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Austin’s Priceless Pictures

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For the children in the Pablove Shutterbugs program, a photo is worth more than 1,000 words. 

By Lauren Jones, Photos courtesy of the Pablove Foundation

Art has long been touted for its healing benefits and for the children that participate in the Pablove Foundation’s Shutterbugs program, it is invaluable.

For five weeks in the fall and the spring, cancer patients at Dell Seton Medical Center take classes on Saturdays with a professional photographer. Retoucher Allison Kuglitsch, who recently joined the Shutterbugs program as an instructor, has already seen the positive impact the program has on its students.

“Sometimes the students will be very tired, but by the end of the two-hour class they are feeling better and are happy to be there,” Kuglitsch says. “Their spirits are lifted. All the kids have that unspoken commonality but know they are there to be creative and that it’s a safe place to be.”

The Pablove Foundation began after co-founders Jeff Castelaz and Jo Ann Thrailkill six-year-old-son, Pablo, passed away from a rare form of childhood cancer. After his death, they discovered he had a love for photography.

“He had a passion for the arts that they weren’t totally aware of,” Kuglitsch says. “They printed those photos and it sparked the idea that other kids facing a similar prognosis would enjoy being able to express themselves through art.”

From group field trips to local museums, such as the Mexican American Cultural Center and the Blanton Museum of Art, and guest speakers, students are able to learn about varying aspects of the craft. Lighting, perspective, basic camera techniques and more are covered during each week of the curriculum.

“I’ve noticed that even the parents pick up on some photography skills during the duration of the course,” Kuglitsch says.

One story, however, resonates with Kuglitsch the most.

Two sessions ago, she worked with a student named Martin. He spent his first class playing with her son’s toy dinosaur and taking photographs of it. But she didn’t realize that his first class would be his last.

“He shook my hand at the end of class,” Kuglitsch recalls. “He was so appreciative. He was terminal and I had no idea at the time. He was so thankful and happy and that day meant a lot to him. Now, I have that print he took of the dinosaur in my home.

At the end of each session, student work is exhibited in a gallery showing. The pictures are sold with the proceeds going directly to cancer research. To date, $14 million dollars has been raised for pediatric cancer research and their Pablove Shutterbugs program.

According to the Pablove Shutterbugs founders, the program began so “kids could just be kids,” but over the past six years its reach has taken on a life of its own and has helped over 1,200 children during the most trying times of their lives.

To learn more about the Shutterbugs program and volunteer opportunities visit pablove.org/volunteer.

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