Ivory House's 2018 Eliminate Litter Challenge

I started my annual litter pick-up campaign in 2017 when I saw just how much trash ends up blowing out of downtown dumpsters and garbage cans by the often-chaotic spring winds. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would be interested in my campaign, but darn it if I wasn’t going to give it a try!

One of the people who expressed interest in my mini trash bash was my friend Jackie Horsfall. Jackie and I had met through mutual Des Moines connections, and we’d bonded over an interest in local artists. She’s one of those people who takes pride in her community and really steps up to participate and do her part. When she saw my Facebook post calling for volunteers to help pick up litter downtown near my Walnut Street studio, she was fully on board—until the weather turned foul and plans fell through. Not one to be discouraged, she picked up trash on a more pleasant day and committed to participating in Ivory House’s 2018 Eliminate Litter Challenge.

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“It was even more perfect because it happened to fall on Earth Day,” says Jackie. “I had planned to drive to a local park where I knew there was garbage lying around, but on my way, I realized that there was litter everywhere. You really don’t notice it until you’re looking for it. I drove one block and saw a ton of trash, particularly in a ditch near a Dunkin’ Donuts and some train tracks. I brought a few bags with me, but should have brought 800 more.”

Jackie and her fiancée, Adam, ended up using a large bin that they found discarded in the ditch as an extra container to gather more trash. The sheer amount of waste was a wake-up call for both of them. “I realized that simple steps can make a huge difference. You don’t have to go overboard with gloves and stuff. Just pick up one plastic bag, walk around the block picking up litter, and throw the bag away. You’d be amazed at what a difference one person can make in five minutes.”

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Jackie also thinks beyond simply picking up things that have already been discarded. “Reducing single-use items like coffee cups, straws, and Styrofoam takeout containers isn’t hard to do and makes a huge impact when it comes to sustainability overall.”

To top it off, Jackie and Adam had gotten engaged just a couple of weeks before this year’s Eliminate Litter Challenge! They had won a pair of tickets to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in New York City, and Adam knew that this was the perfect time and place to pop the question. He carried the ring in his pocket through all of their sightseeing, on the subway, and halfway through the play. Finally, he got down on one knee and asked Jackie to marry him. I was lucky enough to be their chosen engagement photographer, and they did a fantastic job despite their nerves. “We’re both nervous, awkward people, so we were anxious about how this was going to go when we can barely even take a selfie! Whitney made us feel so relaxed and comfortable. It’s easy when you have a photographer who really knows how to give their clients what they need. Confidence is contagious.”

Congratulations to Jackie and Adam, and keep up the good work with the litter pick-up!

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Unapologetically Extra

Unapologetically Extra Sessions stemmed from my need to have a bit more fun with my photography. I also wanted to give my clients an excuse to show up for themselves - for 15 minutes in an outfit that makes them feel a little "extra." These are not headshots, but rather a beautiful moment in time, intended to show our most powerful, confident and radiant selves. Thank you for going on this journey with me. I can't wait to see the "extra" we create together.

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A couple of weeks ago, we held our second Unapologetically Extra photo shoot. The first session back in May was truly remarkable, with each woman showing up with their own unique, fierce attitude to be captured on camera. This second shoot was equally as special, and in some ways even more inspiring because we had a chance to speak with each person about what makes them unique. We asked them a series of poignant (and maybe probing) questions and since we asked this of them on the spot, I thought it was only fair to share my answers as well! Read on to see how these beautiful people opened up not only to my camera, but also shared their thoughts on their personal power, what makes them happy, what motivates them, and how they’ve grown into the individual I photographed that day - in all their “extra” glory.

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Whitney Warne

I feel most powerful when I have a camera around my neck and I’m directing a truly amazing shot of someone who had no idea of how stunning they are. I love teaching people that they have power and can make a difference.

When I’m feeling less than motivated, I count down from five...four...three...two...one...and force myself to launch into whatever it is that I’m conquering. Another motivating mantra is, as my mother says, “Hydration is the key to success!”

 Something I’ve learned since my early twenties is that I am very good at lifting others up in a supportive way, but I am better at elevating others by claiming my own spot in the sunshine and working on my own terms.

