Each year Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep honors a variety of volunteers for their contributions to our cause and their embodiment of our four core values: Passionate Contribution, Prioritize People, Unyielding Integrity, and Continuous Growth. Today we’re excited to introduce you to Arizona volunteer Karen Wright, who was selected by the Board of Directors as the 2023 NILMDTS Area Coordinator of the Year.
Nearly 16 years after Arizona photographer Karen Wright began volunteering with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, she still remembers her first session. It was a little baby boy whose parents had made the difficult decision to transition him off life support. The atmosphere in the room felt very gentle, and Karen remembers thinking in that moment, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.” As she puts it, “I just jumped in with both feet and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
As Karen reflected on her time with NILMDTS, that sense of being right where she’s supposed to be echoed throughout many of her stories. In one situation, years after she started volunteering, she walked into a session only to discover it was a mom whose wedding she had previously photographed. When this mom and Karen recognized each other, the mom said, “I’m so glad it’s you.” Karen remembers that session being tough, but also knowing, “I’m here for a reason.” She’s stayed on as a volunteer for that reason, too. “When I get there and photograph a session,” Karen said, “I am so glad I did it. It’s not something everyone can do or wants to do, but it’s providing a service that is needed. It just feels right.” She later remarked, “Although doing a session can be a very emotional experience, it’s also very rewarding when you see what you’re providing for that family. You’re providing an opportunity for them to remember that child, and the love they have for that child.”
With professional backgrounds in both nursing and photography, volunteering with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep has been a nice way for Karen to join her experiences together. Karen’s background has helped her build strong relationships with many of the hospitals and nurses in her city, Tucson. Because they know Karen and her team, these nurses trust and respect the work of NILMDTS. Karen remarked that she sometimes gets comments from nurses, saying, “We could have taken photos ourselves, but the NILMDTS volunteers do so much better. We’re so glad you’re here.”
Baby Atlas Tubach by Karen Wright
Since joining as an Affiliated Photographer in 2008, Karen has expanded her volunteer roles to include becoming a dispatcher, a level 2 Digital Retouch Artist, and an Area Coordinator (AC). It’s her work as an AC that Karen is most proud of. When she first took on the AC role, Karen met with everyone in the team and to help them get better engaged. She recruited more volunteers where there were needs. She met with hospitals and distributed information to them so they could better share NILMDTS services with their patients. Over time, she both helped the group get organized, and in doing so, truly helped them feel like a team. “The team has been so supportive, and so supportive of each other, and that’s what I’m proud of. People step up to help take people under their wing and help train them. It’s a good group.”
The feelings of respect and gratitude that Karen has for her team go both ways. When NILMDTS opened up nominations for our 2023 awards, four different members of Karen’s team nominated her to receive recognition for her role as Area Coordinator. Their comments continually emphasized Karen’s organizational skills, the relationships she’s built with hospitals, the many sessions she photographs and retouches herself, and the care she offers to the volunteers on her team. “Karen Wright exemplifies all that is good about NILMDTS. She keeps our team of affiliated photographers well-informed while fostering an atmosphere of camaraderie,” one volunteer wrote in their nomination form. “Karen is wonderful to work with, sensitive to the family while delivering gorgeous remembrance portraiture, and has outstanding DRA skills,” wrote another. “It is a joy to work with Karen in this difficult field,” summarized a third volunteer.
Karen’s team is grateful for her, and we don’t doubt the families she has served echo that appreciation. And yet, after sixteen years of service, Karen thought about the more than 200 families she served and offered up her own gratitude. “Thank you for allowing me to come in to this really difficult time in your life, when you might not want someone else in your space,” Karen said. “Allowing us to come and photograph that love and present it to them in a way that they can cherish that time - it’s important and I appreciate that you allow us in.”