I was enormously flattered when I was recently approached by magazine editor Melanie Brooks for an article on Freelance Switch about Pink Initiative, the non-profit I started in 2008. The piece ran online today and I am republishing here for you to learn a bit more about why I feel it's so important to give back. Thanks so much for the honor, Melanie!
Welcome to Part III of our series on civic mindedness. Previously we’ve heard from the head of the Northwest Freelancers Association in Washington State and a freelance public relations manager in Ohio. Today we talk with a top-notch professional wedding photographer with a big heart.
A former photographer and photo editor for USA Today and The Washington Post, Emilie Sommer moved to Portland, Maine in 2003 to open her own wedding photography business called emilie inc. Her business has grown to include two additional photographers, videographer, graphic design artist, and photo booth.
In the ultra competitive world of wedding photography, Emilie Sommer stands out from her peers, not only because of her talent and business acumen, but because of a side project—Pink Initiative. Sommer started this nonprofit to bring wedding industry professionals and private donors together to fund awareness, outreach, education, and research for breast cancer.
You lost someone to breast cancer when you were 12. You’re in your 30s now. How do you sustain your passion? Especially when you are so busy with emilie inc?
I was very young when my mom’s best friend lost her battle to breast cancer. It was one of those pivotal moments in life—a memory I can recall as clear as day—that truly affected me as I grew up.
As that particular type of cancer became more wide-spread and talked about from my childhood into adulthood, and fundraisers such as walks and donating healthy hair for wigs, donating to breast cancer research was a no-brainer. When I started my business in 2003, giving back to the community in some philanthropic way was always a part of my business plan. I was raised to always give to charity as much and as often as I could. I wouldn’t say sustaining my passion for helping to fund a cure for breast cancer is ever an issue, it’s just a part of who I am. I have great hope we’ll see a cure in our lifetime.
How do breast cancer awareness and wedding professionals go together?
It’s far too common a disease to not try and bring awareness to an industry whose core is love and family. The statistics are staggering—one in seven women will be diagnosed in her lifetime.
I have photographed more than 300 weddings—the odds among my brides alone are depressing. I’ve photographed far too many weddings where either the bride or groom’s mother passed away from breast cancer and a special candle is lit in her honor, a chair left empty, a poem read aloud. It tears at my heart every time and just doesn’t seem right. As a new mother myself, I get ill thinking what if I weren’t, God forbid, alive to attend such a milestone in my own son’s life.
How has Pink Initiative affected your photography business?
I have always donated part of my income to breast cancer research, so that part hasn’t changed. There was never any other motivation other than an urgent need to want to do more. I adore the sense of community our non-profit has created around this particular issue and am bowled over by the love, generosity, and dedication our membership shares. When I shop, I am inclined to do so if I know part of what I am purchasing will support the greater good. Emilie inc. tends to attract clients who feel the same and are proud of what we do for breast cancer fundraising.
How long have you been working on Pink Initiative? What is your overall goal?
We have been in existence since October 2008. We simply want to bring breast cancer awareness to the wedding world and empower our membership to host grassroots events within their own community to spread our message even further. Members have organized golf tournaments, portrait marathons, networking cocktail parties, and more.
Each year we choose a different recipient to receive the funds we have raised during that calendar year. Last year we hosted a mobile mammography van day through the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Free mammograms were given to 35 women who otherwise couldn’t have afforded the test. Five scans showed abnormal results. FIVE. We potentially saved five lives that day. To me, though simple in scope, that was an enormously successful day.
Why should other people (freelancers, creatives) find a mission or organization to volunteer for?
Creatives are typically very passionate people, so finding an outlet to volunteer is a natural extension of their work, it is not forced. Giving and sharing of yourself beyond your occupation title provides a nice balance in an otherwise work-work-work centric lifestyle.