"More than once I sat at my computer and cried....My heart broke for the pain that some of these people must have endured over experiences I've taken for granted."

My grandmother instilled the value of community service work and ways to give back to those around her through the United Way, the Church our family attended for generations, and various other community organizations. I appreciate having these opportunities given to me at such a young age. Now, it's only natural that it continues to play an integral role in my life two decades later. I am incredibly proud and will always continue to seek out ways to invest my time and talent into non profit organizations and community service projects.

Last year I was approached by the Inclusive Opportunity Association (https://www.facebook.com/InclusiveOpportunitiesAssociation/) to assist them in a marketing campaign to raise awareness and funds to help continue the work they do in our community. I jumped! This was an organization I could stand behind, and was thrilled to volunteer my time and service to help them pull this off. At the beginning of this adventure, I had no idea what I would learn, the incredible people I would meet, and the friends I would make, but now that the project was launched at the end of 2020, I want to tell you about it.

I set out to shine the spotlight on 12 people within our community by photographing them at their place of work. These 12 exceptional individuals told me about their passions, their achievements, what being a part of the Inclusive Opportunity Association meant to them, and how the community has welcomed them into the workforce.

I won't lie, it wasn't all beautiful experiences. This project was an emotional rollercoaster for me, and I can only imagine what an emotional journey this has been for them having to live it every day. More than once I sat at my computer while I designed the calendar and cried. My heart broke for the pain that some of these people must have endured over experiences I've taken for granted my entire working life. As a person who has always had a choice to pursue my passions with relatively no barriers, I've been able to find joy in my work and be compensated fairly for it. Prior to my role in this project, due to my ignorance, is was unfathomable to me that there may exist a social norm of paying employees less than minimum wage in Western Culture based on their perceived abilities. But sure enough, it's quietly lurking there, right here in our town, and that's what I really want to talk about. This may not have been the intention of the project as it was thought up in the minds of the Inclusive Opportunity Association, but as I learned more, I couldn't help but get angry. I couldn't stop thinking about the social failing of our community. We have let some of our most vulnerable community members down, by allowing them to be treated less than equally. So I'd like to like to leave this thought with you, "Does your place of employment promote equal opportunities for equal pay?". If they do, that's fantastic, and even though this should be standard policy, we need to celebrate them until it is. So throughout the project we did just that.

Not only did we raise money with the sale of these calendars to help fund services and programs for the participants of the Inclusive Opportunity Society, we promoted the businesses in our community that are excellent role models in the efforts of inclusion. I watched faces glow and hope spread while I photographed these folks doing what they truly loved and wanted to apply themselves to. I also witnessed one of the participants gained employment with a local company that wanted to offer him a position in an industry that he actually enjoyed and had a passion for. It was such an honor to be there to celebrate his achievements, and the local employers that have made these safe, accepting, and inclusive work environments for everyone. I encourage you to seek them out and support them in their businesses.

If you're interested in supporting the Inclusive Opportunity Association, purchasing a calendar, finding local businesses that are truly inclusive, or learning more about their organization and events, please visit their facebook page (link above).