Matt Knutson: Find ways to give back to local nonprofits

Published 8:56 pm Thursday, March 8, 2018

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson

“I really thought that would have gone better,” I told my wife as we walked out of our local public library. A few weeks ago, an area nonprofit had requested to use our daughters to promote an upcoming fundraiser that improves young children’s readiness for elementary school. One of their tactics is to provide free books to kids each month until their fifth birthday. It’s a great initiative and our girls have certainly benefited from it, so there was no way we would say no.

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They wanted to photograph our girls to use in a postcard invitation, and I’m sure they’ll repurpose their photos for other items as well. Transparently, we’ve got cute kids — so I couldn’t blame them for asking. What I didn’t realize was how our kids aren’t used to having someone other than their father photographing them.

When we arrived at the library, all was well. Gracelyn was respectfully running all around to her favorite activities and finding joy in just about every nook and cranny. We come to the library about once a week, so she knows her way around and even feels comfortable wandering away from us (though her parents aren’t nearly as comfortable with that). If you’re a loyal reader of this column, you’ll note that Gracelyn is currently struggling with some shyness around people she doesn’t know. Unfortunately, that characteristic came on strong as soon as the photographer appeared.

Armed with Gracelyn’s favorite books, I thought we could work our way through this. Occasionally she’ll shout out a word or two from her favorite stories and a big smile will spread across her face when she gets it right. I was really hoping we’d be able to capture one of those moments. Instead, our toddler was decidedly uninterested in reading. She turned her head to the side, attempted to wiggle away, and even when we got her to sit quietly on my lap, she’d transition her face into zombie mode, staring off into the distance. I was certain none of this would be the right visual message to inspire someone to donate to the cause.

As the embarrassment began to sink in, I offered to redo the photoshoot at our house later that weekend, this time with me taking the photos. I’d simply send them onto the nonprofit and they could use whichever shots they thought best conveyed what they were hoping to achieve. I’ve done a few professional photo gigs, and I knew Gracie would be far more willing to cooperate in our home with just the two of us and no distractions. After about 30 minutes of setup, wardrobe changes and Sera helping with hair, I felt confident that our little girl had nailed her modeling gig. If only she could have brought that smile to the library instead of leaving it in our living room.

The whole activity reminded me of the many different ways a person can give back. It’s always been important that we teach our daughters that they have the power to make a difference, to help someone in need. Their age and size do not prevent them from being a positive force in this world. That concept certainly escapes them at their young age, but I’m hopeful these experiences can have a lasting impact on their character. Certainly sitting down in front of a camera and reading a story doesn’t seem like it gives back at the time, but if their participation motivates someone to attend a fundraiser or to make a financial gift to improve the lives of other kids, it’s certainly worthwhile. Hopefully you and your families can find similar ways to give back to the nonprofits in your community. Sometimes it’s the out-of-the-box volunteer opportunities that are the most fun.

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist in Rochester.