An Anne Arundel County photographer is donating more than her time to children with special needs. In fact, she's hoping to get more photographers across the country to get on board with Lenses For Love.
Johanna Stroupe was told by doctors that she would be wheelchair bound and live just five years past the life-saving bone marrow transplant she got last year. Wednesday marked a year since her diagnosis of a rare disease.
Local photographer, Stephanie Smith, is using her camera to capture her life, not her disease.
She is in first grade at St.Leonard Elementary, she loves unicorns and all that girlie stuff," Kristina Stroupe, Johanna's mother, said.
She's just like every other little girl, but Jo Jo has a rare neurodegenerative disease, Metachromatic Leukodystrophy.
"She was the perfect baby, the perfect child,"Stroupe said.
At some point, Jo Jo's family realized something was not right. Her parents are carriers of the disease which causes difficulty walking, talking and other developmental issues.
"We went to Kennedy Krieger at John's Hopkins who did an MRI and that's who gave us the results," Stroupe said.
But the road was hard; it took nine months for Jo Jo's diagnosis.
"We were told that she would never walk after transplant, that she would never talk and she's proven them all wrong," Stroupe said.
To capture the day, photographer Smith opened her home and her heart.
"I want people to look at these kids as kids first and not see their condition or their disease of their special needs," Smith said.
She provides those children and their family with free photography.
"I'm giving these families something that they can hold on to forever," Smith said.
Stroupe found Stephanie's viral posts and reached out.
"I just wanted to tell her that what she was doing was really awesome so I messaged her and I told her a little about Johanna's story and she reached right back out to me and said I would love to photo shoot her," Stroupe said.
"It's everything.This changed my life and how my perspective is of everything any trial or tribulation I come across now is mediocre compared to what these kids go through," said Smith.
Stroupe said the hardest part is that there are no guarantees. She doesn't know how Jo Jo will be next year, next week or even tomorrow.
But today, everything was picture perfect.
"She's the true epitome of strength," Stroupe said of her daughter. "She's been through so much and I just wish I could be as strong as her."
Smith says she's working on a web platform to connect photographers across the country with special needs children and their families.