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Portraits help Miami-Dade foster children find families

Jahanna was adopted when she was 5.

She said she never felt at home with her new family, however. Her adoptive parents gave her up when she was about 12 and she wound up living in a home for girls in 2008. Two years later, she was placed in a foster home, where she now lives with six other foster girls.

At 16, she has two wishes: To attend Florida State University to become a forensic scientist and to find caring parents.

“I never felt like my adoptive parents really wanted me there. I was always running away from home,” Jahanna said. “Things got better when I left that house. I was put in a therapeutic home. It changed me. I’m different now. I care about my grades … But I still need parents to be there for me.”

Jahanna’s Children’s Home Society case worker, Erica Chauta-Padron, said she has noticed her remarkable improvement. She watched her on Monday, as photographer Charles Allan Smith took her portrait on a small bridge in Pinecrest Gardens.

Jahanna was one of 13 foster children photographed by 10 local photographers at the Gardens on Monday. The children’s portraits and stories will be showcased later this month on The Children’s Trust Miami Heart Gallery, an online gallery that organizers hope will lead to adoptions.

“These kids have been rejected so many times that when you point the camera at them you can see they lack confidence. They really just want to be loved,” said Smith, who has photographed musicians like Lenny Kravitz. “I talk to them and make them laugh until they are comfortable, but it takes time.”

Stylists from Beauty Schools of America and Peter of London in Kendall gave makeovers to the 13 children, who ranged from a 21-month old to ages 11 to 16.

“Some of them have been photographed before,” said Emily Cardenas, senior communications manager for The Children’s Trust. “You will see them come in as children and then come back as teenagers.”

The Children’s Trust’s Miami Heart Gallery is one of at least 125 heart galleries nationwide. The concept began about a decade ago in Santa Fe, N.M.. Over the years, the series of portraits in Miami-Dade has been on exhibit at public places like Miami International Airport, The Freedom Tower and Dadeland Mall.

“About 50 percent of the children we photograph find homes,” Cardenas said. “But the older the child is, the more difficult it is to find them a home.”

The Children’s Trust spends about $200,000 to maintain the website and to advertise. The website has 55 photographs, including children from previous years. All told, about 150 children in Miami-Dade County are in need of adoption, Cardenas said.

An adoption takes time, as it requires lengthy investigations of prospective parents, supervised meetings with the prospective child and legal proceedings, said Christina Jean Farnum, a Children’s Home Society dependency case manager supervisor.

Florida reimburses up to $1,000 in adoption costs for the adoptive parents.

Once Jahanna graduates from high school, she will have a tuition waiver for any public vocational school, college or university in the state and is eligible for a “Road to Independence” scholarship, which pays a monthly stipend for living expenses.

Margarita Snyder, 54, and her husband Earl Snyder, 48, showed up to Pinecrest Gardens on Monday in hopes of becoming foster parents. But they were too late. The children had already left.

“My kids are off to college. I think I can give them a good home,” Snyder said. “It would be an honor to be able to make a difference.”