The Olivia Act brings caring into focus

Thursday, January 31, 2013
Abigayle, left, and Victoria Wall gave a portrait session to Jeff Garland and his three children as part of the Olivia Act, named for one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, which challenges photographers to provide photo shoots for families who otherwise might not be able to afford them.

A local teen photographer has accepted the nationwide challenge to take part in the Olivia Act.

Begun by a photographer from Texas, the Olivia Act is named after one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, whose family had taken family photos only days before. Realizing the comfort the family would take from these photos, the Olivia Act challenges photographers to offer free family photo shoots to families that otherwise might not have the available time or resources.

Photographer Abigayle Wall, 15, and her sister Victoria, 18, wasted no time devising a plan to join the effort.

"We heard about other photographers participating," Abigayle said. "And we thought it was something we could definitely do."

With the help of their mother, Regina Wall, the girls created a contest on the "Photography by Abigayle" Facebook page that allowed followers to anonymously nominate families via email. Throughout December, they sifted through the emails, reading each family's story.

"We were looking for a family that was doing all the right stuff," Regina Wall said. "But maybe could just use a little help."

On Jan. 1, they announced the Garland family of Advance, Mo., had won a free family photo shoot. Regina Wall said the offer went to the family because Jeff Garland, a single father of three children, had done "such an awesome job on his own."

Garland admits he had never heard of the Olivia Act before receiving the phone call from the Wall family, but said it was a happy surprise.

"When you have kids and work, life can get so busy," Garland said. "Sometimes things like family photos just get put on the back burner for a while."

When Garland family arrived for their photo shoot, they received more than photos. After hearing about the generosity of two young girls, local businesses were more than happy to make contributions, too.

Abigayle, left, and Victoria Wall gave a portrait session to Jeff Garland and his three children as part of the Olivia Act, named for one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, which challenges photographers to provide photo shoots for families who otherwise might not be able to afford them. (ADAM VOGLER)

Garber's Menswear, Kid's Bazaar, Shoe Carnival, and Marcy's Planet Shoes donated clothes and shoes for each family member to wear during the shoot, while Steve's Barber Shop and A Simply Different Salon offered free haircuts. Bagger Dave's, Wehrenberg Theaters, and H&H Custom Drilling and Blasting also made donations.

Both Abigayle and Victoria Wall said they never imagined the small act of free photos would grow to an event this size.

"I think a lot of people were surprised by this," Abigayle said. "You don't usually see two teenage girls doing something this big."

Victoria agreed, noting new fans were taking to the Facebook page to write they felt "inspired" by the girls' act.

Garland said it was great to see such genuine acts of kindness from strangers, especially for his young daughters.

Jeff Garland with two of his three children is thankful to the Wall family and local merchants. (ADAM VOGLER)

"They didn't cut any corners," Garland said. "They made my daughters feel like princesses, which makes you feel really good as a dad."

According to the Wall family, it was the collaboration of several "small acts" that helped make the event so great. They hope others will carry on the kindness.

"Usually, when a photographer gets an idea, they get mad if other photographers take it," Victoria said. "But this is an idea we actually hope other photographers use."

The sisters have made plans to offer free photos to another family in the name of the Olivia Act. Although they do not have a set schedule, the girls plan to continue this tradition.

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