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Estee Roe

One of my favorite quotes is, “She believed she could, so she did.” It makes me feel confident and motivated. I feel most powerful when I’m at home with my family, in the kitchen, in my own space. I enjoy supporting others. Showing up for people, helping them, and just listening to what they have to say is something that makes me feel really good.

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Alison Stricklett

I like to tell myself, “everything happens for a reason.” That might not sound very positive, but I see it as a hopeful sentiment. It reminds me that I can take on more than I think I can. If I could tell my 21-year-old self one thing, I would say that the things I was so worried about back then are not relevant anymore, and they weren’t as big of a deal as I felt like they were at the time.

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Jessie Tobin

I’m a very decisive person, so I feel powerful when I make a decision because I’m confident in it. Confidence is something I’ve learned over the years, so looking back at my younger self, I wish I knew that the people around me were not as critical as I thought they were. Now, I tell myself “I am worthy,” whether that applies to a job promotion, love, success…it works in any scenario.

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Tricia Rivas

My personal mantra is tattooed on my arm: “Live the life you’ve imagined.” I have sparrows around it because they are extremely loyal birds. They only have one mate their entire lives. I’ve been with my husband, Jeremy, for 22 years (but we’ve been friends since high school!). My faith is what keeps me grounded in this mantra, and what keeps me focused, motivated, and happy. Things always get better, and negativity doesn’t need to control you.

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Kelsey Russell

I believe that physical and emotional strength go hand-in-hand. I am a firm believer that there is no “ideal” body type, but I truly find my power when I’m in the gym working on my physical strength. The more effort and energy I put into my workouts, the more confidence I have outside of the gym. I tell myself, “Why not you?” Everyone has dreams, but it takes courage and confidence to chase them.  

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Jennifer Canelos

I was in a professional women’s group a while ago, and one of our assignments was to write a personal mantra. I have it saved on my phone to read every once in a while to stay motivated. Part of it goes, “I use my spiritual gift of creativity to inspire and empower others, and intentionally seek moments of joy and gratefulness in my own imperfect, breathtaking journey.” I think it’s so important to be who God created you to be, and not what the world expects you to be.

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Rebecca Lake

When I can “be the light,” in either a personal or professional situation, it not only elevates others, but it helps lift myself up, too. I love my job as a chiropractor; when I have the opportunity to heal people from the inside out. Beyond that, simple gestures like complimenting a stranger have mutual repercussions that brighten my day as well as theirs. You just never know who’s having a crappy day, so you might as well spread that light.

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Ivy Boyd

When I’m going through a tough time, I remind myself that these experiences are all helping to shape me into the artist I’m meant to be. I am proud to be able to work around any obstacle—kids, heat, weddings, anything. I strive to be the best part of my clients’ day, the force of calm in what might be a very stressful situation. Sometimes I think back to when I was younger and would get sad or discouraged, and I wish I could go back tell myself, “You don’t even know how good it’s about to get.”

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Reed Rinderknecht

I think guys are especially bad at keeping in touch with their friends. There’s not a set infrastructure for these kinds of relationships that are based on emotional support. If I’m thinking about a friend, I’ll call him up, just to check in and see how he’s doing. More often than not, those spontaneous conversations come at a good time. I’ve learned a lot dealing with painful relationships in the past, so it feels really good to connect with a friend who might be going through something similar in his own life.
 

Wednesdays with Whitney: Kirsten Anderson

The road to rebuilding my self-confidence has been long and winding with plenty of bumps along the way. It has been five years since I was fired from my job as Communications Director of Iowa Senate Republicans, and one year since my very public trial against the State of Iowa. My life has changed in ways that I never thought it would, and now I am strong enough to know my worth and ensure that others know theirs, too.

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To understand what I mean by having low self-confidence, let me paint you a picture: Over the course of five years working for Senate Republicans, I went from optimistically and proactively doing my work (writing newsletters, press releases, talking points, radio scripts, and social media posts) to fearfully piecing words together, hoping I wouldn’t be noticed, keeping my head down awaiting the next verbal lashing. I was beaten down, crying daily, praying to make it through the day and hoping my family wouldn’t notice the burdens I brought home.

