Rock Me On The Water Amanda's Flowers

 Photo Credits

Diane Granito surrounded by the Somerville girls. Photo by Jennifer Esperanza.



Portraits of Joaquin, Shamonica, Ray and Moses, Tania. Photos by Amy Parish.

Tia, and Breanna and Dinasha. Photos by Jennifer Spelman

Tia. Photo by Will Davidson.

Breanna and Dinasha. Photo by Alan Myers.

Cassidy. By Jackie Mathey.



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Feature 2

Diane Granito

The Heart Gallery: Hope, Faith, Charity, and Maybe Even a Good Use of Tax Dollars

 By Gershon Siegel

Diane Granito is not among those calling for a “bathtub drowning” of government. That’s probably because she’s one of those government bureaucrats deciding how our tax dollars are spent. And since she works inside New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), the public money she allocates is used to help foster care kids find permanent adoptive homes.

As the just-hired foster and adoptive recruiter for CYFD back in 2001, Granito was handed the mission to find both temporary and “forever" families for deserving children needing “placement.” A worthwhile mission, most might agree. Of course “worthwhile” is relative — there being the more libertarian-minded people who argue that government must never use public money for “social engineering.”

Heart Gallery . . .  has led to the kind of success that may give pause to even those most doubtful of the government’s ability to render righteous service to its citizens.

Be that as it may, Granito’s idea of very publically displaying professional-quality photos of young people desiring adoption is now cited as “a best practice” by the US Children’s Bureau. Hatched in the bowels of government bureaucracy, Heart Gallery, as Granito dubbed her project, has led to the kind of success that may give pause to even those most doubtful of the government’s ability to render righteous service to its citizens. Since its inception ten years ago, Heart Gallery and its mission of placing kids with permanent adoptive parents have been duplicated many times over across the country. There are now more than 125 Heart Gallery chapters in 47states, and their individual and combined successes inspire hope in the heart of any self-identified altruist.
Since Granito’s creation of that first Heart Gallery in Santa Fe a decade ago, she estimates the ongoing New Mexico program alone has placed hundreds of young people in permanent adoptive homes within the state. Matthew Straeb, who along with Granito co-founded the national Heart Gallery of America (, estimates that 5,000 children have been placed directly as a result of the organization’s efforts. Now, with the recent successful pilot Heart Gallery in Canada, the project is beginning to go global. So impressed was our northern neighbor’s sponsorship of a Heart Gallery there, it is now considering taking the program nationwide.
Six years ago, Granito was promoted within CYFD from adoptive recruiter to the statewide adoption-events coordinator. These days, most of her time is spent organizing four big events a year that bring kids waiting for adoption together with approved families in a fun, low-stress environment. Still, she estimates a third of her time at CYFD goes to managing the original New Mexico chapter of Heart Gallery she founded. Though amazed at its national growth, she is not all that surprised: “When I started crying when I walked into our first show at the gallery to check on the photos, I knew it was a powerful tool for these children.”
Asked how she felt about the upcoming June 3 celebration of Heart Gallery’s tenth anniversary, Granito replied, “I feel that it has done a lot to help bring our nation’s foster children out of the shadows, but I also know that there is a long way to go. I feel blessed to have met so many wonderful child advocates through Heart Gallery. Whether they work for state agencies or non-profits or are acting as individuals, they are our best hope for the children.”

Birthing Heart Gallery

The idea of creating quality portraits of kids waiting for adoption was first proposed to CYFD by photographer Cathy Maier Callanan. She had contacted the department in 2000 when she’d noticed the less-than-flattering “mug shots” published in CYFD’s official publication, “Futures.” At that point the pictures were being taking by overloaded case-workers in less-than-ideal conditions. Callanan’s suggestion was ignored until Granito was hired a year later at CYFD. It was during her job interview that the woman conducting it asked Granito if she thought it possible to improve the quality of the “Futures” photos.
Granito ran with the idea, immediately calling up Santa Fe photographers about volunteering their services to take the kind of pictures that might capture the beauty of each individual. “I contacted every photographer I’d ever heard of,” said Granito. So successful was she at recruiting willing photographers that her office began filling up with emotion-packed portraitures of children wanting to be adopted.
Neither did Granito waste time finding a venue to display these moving portraits. “Photographs this beautiful deserve an equally beautiful home,” Granito thought. Before the first day of her new job was over, she had approached Lisa Bronowicz, then the special-events director at Gerald Peters Gallery, to help mount a special showing of the photographs.Bronowicz’s immediate response was a big “yes.” “You have the kids, we have the gallery,” she said. Thus was born Heart Gallery.
At that March 2001 opening inside the Gerald Peters Gallery (which continues to host the yearly show), the response was immediate. Three sisters featured in the exhibit found a family in less than an hour. All told, about a dozen kids were adopted soon after their portraits made an appearance at that one showing. Following this unprecedented placement rate, news of Heart Gallery success began to spread.
Then, four years later, after a story on Heart Gallery by Santa Fe writer Rosemary Zibart appeared in PARADE magazine, Granito’s computer was flooded with hundreds of e-mails from across the country inquiring about how to start local Heart Gallery chapters. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, after a Heart Gallery exhibit in some locations, the placement rate more than doubles the nationwide rate of adoption from foster care. Says Granito of the phenomenon, “It is almost as if the country was waiting to be told these children are here, because nobody really talked about them before.”

