From March 23 to April 6, Minnetrista will host the Heart Gallery created by the Indiana Department of Child Services, DCS, to advocate for children in Indiana that are looking for a permanent home.
Amanda Schortgen, the communications manager for Transform Consulting Group, said there are 36 different children in the featured show, but there are 300 to 400 active, waiting children in Indiana.
“We have a rotation of photographs of children since we cannot show every child at every event we do,” Schortgen said. “We also have the rotation because we don’t want to feature local children. We don’t want a child from that county or surrounding counties, so all of the children shown at Minnetrista would be from a different part of the state.”
The DSC started the traveling gallery in 2007 because they wanted a way to build awareness for foster children, although the event was based off of the success of other states that had done similar projects.
“The Department of Child Services really want to put a face on adoption,” said Cassandra Cody, the technical manager of museum storytelling at Minnetrista. “They wanted to give people a more intimate view of adoption and how it can change people’s lives.”
Heart Gallery only features active, legally available Indiana children, who Schortgen described as children who “have no chance to be reunited with their families.”
Additionally, the Heart Gallery was created to advocate for what Schortgen called “hard to place children,” which include older children, siblings, minorities and special needs children.
“The average age for most of the children in the gallery is eight or older,” Schortgen said. “We have siblings come to us all the time and say that they only want to be adopted together, and we know that it takes a special family to meet that need, but we keep trying.”
Along with the featured photos, there are also information cards about each child that people can take with them that include the child’s name, hobbies and what they hope to find in a family.
If a guest finds a particular child’s photo that speaks to them, they can fill out an information card and drop it in the display box and they will be connected with an adoption specialist who will walk them through the process becoming a family.
“I remember during one gallery that I was helping with, there was a girl who was going around to all of the photos and trying to memorize their names and their hobbies,” Schortgen said. “I later found out that she had been adopted into her forever home, so the gallery really spoke to her, and she wanted to be able to remember all of the children she saw. The gallery is just a great way to get people interested and engaged just like she felt connected to each child.”
Last month, the gallery came to Muncie after Minnetrista’s vice president called and requested a slot to host since she is very involved with adoption in her personal life and the gallery meant a lot to her, Cody said.
Cody also said that since April is child abuse awareness month, Minnetrista thought it would be a great way to shed light on childcare issues in Indiana.
“[The gallery fits in Minnetrista because] Minnetrista is a gathering place; we engage with the community, and we are a space for the community to come together. These are kids within our community that are looking for homes,” Cody said. “Adoption and foster care are such important parts of taking care of our community here in Indiana that it just seemed right to host.”
Alongside Minnetrista, the gallery will also be at the Indiana Summit event in Indianapolis, a Kid Fest in Seymour and a coffee house in Batesville during April.
The Heart Gallery has already been held in 14 locations this year, and Schortgen said the goal is to set up in four new locations each month.
“On average, over the years, we have ranged from 70 to 80 events a year statewide,” Schortgen said. “We are currently on track for that goal, but there are some months when we don’t get as many venues as we would like ... We really just want these photos to reach as many people as possible.”
Additionally, Schortgen added that the more outreach the gallery has the more people will understand the need that is truly there because sometimes they are not able to put the numbers with the kids. The photos allow them to connect with the children on a different level than only hearing a statistic and as of 2017, 15 children have been matched with a family.
“It’s really easy to think that this is just something that happens to others, but it’s different to see the faces of these kids who have been put into these situations that just want a loving family,” Cody said. “[The gallery] makes it a lot more real and a lot more personal. It’s a good way for people to see it first hand, especially the teenagers in our community. It’s like actually meeting these children and finding out that they are just like everyone else; they just want someplace to call home.”