By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer
Combining art with heart, a photographic exhibit opens at the Runnels Gallery at Eastern New Mexico University’s Golden Library Saturday, featuring the children of New Mexico awaiting adoption.
Featuring 43 photographs, the exhibit offers the public the opportunity to view photos of children, who are waiting to be adopted.
Hoping to raise awareness, the Heart Gallery provides a venue to share the need for foster and adoptive parents, says Renee Fitts, Children, Youth and Families Department foster and adoptive parent recruiter.
“It’s definitely a very moving and inspiring event,” said Fitts. “The importance of having the Heart Gallery is to photograph the faces of foster children who are looking for a forever home,” said Fitts.
November is National Adoption Month, which is a way to help honor those children who are adopted and those awaiting adoption, says Fitts.
The fourth annual Heart Gallery will kick off with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday. Besides the photographs, the reception will include entertainment and Hors D’oeurves. Foster and adoptive families as well as CYFD staff will also be in attendance to answer questions about adoption, said Fitts.
Gaining national attention since it’s inception in 2001, the exhibit has had a good success rate for placement, said Fitts. Traveling to other locations throughout New Mexico has proven beneficial for this year’s tour, said Fitts. Three photographs have already been pulled from the exhibit because of the children being adopted. While some photographs have been pulled, several more have been added since the show started in December, she said.
“It’s definitely a success and growing every year,” said Fitts.
At any given time in New Mexico, there are approximately 2,000 children who are in foster care, due to neglect or abuse, said Fitts. At the current time, there are over 300 children who are waiting to be adopted, according to the recruiter. Increasing numbers of children being placed in the system are a growing concern for the department, said Fitts.
Donating their time and talent, photographers from across the state have helped to make the exhibit a success, said Fitts. An added bonus is that since the beginning, three photographers for the exhibit have adopted the children whose photos they shot, said Fitts.
Local photographer Greg Erf, has been involved with the project for the last three years. Photographing children from the eastern side of the state has allowed Erf the opportunity to give back, he says. It has also raised his awareness of how many children are waiting and need to be adopted, he said.
“I’m glad to help, said Erf. It makes me appreciative of what I’ve got.”
Focusing on older children who are in the system, the Heart Gallery provides an additional outlet for the children to be seen by interested parties, said Fitts. Many of the children are facing emotional issues that have to be dealt with before they can be placed for adoption, said Fitts.
“Heart Gallery adoptions have been wonderful in healing those wounds,” said Fitts. “It’s (adoption) definitely trials and tribulations, and it’s definitely not a success at first.”
The adoption process can take up to six months before it is finalized, according to Fitts. Certain steps have to be taken, the most important being the termination of parental rights. Once that has taken place, the adoption process can begin, she said.
The CYFD stresses the importance of providing ongoing support to foster and adoptive parents and families. Before a child is placed in an adoptive home, a relationship is built between the child and the family, said Fitts.
The child will go through a transitional process before anything becomes finalized. Home visits are followed by trial visits, such as a weekend, in order to build the relationship, said Fitts.
“We put out resources and work with all parties involved,” said Fitts.