Although Ann Marie Grocholski left the nonprofit world to start her photo studio in 2015, her passion for helping others hasn't ebbed. “I wanted to retain that connection,” Grocholski says. “That’s why I decided to start Images of Strength and Hope; it allows me to connect my love for photography to serving families who have amazing stories to tell.”
Her program serves families who have a child with special needs or a child facing chronic or terminal illness. Grocholski works with families to compile photographs and written histories. After these sometimes lengthy interviews, Grocholski and the family schedule their shoot.
These documentary-like photo shoots can take anywhere from an hour to multiple hourlong sessions. Grocholski documents the child and the family, pulling everything together at the end with a professional photo book for the family. “What I’m trying to capture is how these families have a clear understanding—because of everything they’re going through—of what is most precious in life. It’s the little things,” she says.
“Ann Marie was wonderful to work with,” mom Wendy Beard says. “She takes awesome photos, asks awesome questions and is happy and encouraging.” Grocholski met the Beard family in person in December 2020. After an initial interview, she went to the Beard's Minnetonka home for family photo shoot including the Beard’s daughter Ashley, who has Huntington’s disease (a progressive brain disorder).
But Grocholski's initial introduction to the Beard family goes back even further than that first interview. When Beard stopped receiving help caring for Ashley on the weekends, she turned to Crescent Cove, one of only three youth hospice homes in the United States.
“We provide respite and end-of-life care,” says Katie Lindenfelser, founder and executive director of the hospice. “Families who have a child with a life-threatening condition or shortened life expectancy due to a diagnosis come for a short break, maybe a weekend or a week.”
It’s through youth service nonprofits like Crescent Cove and HopeKids that Grocholski connects with families for the Images of Strength and Hope program. “Crescent Cove told us that every year, [Grocholski] does a free photo shoot and book for one Crescent Cove family to highlight their journey,” Beard explains.
Lindenfelser says the opportunity Grocholski provides is incredibly meaningful for the families she connects with. “Those memories are captured, and they can be shared when people ask about their child and the things that they love and special moments that they remember,” she says. “It’s a really special opportunity that she provides for our families at Crescent Cove.”
Through her Images of Strength and Hope program, Grocholski also works with 180 Degrees’ Brittany’s Place in St. Paul, a shelter for girls who are victims of sex trafficking or exploitation. Grocholski says her mission is to put strength and hope back into these girls’ hands through photography. “The focus of that program is to help these girls see themselves in a new light,” she says. After building trust with the girls, Grocholski photographs them to help them see positive aspects of themselves.
Each girl receives their own photo book at the end of the program. “Teenaged girls will often portray themselves a certain way on social media, and they don’t have to do that,” Grocholski says. “There’s beauty in simply who they are.” Recently, Grocholski started giving the girls their own cameras so they, too, can start documenting the world around them.
AMG Photography; 763.607.1181