Jefferson Award Winner Photographs Patients, HomelessBy Sharon Chin

PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) Some people are going through such difficult times, they can’t imagine it’s possible for them to take a beautiful photo. But that’s when this week’s Jefferson Award winner works her magic.

Virginia Becker’s photos tell a family story. In Sara Moore’s case, it’s a picture of perseverance. Her 10-year-old son, Charlie, is getting chemo and radiation for a brain tumor.

“We missed school pictures this year, so she caught a moment of our lives that we might’ve missed because of this,” Moore explained. Then she took a moment to muse about what the photos Becker was taking would mean. “I think I’ll remember how strong my kids are. They’ve been really put through the ringer.”

Becker offers free portrait sessions for seriously ill children and their families who stay at Ronald McDonald House while undergoing treatment at Stanford. Since 2010, her nonprofit, The Family Album Project, has given away 69,000 professional-quality photographs.

“I think we still need to pass something down,” she said. “We need to keep those stories, those memories alive.”

With her husband at the printer, the former teacher shoots more than a hundred free portrait sessions a year for community groups serving the Bay Area’s most vulnerable: from heart-transplant recipients to the homeless, from senior citizens to cancer survivors.

“Our goal is to make you look the best and strongest that you can under the circumstances you’re dealing with,” she said.

Ronald McDonald House CEO Annette Eros says Becker’s photos are a gift.

“The photography she creates are sometimes the last family portrait or the last physical memory they have of their children or the child,” Eros noted.

And when photographing the homeless community, Becker shares the view through HER lens.

The image empowers domestic violence survivor Sophia Ortiz.

“The last thing you want to do is probably take a look at yourself,” Ortiz said. “And when you see these, it’s amazing. And it really brings out your self-esteem.”

And THAT makes Becker smile.

“I’ve never been happier in my life!” she said.

So for providing precious photographs that bring out the best in difficult times, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Virginia Becker