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Positivity on the porch: Auburn teacher photographs families during COVID-19 pandemic
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Positivity on the porch: Auburn teacher photographs families during COVID-19 pandemic

On Tuesday morning, Cherrelle Smith put on makeup and got dressed up for the first time since people started staying in their homes over the COVID-19 outbreak.

Smith, her husband, Jacob, and her children got ready so they could have their picture taken on their home porch by Mindy DeRosa, a teacher at Seward Elementary School in Auburn who does photography as a hobby. DeRosa recently saw an article through social media about a photographer taking pictures of families at a safe distance while people are staying home during the coronavirus pandemic. DeRosa asked on Facebook if anyone would be interested in having her snap pictures of them from a safe distance.

She soon received a flurry of responses and has since done dozens of photo sessions over the last few days to spread some joy during a time of nationwide isolation and anxiety.

"The thought of being able to do something, bring a little happiness to people, is what sparked this," DeRosa said.

Breaking up her sessions into the morning, afternoon and early evening, DeRosa said Thursday morning she has taken pictures of over 30 families, with 27 set for that day.

Some have gotten dressed up and others have donned their pajamas for the shoots. DeRosa knows most of the people she's visiting, so they get to see a familiar face during their quarantine. The experience has also allowed her to see some of her students, who she said she has missed since the Auburn school district and the other districts in the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES district closed after Cayuga County declared a state of emergency. The schools are shuttered through April 13 at the earliest, so students have been learning remotely.

"I just thought it would be so nice to do something to tell the community, 'Hey, we're still here, we're still altogether,'" DeRosa said before pausing and becoming choked up. "Even though it's so hard."

Smith's' family was DeRosa's first session. The teacher visited Smith, Jacob and her children, Marley Foltz, 10, Robert Foltz, 8, and Hagan Smith, 10 months, around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Smith said her family has largely been inside recently, so the session gave them a much-needed break from the home-bound monotony and allowed Smith to do some decorating, as she put a wreath in the background of her porch. She said they bought their house in late September last year so she wanted to "hang a big picture up." Smith said her family was appreciative of DeRosa's efforts.

"I just love her for this, and I think a lot of other people do too," Smith said.

DeRosa stressed she does not want to be paid for this and added she will be accepting donations at some point, but hasn't decided where she wants the money to go.

She talked about what keeps her balancing being a mother of three children and creating lessons for her school children and driving across Auburn for photos.

"The ability to bring happiness to others, everybody needs it right now," she said. "We need something to look forward to, we need something to make us happy."

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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Education and City Reporter

Hello, my name is Kelly Rocheleau, and I cover the education and city beats for The Citizen and auburnpub.com. I've been writing for the paper since December 2016.

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