On Thursday, when a 10-member team representing a North Vancouver communications agency sets foot in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, fun in the sun and rest and relaxation won't be at the top of their minds.
Rather, the staff and family members linked to Lower Lonsdale's Brandfx Advertising, Design & Interactive, plan to undertake three days of humanitarian work focused on celebrating and honouring the strong family bonds of area residents living in poverty in light of their daily challenges to survive.
The Brandfx team will be working with representatives of non-profit outreach mission Families of Esperanza (also known as Families at the Dump), which operates a number of programs dedicated to improving the lives of families of all ages living at the base of the city landfill.
As part of their trip, the team from Brandfx plans to make use of their skill set and shoot portraits for approximately 75 Puerto Vallarta families involved with Families of Esperanza, printing and framing them for their subjects to take home.
Brandfx's Tim Kelly (left), Pam Rounis, Patricia Kelly and Elina Lawrie do a trial run before heading south to Mexico to photograph approximately 75 families living at the base of Puerto Vallarta's city landfill in partnership with non-profit organization Families of Esperanza. (Photograph by: NEWS photo, Mike Wakefield)
"Because my husband actually photographs professionally and as a hobby and so do some of our designers, we decided this is something we could offer them, doing family portraits for all the families down there that they can display," says Brandfx partner and production director Patricia Kelly.
"Every time I talk about this I cry," she adds, breaking down. "I can just imagine the happiness that that portrait will bring these people in their homes."
Families of Esperanza was launched in 2006 after its founders discovered a number of families living and working in the city dump. Their efforts have continued to grow, starting with bringing water, food and clothing to people residing there. Examples of current programs offered include meals, daycare, adult education, medical, computer training, English classes, scholarship and housing support and development.
The organization also operates a food bank and a co-op store, and conducts community outreach as well as offering sponsorship opportunities. The mission helped the families living in shanties at the base of the dump get their street officially named Hope Road, giving them a fixed address meaning resident children were able to receive birth certificates and became eligible to attend local schools.
In addition to shooting family portraits, Patricia and her team will volunteer at a breakfast program and work with approximately 100 children helping them build a "wall of hope" inside their school. They'll install a decal that reads "Families of Esperanza," which translates to "families of hope," and help their charges make craft projects.
Brandfx will also host a family fiesta and make a donation of useful items, including school supplies, sports equipment, toiletries and clothing.
Patricia and her husband Tim, her partner in Brandfx, were introduced to Families of Esperanza in April 2010 during a vacation to the resort area. Out for a walk, they ran into a group from Seattle, Washington, who, annually on Mexico's Children's Day, travel to Puerto Vallarta and in partnership with Families of Esperanza spend a day with the families living near the dump and host a fiesta. The group invited the Kellys to join them at the party, which they accepted.
"It was a pretty life altering day," says Patricia. She and Tim saw firsthand the conditions those supported by the mission live in, many in shacks built from materials found at the dump. A number of families are dependent on the landfill and rummage for items or recyclables to either use themselves or sell as a source of income.
Following their return to the North Shore, the Kellys began sponsoring some children through Families of Esperanza.
Interested in doing more, they're excited to be offering the family portrait project, the idea for which came from a local volunteer experience. Last year Patricia and Tim and their daughters volunteered at Free Portrait Vancouver, helping photograph and give framed photos to more than 800 people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The Kellys plan to once again volunteer at Free Portrait Vancouver, being held this year on Dec. 1, at the Carnegie Community Centre.
"Seeing the happiness that these portraits brought people when I was handing them out is really what inspired this idea," says Patricia.
She recalls a conversation with one mother who had her photo taken with her seven-year-old daughter. "She said, 'Last year was the first year I had a picture taken with my daughter and we sent it to my mom for Christmas,' and that just really touched me."
The Kellys pitched the idea to Families of Esperanza and representatives affirmed it would be something that would mean a lot to the families they serve.
Patricia and her team are grateful for the strong show of community support they've received from a number of companies, ranging from Staples to WestJet as well as local Brandfx clients, including Leone Fashions.
To support Brandfx's upcoming trip, either by making a monetary donation that they'll use to buy useful items for the families upon their arrival in Mexico, contact Carly Yackimec at carly@ brandfx.ca or (604) 988-1407.
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