This is what sexual harassment and the subsequent retaliation did to me. The lewd, disgusting comments and jokes about me, my appearance, and my work broke me down. It led me to counseling, antidepressants, a strained marriage and the loss of a job. These bumps in my winding road were painful, but I want to talk about it in the hopes that it will resonate with others. I want to show them that my winding road is relatively smooth now and theirs will be, too.

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One sharp turn in my road was a decision to sue the State of Iowa for wrongful termination, retaliation, and sexual harassment. After my fourth complaint of sexual harassment and my bosses retaliating against me, claiming my previously stellar writing and work were substandard, I was very suddenly fired. My four-year legal battle against the state ended in a win for me and a huge sense of vindication that my work was NOT substandard. I could get a job (albeit not in politics) after my name was publicly dragged through the mud, and I could survive the nasty things people said about me (internet trolls are the worst!).

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I finally realized that I was mentally strong. I could handle a lot, and of just about anything! It was like a light bulb switched on in my mind. It helped me see that no one should go through a work situation like what I experienced. No one should be beaten down to the point of exhaustion at their workplace. No one deserves that. I want to help others realize their worth and help empower them to change their work environments for the better so they do not become beaten-down victims. That’s why I’m on a mission to end workplace harassment in my lifetime.

Advice to all: If you see something, say something. It is OK to say something, in the moment, after the moment, just bring it to light because if you don't draw the line, people will continue to cross that line and think it's OK.

Interested in talking to Kirsten more? Reach out her via politicchick78@gmail.com to experience her newest initiative: "The training is anti-harassment training, but in a more basic form, it's culture change training. What I offer is more than a 30-minute stodgy video. I offer comprehensive, positive change for an organization. I'm targeting organizations looking to invest in their workforce and foster positive change to boost productivity. Too early to tell about legislators at the Capitol - but my efforts are non-partisan. This is a non-partisan issue!"

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Watch our Wednesdays with Whitney chat with Kirsten Anderson below!

Retzlaff Wedding

A couple of weeks ago, I had the absolute pleasure of photographing the wedding of John Retzlaff and Mackenzie Hawk at the Rollins Mansion in Des Moines.

Click to watch their epic wedding slideshow

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The weather forecast was grim but the spirits were high. Everyone was constantly checking WHO’s weather map all morning to see when the rain would start. Despite our nervousness, there was one immutable fact that hung in the air with the Iowa humidity: Today was going to be a magical day.

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My first interaction with Mackenzie was a phone call during which we discussed her wedding details, including a rain backup plan. She said confidently that the ceremony was going to be outside, no matter what. “We’re getting married, and we’re willing to get wet doing it.” That’s when I understood this bride’s wonderful attitude, and that nothing could seriously go wrong with this wedding.

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And as fairy tales go, not a raindrop fell from the sky until all the festivities were over. This day was truly magical because of the people who gathered and the pure, joyful, overflowing emotion. Oh, and the dancing.

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John and Mackenzie are two of the kindest most loyal dedicated people I have ever met. It has been my pleasure to become good friends with them and capture the most magical day of their lives. Thank you for choosing me to photograph your wedding, and for the dance party I’ll never forget!
 

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Vendors:
Hair - Alexis Hawk and Kelly Fitch
Makeup - Alexis Hawk and Kelly Fitch
Wedding Dress – Modern Dress in Boone
Groomswear - The Good Fancy
Florist – Originals by Beck
DJ - Tony Bonekamp (ceremony), The Flashdance (reception)
Catering - Delmonico Catering
Chocolate Bar - Beaverdale Confections
Wedding Coordinator - Defining the Details
Venue - Rollins Mansion

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To the Mothers of Ivory House

The women of Ivory House are intelligent, driven, savvy, and ambitious. But we wouldn’t be who we are today without the love and support of our moms. To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, we want to share our personal stories of what makes our moms so amazing.

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From Rachel...

There is one woman who leads my tribe. I may not always recognize her for it. I know I do not thank her enough. I take her unconditional love and grace for granted. I am selfish in how much I lean on her. This beautiful, powerful woman is my mom.

