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A group of Missoulians donated their time Saturday to give back to the community using their individual professional talents as part of a global program called Help-Portrait.

Help-Portrait is an annual event started by professional photographers Jeremy Cowart and Kyle Chowning of Nashville in 2008, which encourages photographers, makeup artists and hairstylists to find people in need and provide them with quality printed photos, free of charge.

Missoula coordinator Johanna Bouma said a few years ago, she realized there were a lot of photographers in town she had never met. She wanted to get them together both to meet and network – and to help out a great cause – and began putting together Missoula’s Help-Portrait.

This year is the third annual event that has been hosted in town, and Bouma said the number of families helped continues to grow.

“It was really busy first thing this morning, there was a line at the door an hour before we opened,” she said.

Tracy Hardy and her partner Christine Kolczak had brought a crowd of ten children with them, ranging from 7 months to 19 years old.

Apart from their two biological daughters and adopted son, they also brought a family of seven foster children with them. Since September, Hardy and Kolczak have been the foster parents for five of the Ross children.

“We also got the foster parents for the other two kids to let them come along this morning as well,” Hardy said. “So all of the foster kids get to do a photo together to give to their parents.”

After the children who wanted to take part in the hair and makeup booth had taken their turns, the family packed into one of the photography bays.

“We had done them before a few years ago, but it’s fun to get all of the family together for a picture,” said 10-year-old Marrin Kolczak-Hardy.

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For the first time, Missoula’s Help-Portrait was held inside the Rocky Mountain School of Photography downtown, which gave the Help-Portrait volunteers plenty of space to set up studio bays, a hair and makeup room and do the photo editing and printing in the basement.

“We print out and frame a five by seven of the best photo and give them some of the other best shots from the rest of their session as a digital version,” said Sarah Chaput de Saintonge, one of the volunteers editing and preparing the finished product to give back to the families.

Rachelle Cowart, a hairstylist from Canvas Studio, said she missed out on last year’s Help-Portrait, but is glad she was able to make it this year. She said she understands there are a lot of people in Missoula without a budget for professional photos, regardless of how nice it would be to have them done.

“I like to be able to do something to give back when I can,” Cowart said. “It’s just good, it feels good to help.”

One of the other volunteers, Lisa Simecek of Details Hair Design, said she had heard about Help-Portrait in the past, but this was the first time she was able to show up for it.

“I’ve seen it in the past couple of years, but I was always working on the weekends. This is my first year running my own business, so I was able to schedule it in,” she said.

One of the photographers volunteering for the day, Jesse Boone, said he had taken part in other Help-Portrait events in another town, and was glad Missoula had one as well. Having it inside the RMSP with the lighting and gear for portrait photography already in place was just a bonus.

“We used to do this event in Toledo, but I had to bring all of (my) own equipment, printing and studio setup,” Boone said. “I found out about this five days ago, and they said all I had to do was bring my camera.”

Boone said he thinks particularly for parents it’s important to have good-looking family photos, especially around the holidays. He said when they have something physical to look at it makes people appreciate the things they have.

“It gives them a sense of success. I’ve made it here, I’m beautiful right now,” he said.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.