Meeting Eli Waller and the First Day of School Foundation
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August 19, 2017
By Suzie & Andy Waller
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Suzie and I just drove by Sayen Gardens the other day, where Erica first photographed our triplets, Sydney, Ava, and Eli. The location is of course gorgeous, and the pictures came out beautifully, but what we most remember about that day was how easily Erica won over our 2-year-old children. She approached the session with a genuine, bubbly enthusiasm that is impossible for kids and adults alike to resist; by the end of the afternoon, she had all three kids posing in sunglasses, holding hands, and belly-laughing, all of which came through in the photographs she made for us.

Our son, Eli, came into the session apprehensively, to put it mildly, but as I look back at those pictures, I can see on his face how much he ended up loving that day. We cherish those pictures; thank you so much, Erica!

 

Eli had some special needs. I described him at one point as "a beautiful mix of eagerness and hesitancy, need and striving, caution and surprise," and he at times was something of a puzzle. He displayed some speech and language delays, and novel circumstances really could throw him for a loop. This, however, was never an issue for Erica. She just had a knack for continually winning him over, plastering genuine joy on his face and capturing it in her photos. I think her talent for doing so is one small part of what makes the Smiles for Eli event not only very special to me and my family, but also such a success.

Erica started Smiles for Eli three years ago. The first one took place in October, only about a month after Eli passed away from a sudden, rare disease. 

In response to Eli's passing, as a way to honor our son's memory, my wife and I had started The First Day of School Foundation, whose mission is to provide school-related and therapeutic support for kids with special needs, so Erica put together a huge event in her studio where kids came in their Halloween costumes and donated money in exchange for a photo. Not only was the entire event an overwhelmingly beautiful tribute to a little boy we know Erica cared a great deal about, but it was also a huge success that helped us raise thousands for the Foundation! People who don't know Erica well might be surprised by that, but those of us who do know her aren't surprised in the least; Erica has an extraordinary way of doing things, which she continues to bring to the Smiles for Eli event each year!

 

Smiles for Eli is now geared towards 'first day of school' pictures, although younger kids and families are welcome, too

Suzie and I are hoping to bring our newborn daughter, Ryan, even though she's already had a photoshoot with Erica. I'll need another blog post to tell about how awesome the newborn sessions are, but we are sneaking in a couple brag shots here of her.

The event's proceeds will go directly to the First Day of School Foundation. We're particularly proud of our Foundation's new Special Classroom Sponsorship Program, which has a goal of making 30 separate $1000 grants to classrooms that serve students with special needs, so we definitely need and appreciate your help.

 

We think 'Smiles' is a fitting tribute to Eli, a kid who loved school, loved Erica, and who always asked if people were "proud with" him. Erica, we're absolutely proud with you, and we cannot say enough about how much we appreciate all the hard work you put into this event. We encourage everyone to sign up as soon as possible for a time slot, which I'm sure will fill up quickly. To everyone reading this, thank you so much for your continued support. My family and I appreciate the support that the entire Hamilton community continues to show!

 

Sign up here!

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