She is my doppelgänger (I'm finally admitting it). I credit my smile, my long legs, and my laugh to her. But more importantly, I also credit her with my independence, wanderlust, and work ethic. My mom has seen me run away from her more times than I can count. She let me get on a plane to Australia at the age of 18 with no notice of when I would see her again. She has moved me from the mountains to the Midwest and back again. She gave me wings to fly, and also a soft place to land.

My sister and I would not be the women we are today without a strong female figure in our lives. I feel honored to have her as a mother, and I now cherish every second I spend with her. She has raised two strong daughters. She is the kindest grandmother to my nephew. She is lovingly devoted to my dad. She works constantly and tirelessly for the sake of others. She is the epitome of selfless.

Thank you, Mom, for raising me to be a strong woman, a fierce business owner, an outspoken advocate. Thank you for always welcoming me with open arms, no matter how rocky our relationship has been. Thank you for being the strong leader of my tribe.

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From Lucy...

I consider myself lucky to identify with the cliché that my mom is my best friend. But when I think about it, that phrase is kind of missing the point.

My mom has always been a consistent presence in my life. An advocate, a nurse, a therapist, a living Google Maps, a back-tickler, a comfort blanket, a load-bearing wall. And occasionally, when I needed it, she was also a driver, maid, loan officer, and Kleenex-retriever. We even had a special code word for when I was invited to a party or a sleepover that I didn’t really want to go to, and she’d pretend I was grounded and that I wasn’t allowed to go. No one else appreciates a thunderstorm, or a hotel bar, or the sound of a train in the distance quite like my mom does.

They say friends are the family that you choose, and those friends are always there for you through boyfriends and breakups and college parties and late-night pizza parties. And it’s a very special thing to be able to put your mother in that same category. Truthfully, though, moms are so much more than that. I love my friends dearly, but my mom belongs in a category of her own. Cheers to you, Mom. Thank you for being so much more than a best friend.

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From Megan...

When we were younger, my sister Natalie and I took dances classes together. When we would get home, our mom would turn on music and continue the dance party with us. This is one of my favorite memories of my amazing mother.

She consistently shows up for me as a cheerleader and confidant. Who better to talk to about your love life or best friends than your mom? She is always there for everything. For every request, every favor, every ride to school. Every time, no questions asked. Thanks for making me beautiful, not only with your great genes, but also because you always like to take care of me, making the time to style my hair or wax my eyebrows. In so many ways, I am who I am because of you.

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From Whitney...

Someone was recently surprised to hear that I'm a cryer. It's true, ladies and gentlemen: I cry quite frequently. It’s rarely over the small things, but sometimes life hands you a big ol’ pile of big things to get upset about. Being a single woman who also owns a small business can frequently be daunting. All of the freedom is mine, but so are all the decisions and all the risk.

No one knows this journey of heartache and triumphs more than my mom. She is the person I call at 6am when I wake up after a night of anxious dreams. She's the person I cheer with when my success is so visible even I can see it. She is my source of strength, my foundation, my muse, my inspiration, and my saving grace. Because of her, I am not in this alone. Because of her, I have the confidence to take huge risks, knowing that I will eventually succeed but with the security that if I falter or fall, she is there ready to lift me back up.

Happy Mother's Day to the strongest woman I know. Because of you, I am resilient, I am a warrior, and things will work out for me.

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Finding Stories in Woodland Cemetery: A Walk with Buz Brenton

Woodland Cemetery Des Moines

Today I took a tour of one of the most historic places in Des Moines: Woodland Cemetery. I was joined by my mentor and friend, Junius (Buz) Brenton. Currently 83 years old and thriving, Buz is responsible for initiating some pretty amazing projects around our city, such as the revitalization of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden and the Brenton Arboretum. He is passionate about history and passing along knowledge to the next generation.

One of his current passion projects is restoring the headstones in Woodland Cemetary to their proper upright position. This cemetery was established in 1848, before Des Moines was even the state capitol. This makes it the oldest cemetery in the city, and as a result, parts have fallen into disrepair. Many of the deceased no longer have relatives routinely checking on their gravestones. The ground has also shifted over time, causing some of these stones to lean and occasionally tip over. Buz commented that after five generations, there is usually no family left who are connected to the namesake. 

