The Art of Selflessness
By Erin Reilly, Regional Technical Assistant
Upon accepting the Philanthropy Award at the June 2022 Pennsylvania Permanency Conference, photographer Gregory Tapler takes a selfie with the banquet audience.
We’ve all heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” For Pennsylvania’s children and youth in foster care, these words take on greater significance when it comes to finding permanency. Every day, these children and youth are navigating trauma, a multitude of changes, uncertainty, education, relationships, and much more. Simultaneously, dedicated permanency workers are writing strengths-based narratives for them, collaborating with counties on information sharing processes, and employing a variety of recruitment strategies to match them with permanent families.
One recruitment strategy is securing a high-quality photo that captures the true spirit, personality and essence of the child or youth. To assist in this effort, the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN) created a statewide network of volunteer photographers who donate their services to provide each child registered with the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange with beautiful pictures to accompany their recruitment profiles. These pictures are posted on the waiting child listing on AdoptPAKids.org and displayed in lifebooks, and they can be used in any other service that requires a photo.
The art of capturing the perfect photo is no easy feat. One member of the volunteer photographer network, Gregory Tapler, began offering his services to SWAN in Lehigh County seven years ago after learning about the program from a friend who works in foster care administration. Greg defines himself as “service oriented at heart,” so he saw this as a great opportunity to help children and give back.
Greg succeeded in this role for a myriad of reasons. The first being his ability to empathize with the children and youth in front of his lens and truly “get” the place they are coming from. “As humans, we all need to be seen, heard, and listened to,” Greg remarked as he shared some of his parallels to the children and youth with whom he has worked. He truly understands the need these children have because he had similar needs when he was a young boy.
Gregory has learned that every moment matters, so he always makes a point to try to connect with each child he photographs. “I try to make it easy and soft for the kids as they are all different,” he shared. “I try to give the kids a little nugget of support or encouragement that may come back into their minds later on.” From using a child’s favorite book as a prop to taking a full body shot so a youth can show off his favorite backwards hat, Greg always centers the photo around the child and what is important to them. Whether the photo is identifying or non-identifying, Greg stated, “I try to give the children dignity.”
Oftentimes, volunteer photographers are limited in their availability; however, Greg made himself available in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate both the child and permanency worker’s schedules. Jocelyn Weil, Family Resource Specialist with JusticeWorks YouthCare, describes Gregory as “extremely patient with the kids,” as well as “engaging and charismatic.” When asked to share more about Jocelyn’s first experience with Gregory, she shared, “He was not pressed for time, and in fact, he actually spent some time just hanging out with the kids once we were done with the photo shoot. He gave them tiny gifts (a pair of sunglasses and a frisbee) after asking permission, of course!” Jocelyn stated that Gregory just let the kids play and warm up to him. He took pictures of the children as they were playing and made it look so natural. These children were later matched and placed into a pre-adoptive home.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jocelyn reached out to Gregory to schedule a photo shoot for another child on her caseload. Despite many challenges and limited indoor options for a photo shoot, Gregory found creative ways to use books, furniture, pictures, and other props that he found at the JusticeWorks YouthCare office where the photo shoot took place. The pictures were wonderful and aided in the child’s placement into a pre-adoptive home.
Gregory received the Philanthropy Award at the 2022 Pennsylvania Permanency Conference, and he was recognized as an extension of the child’s team. He is more than just a skilled photographer who creates beauty through art; he is the embodiment of the determination and commitment the field of child welfare needs to thrive and keep moving forward. Jocelyn, who nominated Greg for the award, summarized, “Some people are in it for the right reasons, and some are not. Greg clearly does this from the kindness of his heart and for the love of our children.”
Erin Reilly is a SWAN regional technical assistant in the northeast. Previously, Erin worked as a SWAN LSI paralegal in Bucks County and as a case manager for two SWAN affiliate agencies. After ten years of working in child welfare, Erin has developed a passion for recruitment strategies to increase permanency outcomes for children and youth. She is inspired by the commitment and devotion of the village it takes to support our children and youth on their journeys to permanency and was humbled to conduct this interview and see firsthand the impact of one man’s act of selflessness.