Tami Schellenberg remembers first reading about Tim Ballard in an LDS Living article as she and her husband drove from Houston to Austin, Texas, for a job interview. That night, she found her mind turning with how she could help rescue children from sex slavery.
“I have children, and I can’t even imagine the thought of my own children being in a circumstance like that,” Schellenberg says. “I think it’s one of the most heinous of crimes, and I just want to do everything I possibly can to keep children from that situation and take them out of it where we can and where we’re able to. I don’t think anyone should have to live in darkness.”
One of the ideas that came to her that night was to offer some kind of photography class. For eight years, Schellenberg worked as a professional photographer and is frequently asked for advice on taking high-quality images. She knew this skill was one thing she could offer in exchange for donations to Operation Underground Railroad and began offering photography workshops. But she still found herself praying about how her effort could be more impactful and far-reaching.
That’s when she had the idea to involve other photographers and create videos that could be downloaded online. She began to scour social media for photographers she felt had an exceptional gift and who could teach principles and skills that would be helpful to viewers. Since she stopped her business before social media became a crucial tool for photographers, she didn’t carry with her a recognizable Instagram handle or a large following to attract other gifted photographers. Instead, she basically cold-called women she didn’t know personally with a plea to help her help the children.
“I think that they felt that desire to help them, too,” Schellenberg says. “That was what was powerful to me, they trusted me enough to be a part of [my project].”
The result of what Schellenberg believes was inspiration is a 2-hour introductory photography course taught by reputable photographers that seeks to help those who want to “capture images of loved ones in beautiful, meaningful ways,” Tracey Layne, one of the photographers Schellenberg contacted, explains. The course is broken up into downloadable segments that give students the opportunity to explore what interests them most—whether it be choosing a camera, shooting in manual mode, learning about lenses or lighting, engaging children in images, or editing. 100 percent of the course’s proceeds go toward benefiting O.U.R.
Layne says she had absolutely no hesitation about participating.
“I’ve got three little kids, and I’ve followed along with the O.U.R. project and it’s obviously super, super important and especially close to a young mom’s heart, I think,” Layne says. “It seemed like a really little thing to do that could make some kind of an impact.”
While the commitment for those who participated may have been small, Layne recognizes the amount of work Schellenberg has put into creating the course and describes her effort as “relentless.”
“I think she told me something to the effect of, ‘I just know this project wasn’t meant to fail,’” Layne recalls. “And I think she’s totally right.”
She recalls watching Schellenberg film her part of a video promoting the project and how Schellenberg kept apologizing and asking to start over because of overwhelming emotions. Layne and the videographers filming told her that it was okay to be emotional because it helped viewers understand how much this means to her.
“I thought it was a really cool testament to see her heart,” Layne says.
For Schellenberg, her hope for the project is explained by its name: The Light and Liberation Project.
“I feel like in photography, we heavily rely on light,” she says. “Light is what radiates in the images. What creates an image is capturing light, and so being that the course is a photography course, I felt like there was also a greater meaning to the “light” in the name. We’re trying to bring light to those that are in darkness, and that’s what the liberation part is about as well.
“We’re trying to liberate the captives, liberate the children that are suffering in all parts of the world, including the United States, from this terrible crime that’s being committed against them. It’s all about bringing light and liberation to those that need it most.”
Those interested in the photographer courses offered by The Light and Liberation Project can use a promo code of “ourlight” until Nov. 14th for a $30 discount off of the original course price of $98.