Melody Parra, photographer

“If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” a friend once advised me about freelance work. I know he had a good point, but I am admitting to you right now that for the last couple of years, I’ve been giving away a set of portrait sessions. I know that I shouldn’t, but I do. I do it because as much as I believe in the YWCA’s mission, ‘Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women,’ I can’t afford to make a sizable donation.

Come on! I make my living as a professional photographer. I also know that time is money and I’d say that my half-day rate could be referred to as a reasonable amount. So, instead of writing a check that would fund the YWCA’s amazing programs, I block off one Sunday in April so I can photograph the residents of the Sara McKnight Transitional Living Center.

The families of the TLC, as it is commonly called, are in the midst of rebuilding their lives. They are coming back from the verge of homelessness, working full-time jobs, raising a family and learning how to become financially stable in order to return to self-sufficiency. Family portraits aren’t a priority, but I know they are special to every family. And so do all the other photographers who volunteer to provide portraits.

We mistakenly think of donations only as food drives or oversized checks mounted on foam boards. Each of us has a gift that can be shared with others, whether it is a craft, a service, professional experience or a little bit of time. You don’t even have to be a professional; you just have to find it in your heart to give of yourself.

I said something similar to a friend I attempted to recruit as a volunteer for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). She loves children but is not ready to be a parent, so I asked her to channel that passion into children who need a voice in the Texas court system. She was concerned that school and work would not allow her any free time to do so. I urged her to think about it. Yes, it takes time to volunteer, but even a small amount of time can create a positive change in someone’s life.

I was ecstatic when she recently messaged me to let me know that she had decided to volunteer. She was nervous about how overwhelming her next semester would be, but is looking forward to working with a child. This season is one that reminds us that we are each blessed. No matter how little we think we have, we can still have something we can give to others.

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