|A sampling of the family portraits that Sandwich’s Beth Muhlebach shot and eventually gave to HAC’s shelter clients in December.|
It is safe to say that for most clients, their time living in shelter is one they would like to forget. For it is here that they are at their lowest, looking for a way to rebuild their lives, move on and find a place to call their own.
But for one day in November, Sandwich’s Beth Muhlebach gave 14 families – five at Carriage House in North Falmouth and nine at The Village at Cataumet – a lasting keepsake to remember their time in shelter.
Muhlebach, who makes her living as a clinical research consultant, spends her spare time practicing photography. “I like capturing the interaction between people most,” she said. “And I like capturing the emotional moments in those interactions.”
Often those interactions involve her husband Stephan and their children Ella, 6, and Henry, 5.
Muhlebach expanded her list of subjects to include HAC clients after being introduced to the nonprofit through her friendship with Julie Wake, director of communications and development.
Last fall while the two were at Taste and See at Oyster Harbors Club, an event that raises money for HAC’s homeless programs, Muhlebach began thinking of a way to use her talents to give shelter clients a meaningful gift for the holidays. “I thought for a long time that people who are homeless, especially those with children, are not thinking about capturing this part of their lives,” she said. “They don’t want pictures to remember this time, but for these kids this is their childhood and it is as special as any others.”
So a month later, Muhlebach found herself spending nearly five hours capturing posed and more candid moments of families living in HAC’s shelters.
She arrived at The Village at Cataumet first where mothers were busy doing their hair, preparing for the shoot. “It was really neat to see that what they thought I was doing was as special as I thought it was,” she said. “They were appreciative and excited to have pictures taken of their kids and with them.”
The day was particularly significant for one of the mothers as it was the first time she had ever had a photo taken with her son. “It was sort of amazing to think there were no other pictures of them together,” Muhlebach said.
Over the course of the next three weeks, Muhlebach became even more familiar with the families as she pored through the photos she took, selecting her favorites and then going through the process of editing them.
In the second week of December, Muhlebach returned to Carriage House and The Village of Cataumet, giving each client a framed 8x10 photo, a framed 5x7 photo, several 4x6 prints as well as wallet-sized ones they could give to family members.
“The pictures came out beautiful,” said Marilia Freire, who had her photos taken with her one-year-old son Adrian at The Village at Cataumet. “I was so happy she did this because I wanted to do a Christmas picture with him. I really appreciate it.”
For Muhlebach, the reactions from clients were particularly rewarding. “A lot of them cried when they saw pictures of themselves with their children,” she said.
The best part was the bonds she witnessed - and captured on camera - between parents and their children in shelter. “When I told people I was going to the shelters, they said, ‘Oh that is going to be so sad,’” Muhlebach said. “It wasn’t sad at all. It was exactly the opposite of that. Because of HAC and these shelters, the kids have a place where they can live and be comfortable. It seems like a good environment for them to be in. They smile and are as happy as any other kids. You can see they are truly happy, genuinely sweet little kids and their parents love them and care for them a lot.”
|Beth Muhlebach with her children Ella and Henry.|