Communicating Acceptance

By on January 30, 2020
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Sam Maloney is a 19 year old photographer from Greece. He has been taking photographs since he was ten years old.

Sam has autism, he had a rough start to his life. He didn’t speak until he was five years old. His mom, Debra Bellare, with the help of therapists, created a plan for Sam. Debra noticed early on that Sam had a talent for photography. “I realized that Sam could communicate through the camera lens. He has a unique take on his world and he sees it through the lens of his camera,” she said. Through photography, not only did Sam begin to speak freely, but he also learned to read. He used his camera as a learning tool.

Sam said he was in a dark place, “I felt that I had lost hope. I really didn’t have any friends. But my mom brought me back.” Debra said, “Many autistic people lose hope. Our goal is to make sure that people with autism don’t lose hope and that life can be brought back through creativity and fun, and that is how Sam found his hope.”

Debra sought out opportunities for Sam to have social experiences with his photography. Over the past few years Sam has had three solo shows of his photography, at Starry Night Cafe, Lumiere Photo and at City Sense Roc. By showing his photography, Sam learned about organization, independence, responsibility and it gave him the opportunity to talk to and meet a wide variety of people. Most importantly Sam was able to communicate and interact with people, and tell the stories behind his photos.

Sam has also had the opportunity to work with Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services (RRRS). He took pictures of kids for their registry. RRRS service statement is, “Our mission is to make our new neighbors successful and happy here in Rochester as they add flavor to our community with their culture.” Through this experience Sam met many people from all over the world.

Sam also actively works in his Portrait Cares Program. He said, “Portrait Cares is a program that donates photographs to organizations with financial restrictions that are involved in community projects. I started the Portrait Cares Program because I believe in giving opportunities to those who feel that all the doors are closed. I have an understanding about financial hardships. All of my camera equipment has either been given to me or money was raised by fundraisers. I would not be where I am today without my community. Nick Kelsh, a photographer and mentor of mine, taught me to be kind with your camera. I live by that rule.”

In 2012 Sam was the cover story in Parent Magazine. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter saw the story and was moved to meet Sam. She invited him to be the photographer for her 2012 campaign. Sam was 12 years old. He said, “I really connected with her, she was so accepting. She invited me to Washington and set up a tour of the White House for me. I got to go to Michelle Obama’s garden. I really felt comfortable with her and she helped me a lot with making eye contact.”

Sam’s new endeavor is to help change negative perceptions of people like him. He feels too many autistic people grow up believing that they are not smart enough or good enough to work towards being a contributing member of society. He wants to change everyone’s perception to that of acceptance of the autistic community, to accept them as the contributing members of society that they truly are. 

The third week of March 2020 Sam will set out on a memorable trip with his mom. The road trip is called “Autism on US Routes 11 & 20” and is a journey to inspire others to see the best in themselves. For the first leg of the trip which is North to South, Sam will be traveling on historic Route 11 which starts in northern New York State in the Adirondacks, travels south through New York State, throughout the states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and will end in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 2, 2020 which is World Autism Awareness Day. Their trip was mapped out by the Automobile Club and includes many stops along the historic route. 

Sam’s goal is to document his travels through his photography on his Facebook Page and to change Awareness to Acceptance. Along the way Sam and his mom will be meeting families and friends on the autism spectrum, meeting people that he has made friends with on the internet, visiting Landmarks, taking photography tours and meeting other photographers. His hope is to photograph the unique beauty and relate the rich history of one of the oldest interstate highways in our country. Their mission is summed up this way, “Education and sharing stories and photos on social media and blogging. The hope is that people start seeing the positive traits and the courage it takes to overcome obstacles that are placed before people with learning challenges.”

A fundraising effort through cash donations and a can and bottle drive is underway through March 14, 2020. For more information contact Debra or Sam at 585-313-3566 or visit their Facebook page www.facebook.com/donate/596948737513547/ 

Greece Photographer Sam Maloney.

Greece Photographer Sam Maloney. Photo by Karen Fien

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Sam with Louise Slaughter showing Sam on the cover of Parent Magazine.

Sam with Louise Slaughter showing Sam on the cover of Parent Magazine.

Sam in Louise Slaughter's office during his visit to Washington.

Sam in Louise Slaughter’s office during his visit to Washington.

An example of Sam's photography.

An example of Sam’s photography.

An example of Sam's photography.

An example of Sam’s photography.

An example of Sam's photography.

An example of Sam’s photography.

An example of Sam's photography.

An example of Sam’s photography.