COVID-19 has not lessened the need for children without permanent families to find loving homes. But the pandemic has made it more complicated for youngsters and adoptive parents to find one another.
That's where a gallery of photos and videos can help.
Since 2005, the Colorado Heart Gallery has offered prospective adoptive parents a way to find out more about young people in Colorado — more than 400 currently — who are awaiting a new family.
Colorado Heart Gallery
Colorado Heart Gallery is celebrating their 15th anniversary.
"Given COVID,... the Colorado Heart Gallery website has played a very crucial part in helping me as a recruiter to try to find adoptive families for youth," said Natalie Coronado, an adoption recruiter with Arapahoe County Human Services, and herself an adoptee.
It's a website (coheartgallery.org) featuring portraits, videos and narratives of children and youths in foster care, visited more than 600,000 times each year.
"Given that there's a lot of time spent at home and we're living in a time of virtual meetings and settings, ... families are more on their laptops than normal, and so ... we are seeing a lot more traffic (and) inquiries on my end (from) families that actually are becoming more interested in adoption and foster care," Coronado said.
Heart Gallery is also a traveling exhibit that has been to dozens of locations around Colorado over the years -- businesses, churches, art galleries and other high-traffic venues. A Heart Gallery display is on view now through Nov. 20 at Rez.Church, 6502 E. Cross Roads Blvd. in Loveland.
The program is a collaboration of the Colorado Department of Human Services; Raise the Future, a Denver-based nonprofit formerly known as the Adoption Exchange; and Colorado counties.
Over the last 15 years, about 290 Colorado children and teens featured on the Colorado Heart Gallery — the average age is 13 — have been adopted, program organizers say.
One is Jarimiah Marcysiak. His adoptive dad, John Marcysiak of Denver, said that he and his partner, Frank, "felt that we could share our lives with somebody." So they "went to a couple get-togethers that the Heart Gallery had, showcasing different children. There were pictures and posters of the kids placed around the facility."
John said they saw Jarimiah's picture at the event, and remembered seeing the boy earlier online. "The Heart Gallery is what created the connection," John said.
"It means everything," adds Jarimiah, who was adopted at age 10 and is now a young adult. "It did change me a lot. My father is a big help raising me, of course, and he did make it the best life possible for me. And I do not regret it. And the Hearts Gallery did make it possible."
According to organizers, the first Heart Gallery was started in New Mexico in 2001. It expanded to Colorado four years later in the form of an exhibit at local art galleries. The website was launched later.
Taryn Bennett is one of dozens of volunteer professional photographers over the years who have created the portraits of young people seeking homes for the Heart Gallery. She too is an adoptee.
"Photography has played a big role in my life, shaping my own identity, and so when I go out on a shoot, I think it helps inspire some of the creative process," she said.
"It's more than just snapping their picture; it's trying to get their personality out, ... to shape their identity. I believe photos really offer a sense of belonging, ... (to) know that you belong somewhere."
For more information on how to become a foster parent or about adoption, visit co4kids.org.