to learn more about your organization!  Don’t forget to learn visit our Non-Profit Program page on the CM website and visit the Letters to Holland website as well.  You can also visit the Photography with a Purpose area within the photography forum to learn more!

Read all photography interviews here.

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