Only Scratching the Surface

Even though growing up in a stable family is supposed to provide children with stability, comfort, attention, and affection, most of us take our families for granted. But what if we had to grow up without that kind of stability, without that kind of established bond that makes us feel special? There are more that 50 million children worldwide -- 150 thousand in the U.S. alone -- growing up without that kind of security. Of this huge number, most are eight years old or older, and many are of minority backgrounds or in sibling groups. These are traditionally the most difficult kids to place.
As it was in the first Heart Gallery a decade ago, this harder-to-place group is still largely the focus of Heart Gallery. Says Granito of such kids, “When you're hoping for adoption for a long time and it doesn't happen, your heart gets a little more broken each time. These children are my heroes. It's scary for them to think they might be rejected [by prospective families] and won't ever have somebody to turn to with good news or a problem. Yet they put themselves out there and take a chance."
In a commoditized world, there is some concern that the Heart Gallery model is using marketing techniques to place children in adoptive homes. To those detractors Granito has said, "That's an understandable concern. But my take on Heart Gallery is that it is not marketing children, it is marketing the idea of adopting from foster care."
Marketing or not, nationwide, 19,000 young people annually “age out” of the system — meaning they turn 18 and are never adopted. With so many kids starting their young adult lives without ever knowing a sense of permanent family, Granito has created programs for these teens as well. It used to be that when children “aged out,” they were sent on their way with a suitcase, some cash, and a “good luck.” In recent years, Granito has started putting some of her funding toward teaching this population life tools such as cooking and computer skills.
Another program for which Granito obtained funding is called “Our Terrific Teens.” In a workshop setting, teens waiting for adoption learn skills such as photography, special-effects makeup, drumming, guitar, and so on. Families interested and already approved for adoption attend and participate in the workshops along with the teens, who even get to keep the equipment.
Granito credits the success of Heart Gallery for helping create these other projects. “Without Heart Gallery these other programs would not have been possible. It drew support, first from Gerald Peters, who started the Heart Gallery of NM Foundation, and then from the legislature. The funding was enough for me to expand the adoption events, add the teen ones, etc. Plus, each CYFD recruiter in other regions now has a Heart Gallery exhibit that they update regularly. In addition, there are now two permanent Heart Galleries, one at St. Vincent's here in Santa Fe and the other at UNM Children’s Hospital in Albuquerque.”
And to those who believe government can do no good, Granito responds, “I think government can do as much good as the people who run it will allow and encourage. New Mexico is fortunate to have many people, including public servants and officials, who care about and want to support our most vulnerable citizens. CYFD has supported Heart Gallery from the beginning, even before the national attention.
"Our past and current governors have been supporters of Heart Gallery. The former first lady was on the board of the Heart Gallery of NM Foundation, and she and the governor [Richardson] spoke at Heart Gallery gatherings. Our current governor [Martinez] is working with us to host an exhibit of portraits in the governor’s reception area in order to highlight Heart Gallery and raise awareness about the need for foster and adoptive parents. We have strong support in the legislature, too. Among others, Senator George Munoz is on the board of the Heart Gallery of NM Foundation, and Senator Carlos Cisneros has sponsored bills supporting Heart Gallery.
"Even in those states where Heart Galleries are privately run, it is still vital that the state agencies who have custody of the children work together with the Heart Gallery group,” summed up Granito.
If just any old picture is worth a thousand words, what might an excellent picture be worth? The soulful portraits glimpsed inside a Heart Gallery go beyond mere words. These images of young people who have allowed their intimate selves to be lovingly captured by a caring photographer invite that same intimate self to come forward in the viewer. In the magic of a Heart Gallery connection, lives are transformed in the making of forever families. And if that took a bit of bureaucratic “social engineering,” so be it.

The tenth annual Heart Gallery will be held June 3 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Gerald Peters Gallery. The public is invited.



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