A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Kindness Lens provides free family portraits to Northern Kentuckians who can’t afford them

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Northern Kentucky is a region known for its philanthropic efforts.

Often a group of community leaders get together and focus on an area of need in the region, or spearhead an effort to provide resources for several organizations.


Sometimes, however, one person recognizes an unmet need in the community and gets a little help from friends to do something special.

That is how the newly formed nonprofit, The Kindness Lens project, came into existence.

Charlie Vance, CEO of Erigo Solutions, started the 501(c)(3) Kindness Lens to help families who can’t afford to pay for a professional family photograph.

“The idea came to me when I had my first child and we hired a photographer to come in and take some shots for me,” Vance said. “People don’t have good options. To get somebody to come to your house, like we had, that was $500 and that was probably on the low end of the cost spectrum. So, if you are a poor family, I don’t know how you could do it.”

The Kindness Lens provides free professional family portraits to families in the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati region who may not otherwise be able to purchase professional photography services.

Vance saw the project as an opportunity to combine his passions for photography and community service.

“My senior project when I was in high school was photography and I started shooting when I was 16,” Vance said. “When I got to college, I got lucky enough to get my campus job working for the university photographer at Eastern Kentucky University.”

He was shooting sports, doing portraits and remembers coming back from assignments with things that weren’t usable, but he enjoyed the work

“It was wonderful – I got to shoot all of the sports, including the EKU-UK basketball games,” Vance said. “At some point I determined that I probably wasn’t good enough to do it for a living, so I ended up going to laws school, then I started this company.”

Vance founded Erigo Employer Solutions, a professional employer organization (PEO) in July of 2011. The company provides outsourced human resources, payroll, benefits and workers comp services.

“The idea with a PEO is that we become a co-employer for the employees that we work with,” Vance said. “That allows us to pull together the employees of small businesses into a single risk pool, for health insurance purposes and for workers compensation purposes. So, together, we have a larger pool to buy with, better bargaining power, if you will.”

Vance still does photography as a hobby as do some friends, and he is engaged, through his company in the business community, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.

“So, I have that photography background, but also some business connections,” Vance said. “It is expensive, of course, but there’s not that many studios around anymore. When I was a kid, we would go to a department store and we could barely afford that, but it was cheap then and that’s the photo my mom has on her mantle today.”

Starting a nonprofit presents some unique challenges, including storing picture frames for the first Kindness Lens project in the family garage (provided photo).

A group of Northern Kentucky professional photographers, graphic designers, and business leaders have joined together to help families in need by providing free family portraits.

“We’re not solving world hunger with this and it’s not meeting the needs of all of the indigent families we have in Covington and Newport, but I think it is a need out there,” Vance said. “I posted 70 time slots on Facebook and they filled up in less than 48 hours. The idea was to put as many family portraits on as many walls as possible.”

The first shoot, for which all slots are filled, is this Saturday, Dec. 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Life Learning Center.

“I have added more time slots and I am working with the Brighton Center and the Life Learning Center and I am going to let them fill some slots for their clients,” Vance said.

The Kindness Lens has gotten corporate support from partners such as St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Von Lehman, Scooter Media and Republic Bank. The Horizon Community Fund has also chipped in.

As a 501(c)(3) the Kindness Lens has a board of directors that includes Charlie’s wife, Katherine Vance, Megan O’Brien and Caitlin Needham.

Vance said the organization also has ‘tons of volunteers” and was reluctant to name them for fear of forgetting someone.

He did single out Cole and Victor Imperi of Doth Brands, Mike Grout, COO of C-Forward, Jeremy Schrand from the Northern Kentucky Chamber and Beth Silvers, for their efforts with the project.

“We are really pulling from the business community and everyone I told about this has said, ‘That’s a great idea, why haven’t we done this before?” Vance said.

Every participant gets an 8×10, framed, two 5x7s, four wallets and a thumb drive with all of the digital images, so they can get more. C-Forward is sponsoring the thumb drive.

Click image to donate

Vance did not just want to take the picture and give the families access to a digital image.

“It would be really easy to take the picture, put it on the website, say go download, and we would have almost no costs,” Vance said. “If we actually give them an 8×10 and a frame, they’ll take that home and put it on a wall. I’m not saying that giving them a picture keeps families together, but it doesn’t hurt.”

As word of the Kindness Lens project has spread and funding has become available, Vance has added more time slots, which have filled quickly. The Kindness Lens is still in need of funds to cover the initial photo shoot and will schedule additional sessions as more funding becomes available.

“I think it is something that families appreciate because they would like to have it, but they can’t afford it,” Vance said. “I’ve gotten several messages from families already.”

For more information on the Kindness Lens, or to make a donation, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

Related Posts

Leave a Comment