The Rocha family displays their family portrait.


Nicolas Rocha didn’t want to smile. People were trying to his attention with funny faces and gestures, but for awhile Nicolas wasn’t going for it. He looked left and right, at the ceiling or at his mom and dad — anywhere except the camera.

Bored temperamental artist having a bad day? No, not Nicolas. He’s just a baby.

“It was hard to get him to smile. There were a few people trying,” said his mom, Diana Luna. “But finally they got him to smile. He just loves the attention.”

Yes, the four-month-old loves the attention, but he seemed determined to make the photographers earn that grin. Finally, after several tries and takes, they managed to get several shots with everyone looking happy. A nice 8×10 photo was printed and given to the family.

“This means we have a memory of his first Christmas,” said Luna, 23, who was posing with her Nicolas and her husband, Alejandro Rocha, 22.

“We’re going to try to put (the photos) on our wall,” Rocha said.. “We’re going to print extras and give them to the rest of the family.”

The Rochas were one of 100 families who got a photo taken during the sixth annual Help-Portrait San Fernando. The event brings selected families from the City of San Fernando and nearby communities for a day of free food, pampering, gifts and modeling, as they pose for a family portrait that is given to them as a keepsake.

The event is organized by Alas Media, and receives funding support from the City of San Fernando, and communities organizations like the Kiwanis Club.

Founded by celebrity photographer, Jeremy Cowart, Help-Portrait is an annual event where photographers from around the world give back to their local community across the United States by providing holiday portraits to families who would otherwise not be able to afford them.

The Effort

On Dec. 6, Las Palmas Park was turned into a Christmas Portrait Wonderland, with several photo booths, a hair and makeup room, another room with food and snacks, and yet one more room where kids could stay busy while they waited for their turn before the cameras.

“This is a very special day. A lot of these families have never taken a family portrait and don’t have money to get one, said Elizabeth Ruvalcaba of Alas Media. “We get a lot of people who say they’re going to send copies to their families in Mexico. They say ‘my mom and dad have never seen my children.’”

The families are selected from local schools and assistance organizations. Each sponsor writes an essay explaining the family’s situation and why they should have a family portrait.

“As volunteers, we also get very emotional reading these essays,” said Ruvalcaba, adding that many families are apprehensive at first when told they have been selected for the portrait shoot.

“They’re afraid that is going to cost money,” she said.

A Merry Day

The day began early for the families who arrived at their pre-notified times. After registration, they got breakfast and snacks. There was also an opportunity to have hair and make-up done by volunteers before heading inside the gym to pose before several volunteer photographers who, after taking pictures, let them select their favorite photo.

The families received an 8×10 print, along with a poinsettia flower and a goodie bag with gifts. This year they also received a USB drive with all the shots taken, in case they wanted to print extra ones on their own.

“It was fun. They made us laugh and kept taking photos because we closed our eyes,” said Veronica Villanueva, who came with her three children, Adriana, 11, Luis, 10, and Rafael, 6.

“We don’t have a family portrait. The only one missing was my husband. He works in construction and couldn’t make it. I’m going to put it in the living room and I’m going to show it to the children’s teacher (at San Fernando Elementary School) who was the one who chose us.

“I think is wonderful that they do this. They brought us together for a photo that we don’t have. It’s something special,” she said

It was also special for the Armenta family, even though the father and two sons were missing. The father is currently not working currently after injuring his back.

“I liked everything, the whole atmosphere,” said Luz Armenta, who posed with four of her children: Esperanza, 22, Guadalupe, 13, Raul, 11 and Luz Maria.

Maria Varela, 74, also got a chance to pose, but she opted to do it by herself.

“I wanted a recent photo,” said Varela, who is a member of the Senior Club at Las Palmas Park. Several club members were randomly selected at random for a portrait.

“They were really nice, but they took several photos because the flash kept shining on my glasses,” she said.