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Heart Gallery speaks to hopes for a permanent home

By Allison Gibbons

This past week, the New York State Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) held its third "Heart Gallery," a unique portrait and video exhibit of children awaiting adoption.

The exhibit, which features portraits of about 40 older children from Onondaga and surrounding counties, speaks to the children's hopes of finding a permanent family.

A reception for the Heart Gallery was held June 5 at Le Moyne College in the Noreen Reale Falcone Library. The gallery will continue to run in Syracuse until the end of June.

Mary Schapley of OCFS said the project's successful beginnings happened in New Mexico. Since then, the idea has been implemented in other states, including New York.

"In Onondaga County we've gotten a lot of inquires," Schapley said.

Suzanne Colligan, adoption specialist at OCFS, said the state has three potential adoptive families just from the opening night, with inquiries toward six kids.

"Which is really exciting, and that was just at the opening," she said.

The Gallery focuses on older kids and sibling groups because they are often more challenging to place, Schapley said. Potential parents often believe stereotypes about older children being difficult that "aren't necessarily true," she said.

Volunteer professional photographers took portraits and wrote a small narrative summarizing their impressions of each child. "Reel-Kid Videos" included the prospective adoptive children talking about their dreams of a family.

"It really gives you a sense of how desperately these kids want a family," Schapley said. She added that anyone who is considering adoption and comes to the Heart Gallery could be moved to do it. "It's very touching," she said.

The display continues around Central New York for the rest of 2008, with new portraits being added as children become free for adoption, Colligan said. It travels to Utica in July, Watertown in August, Cortland in September, Binghamton in October, returns to Syracuse in November and finishes the year in Ithaca.

"I think that it's really good that it traveled around this year," Schapley said.

For additional information about the exhibit, call the OCFS Syracuse Regional Office at 423-1200 or go to giveyourlifeasmile.com.

Allison Gibbons, an Eagle Newspapers intern, is majoring in journalism Syracuse University.

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