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Buz believes in the legacy of Des Moines in both big and small ways. He is also interested in dendrology (the study of trees). In fact, he loves trees more than anyone else I've ever met! While touring around Woodland Cemetery, Buz pointed out his favorite tree to me. He described this particular tree as "flamboyant but modest." Its sturdy trunk rises and splits evenly into beautiful, even branches that reach upwards as if honoring the people buried beneath its canopy. We stood marveling at its complexity and symmetry, the beauty of its branches dividing into themselves in some effortless, majestic pattern that only nature can accomplish. As Buz dove into the topic of trees, he anthropomorphized them, talking about their longevity, their lack of frivolity, their ability to weather the storm. "Trees embody so many qualities that men should, but so rarely do." 

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As we walked underneath the tree, it struck me how true these words were. Underneath the ground, the roots of this tree and others nearby had been growing together for decades, sharing nutrients in the warmer months and standing solidly through the colder ones. It's something similar to a community: On the surface, we are all individuals living our own lives. But underneath, and where it really matters, we hold each other up. We share resources and depend on one another. We shape the landscape. 

As Buz and I strolled around the cemetery, he explained that most of the trees in this cemetery were planted at the same time, which you can see by their similar size and shape. He also pointed out the oldest stone building in Des Moines: the cemetery's Receiving Vault, where the city stored the remains of those who passed away during the winter when the ground was too frozen to bury them. He pointed out the gravestones of prominent Des Moines leaders of the past. Familiar names like Savery, Hubbell, Frankel, Crocker, and Sherman are scattered across the 69-acre plot. The people who built Des Moines, who started this journey and laid down the foundation for what has become such a vibrant city, are lying so close to us, and I feel like I know so little about them.

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I am guilty, as many of us are, of being obsessed with the grind, the trends, the latest events and social gatherings. Of being "in the know," of knowing the people in the know. But how much do we actually know? Where would we be today if these brave men and women had only forged their own paths without regard to where their city would be in 100 years? And is that any less important than understanding where we were 100 years ago?

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This trip to Woodland Cemetery with my dear friend Buz opened my eyes and my heart to the rich history that's often lying right under our feet. It's a privilege to live in a city with so much to learn, and it's our responsibility to take an interest and pass on that history, these feelings, and this knowledge to future generations. 

Dress for Success: The Gift of Confidence

I am so lucky. 

This is what I kept repeating to myself all day on Sunday, March 4th, 2018. 

I am so lucky to have this team of talented, generous people showing up to donate their time and talents to Dress for Success clients. I am so lucky to have a job and the flexibility to give my time and passions. I am SO LUCKY that I've never experienced true hardship. My privilege. 

Recognizing that, I jump at any chance of passing that luck and privilege on to others who might benefit from it. This event was one small way of providing confidence and support to women in our community who may not have always been so lucky. They say that when you can give a piece of yourself to someone else, it comes back to you tenfold. Never have I found this to be more true than with these portraits. I feel the love from that day every time I look at them, and I hope the feeling continues for a long time to come.


A note from Lucy, Ivory House Photography's Studio Manager: 

The day began the way I expected: rushing to set out snacks and bottles of water, unlocking the doors, answering last-minute emails about the event. What’s the parking situation? Which street is the door on again? The stylists arrived with their ring lights and curling irons. Is there another outlet in this corner? No problem, I’ll set up in the kitchen. Jody White, Executive Director and Co-founder of Dress for Success, was all smiles as she introduced herself to everyone, warmly thanking each person for donating their Sunday to a great cause.

 The Glam Teams, clockwise from top left: Ashley Maree Harvey (hair), Violeta, Natalie Gendle (makeup, ACADEMIC Lash & Beauty); Ivy Boyd (makeup, Ivy Boyd Makeup Artist + Beauty Blogger), Africa, Stacy Syroka (hair, Elevencherry); Desi Thompson (hair, Desi at Dolce), Jenny, Natalie Gendle (makeup, ACADEMIC Lash & Beauty); Kelsey Ziemann (makeup, Kelsi Ziemann Artistry), Jasmin, Kearra Chester (hair)

