Volunteers’ portraits boost confidence at Cocoon House

EVERETT — Flashes flickered everywhere, while the radio played Rihanna. Some of the kids from Cocoon House ate on the couch. They watched as friends had makeup done and hair brushed.

That Saturday, it was picture day at the complex, which houses homeless and at-risk teens.

Those who were ready were posing in a homemade studio. Volunteer photographers spent the day taking professional portraits of the youth.

The Dec. 7 event was part of the mission of Help-Portrait, a worldwide nonprofit based in Tennessee. Help-Portrait was formed in 2009 to help local communities by taking portraits of people in need.

Seven photographers showed up at Cocoon House on Saturday. Three other volunteers helped to make this day more special for the teens.

One volunteer, homemaker Rosemary Jones, was putting makeup on 16-year-old Kristen. She used a brush to powder the girl’s face and applied gray eye shadow that matched Kristen’s shirt.

“I like it a lot,” said Kristen. “I never had my makeup done by someone before.”

Once her makeup was done, Kristen showed her new look to friends. They complimented her.

Kristen asked some volunteers to take pictures of her with her friends. One friend hid her face behind a pair of pink gloves while Kristen, on the girl’s lap, smiled straight at the camera.

Kristen encouraged her friends to also have their pictures taken.

Jones chose makeup to match her subjects’ personalities, depending on what they wanted, more glittery or more natural.

“I chat a little bit with them when they sit down,” Jones said.

Everybody brought his or her supplies and more items for the kids, including hats and glasses.

Before the event, the volunteers discussed the project through a Facebook page. “Social media played a huge role to communicate,” said Ray Still, a professional photographer from Marysville and the event’s organizer.

The photo session was aimed at helping everyone feel good, especially the kids. Still wanted to help an area organization; after some research, he decided on Cocoon House.

These last two weeks, Still collected donations. His close friends donated first. Stores donated food for the kids. Social networks brought more donations. Still collected around $400. With the money raised, he bought makeup supplies mostly. He gave the rest of the money to Cocoon House.

Josh Jones, a city of Seattle civil engineer and Rosemary’s husband, volunteered as a photographer. Like most of the volunteers, this was his first time helping with the organization.

“This is a place to learn, to try things,” Josh Jones said. He also said photography was a way to express himself.

Josh Jones was editing photos of a girl wearing a purple cardigan, pink hat and holding a pink teddy bear.

“You experiment what looks good, with the contrasts and the colors,” he said.

The first edit of photos was made with each model watching. The kids selected pictures they liked most. Each got two prints in a frame, one 5-by-7 inches and a larger 8-by-10-inch photo. The rest of the photos were burned onto CDs, and given to the models.

Kelly Lemon, a professional wedding photographer, recently moved to Seattle. She was looking to volunteer in her new community. She was the youngest photographer on the team and found out about the event through social media.

Lemon took most of her photos outside with natural light, one of her best photography skills. She used the colorful outside wall of Cocoon House as a background.

“We asked if the kids want to do something specific and we made sure we got that,” said Lemon. “We are open to ideas.”

She was editing some pictures. One boy looked to be dancing as a rapper next to his buddy, both wearing black sunglasses, smiling and happy.

“People used to say, ‘I don’t like my eyes, I don’t like my hair,’” said Lemon, “Photography shows they are beautiful people. It builds self-esteem.”

The event was also the opportunity for kids to learn about photography. Some volunteers took their time to explain how they were editing and taking pictures.

Dayna Young, volunteer and development associate of Cocoon House, had been in touch with Still since October. Still managed everything, Young said.

“I am hoping Still will come back to do some photography classes,” Young said.

She also hopes Still will organize a similar event for the new Cocoon House Maternity Group Home in Arlington.

One boy, 15, said enjoyed the shoot a lot. The Herald is not naming him to protect his privacy. The boy posed with a football and a thick greasepaint lines on each cheek. Several times, he threw a football to a volunteer standing behind the photographer.

“I am gonna upload them on Facebook for sure, and change my profile picture,” he said.

Lemon told the boy that his picture showed the natural reflection of his blue eyes.

“I want to be a model,” he said. “That is definitely what I wanna do.”

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