St. Petersburg nonprofit captures lasting memories for families with terminally ill children

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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Sheri Kendrick and her camera capture moments most people aren’t around to see: A family when they’re at their lowest emotional point and often times grieving.

“Even if it’s sadness, it’s still their journey, you know,” said Kendrick.

Kendrick is the founder, executive director, and photographer behind nonprofit, Little Light of Mine.

“I wanted to provide photography for families who had a child fighting any life-threatening illness and so that is basically how Little Light of Mine started,” said Kendrick.

Little Light of Mine receives referrals from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Children’s Dream Fund, several pediatric hospice groups in the Tampa Bay area, and private requests from families.

Since 2013, Kendrick has taken over 800 free portraits of children who have life-threatening illnesses or are actively dying.

“Those photoshoots don’t look much different than an average family photoshoot. You know, they’re not currently undergoing chemo so they just look like normal little kids and we go to a park and we do a session. And then there’s other cases where the family and the child is hospitalized. The family has decided to under the doctor’s recommendations, to disconnect life support,” said Kendrick.

Sometimes, Kendrick’s photography studios are hospices or hospital rooms but due to coronavirus restrictions, the photographer hasn’t been able to reach as many families who need the visual documentation

During the pandemic, Kendrick is hoping to work with area hospitals to figure out a safe environment inside their facilities where she can continue to take portraits.

“That part is very sad that those families right now, aren’t able to have those treasured photos because of the pandemic,” said Kendrick. “It does help with just allowing a mom or a dad to feel connected…even though their baby’s not with them anymore.”

And not all of Kendrick’s sessions end tragically.

Several weeks ago, St. Petersburg two-year-old Josue Avila, was in hospice care and wasn’t given much longer to live. His mother Chuente Avila contacted Little Light of Mine where they set up a portrait session for the family at a local park.

“Sheri did such a sweet thing, just to it meant a lot,” said Avila.

Josue suffers from a rare disorder that results in seizures and a low life expectancy. Avila tells WFLA.com, after their portraits, they received life-changing news: Josue would no longer need hospice care and was able to graduate from his program and come home.

Now, for Avila, the photos taken by Kendrick will forever mark a time in her life where her strength was tested and a time where she almost lost her precious baby boy.

“Every day, it was like it was a gift with him. And now to know at that time when Sheri was photographing him, it was like, ‘okay, well, hopefully you know, he’ll live another day, but if not, this is how we can remember him by and enjoy the moment that we have with him,'” said Avila.

Little Light of Mine is currently in need of volunteers and donations. To learn more, visit their website, here.

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