The Glam Teams, clockwise from top left: Ashley Maree Harvey (hair), Violeta, Natalie Gendle (makeup, ACADEMIC Lash & Beauty); Ivy Boyd (makeup, Ivy Boyd Makeup Artist + Beauty Blogger), Africa, Stacy Syroka (hair, Elevencherry); Desi Thompson (hair, Desi at Dolce), Jenny, Natalie Gendle (makeup, ACADEMIC Lash & Beauty); Kelsey Ziemann (makeup, Kelsi Ziemann Artistry), Jasmin, Kearra Chester (hair)

Whitney’s idea for a campaign to benefit Dress for Success originated before I came to work at Ivory House. Selling discounted headshots to her regular clients seemed like a great way to generate revenue that would allow for her to donate portraits to the clients of Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women to thrive professionally. She first mentioned this undertaking in my job interview back in January. Hearing her talk about the importance of elevating every member of the community made me realize that working at Ivory House was going to be much more than a nine-to-five job. Coming fresh from the corporate world, this was very appealing to me. 

My role on Sunday as Whitney’s studio manager was to manage the flow and make sure everyone was getting what they needed. I was anticipating a fast pace and lots of last-minute problem-solving, but as soon as the women began to arrive, it was clear things were going to go much smoother than I anticipated. The "Glam Teams," compromised of incredibly talented hair and makeup artists, were matched with a Dress for Success client. As anyone who’s been to a salon can attest, once the women were seated in their chairs and the pampering began, their stories began to pour out. 

There was Violeta, a legal assistant at Drake, who told me about the lifelong romance with her husband that started in their hometown in Mexico and brought them all the way to Des Moines.

 Violeta

Violeta

There was Sharon, who works in the crafts department at Walmart and who boasted that she has 13 great-grandkids. She honors the memory of her late husband, her sweetheart and the love of her life, by wearing their wedding rings around her neck. 

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Sharon

After 10 years in school while also raising three kids as a single mom, Jasmin is going to graduate next year with her master’s degree in social work, and is currently working as self-sufficiency counselor.

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Jasmin

Kimberly brought so much attitude and energy to the day. She kept us laughing the whole time, and her confidence shone through in every single photo that we took of her.

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Kimberly

Angela, who I told that I would definitely ask for her ID at a bar, told me she’d been married for 14 years and has nine children. (Angela also told me an incredible story about her dog Capone, who’ll be receiving a medal of bravery next month.)

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Angela

Africa opened up about her history of domestic violence and the strength it took to take her children and leave her husband to start over in a country where she barely spoke the language. 

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Our interactions were brief, but the energy in the “glam room” was that of support and love. 

In the studio, Whitney was working her magic with each woman, making them feel confident and beautiful. Your hair is flawless! Oh my gosh you have the most perfect jawline. Yes, those eyes! You’re killin’ it! It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for her when it comes to shooting any client who walks through the door, but today was different. These women have overcome obstacles and carried weight on their shoulders that we don’t know about, that maybe is only seen in their hesitance to meet the camera’s eye. Whitney took the time to make them feel beautiful, radiant, and cared for, and the proof is in their stunning images. The person who entered the studio was not the same person who emerged. 

The day came to a close with smiles and hugs of gratitude, exchanged phone numbers, and more than a few happy tears (my own included). Giving the gift of confidence to these women who have overcome so much in their lives, and providing them with a gorgeous portrait that they can share and keep forever, means just as much to us as it does to them. It's unbelievably rewarding when we're lucky enough to have the opportunity to share our skills and talents with others in the community. I'm so grateful to be with a company that values lifting each other up whenever we're able. As our stylist Kearra said, it's why we're on this planet.


We couldn't have done this without the support of our amazing collaborators:

Jody White and Nicole Roe Sickels of Dress for Success Des Moines

The Glam Squad:
Kelsi Ziemann with Kelsi Ziemann Artistry
Ivy Boyd with Ivy Boyd Makeup Artist + Beauty Blogger
Natalie Sanger Gendle with Academic lash & beauty
Stacy Syroka independent stylist at Elevencherry
Ashley Maree Harvey independent hair stylist
Kearra Chester independent hair stylist
Desi Joelle with Desi at Dolce

And our kind and patience videographers (video to come): 
Caleb and Joe Stevens

And lastly, a huge thanks to the Ivory House team: Megan, Rachel, and Lucy.