A family from Minneapolis that’s passionate about photography is getting to know the state of Iowa this summer. Susan Shogren Smith and her four children operate Picture A Hero, a non-profit program that provides professional-quality portraits to the family of any military member about to deploy. “There was no photo program to take family portraits of soldiers. So, for us, we just thought that’s a great mission trip for our family,” Shogren Smith said.

The family started their work in Iowa around two weeks ago in Mount Pleasant. They’re visiting every corner of the state just ahead of various Iowa Army National Guard deployments. Their tenth stop today is Cedar Rapids.

Sergeant Ernest Nicholas of Cedar Rapids took advantage of the program. He’ll deploy for Afghanistan soon, leaving behind his wife Michelle and their children, Kaylee, 5, and Joel, 11 months. “It’s a little disappointing that I’ll be missing (Joel’s) first birthday and quite possibly his second one,” Nicholas said. “We definitely wanted to make sure we got pictures taken,” Michelle said. “Especially for him to take and for the kids to have back at home.”

Just minutes after the photos were snapped, the Nicholas family walked out with a disc with hundreds of images from their session. Shogren Smith mails portraits to the military families within weeks. “I can’t imagine how hard it would have to be for them,” said Shogren Smith. “What is really sad is when I get the phone calls from the families that say, ‘we didn’t have a family portrait before my son left or my daughter left.'”

Shogren Smith says her programs runs on a tight budget. The family cuts expenses by often staying in armories, Elks Clubs and churches.

(by Chris Earl, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids)