Training, Advocacy and Making a Difference: Photographing the National Down Syndrome Society’s Buddy Walk on Washington

Another favorite annual event to photograph and attend with the National Down Syndrome Society is the springtime Buddy Walk on Washington. This event is where you see advocacy in its greatest form displayed right in front of your eyes, with big dreams, big requests and big moments.

It’s a two-day event that ends with hundreds of self-advocates with Down syndrome and their loved ones -- friends, siblings, parents, aunts, neighbors -- taking on Capitol Hill with meetings with representatives of their home states Congress and Senate asking for fair and equal opportunities in areas like employment, education, marriage and health. Nothing special -- just exactly what everyone else is able to receive in the United States.

But first, the Buddy Walk on Washington event begins with training. Senators and Congressmen and their staff see so many constituents on a daily basis that you really want to stand out. NDSS wants their advocates to make an impression and help get these important people on our team. So, a company called SoapBox leads trainings the day before the actual meetings to teach those in attendance how to make the most of their 10 or 15 minutes in each office.

It’s amazing how even first-time attendees can seem like old pros by the time they get to their first meeting on the second day.

Like most great NDSS events, there was a dance party, too!

But perhaps my favorite moment was when Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took one of his constituents and her family to the Speaker’s Balcony on Capitol Hill, with its magnificent views of Washington, DC.

Enjoy this peek into a fantastic event!

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Wendy Zook Photography | NDSS Events, NDSS Buddy Walk on Washington 2019, Washington DC, Down Syndrome Advocacy, Down Syndrome advocate, National Down Syndrome Society, Washington DC
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The Docal Family: Celebrate the Special Photo Sessions with Wendy Zook Photography

This year was the first time I offered complimentary photo sessions for families with children with special needs. The blending together of my advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society and special needs with my passion for photography is so important to me. I have a gift that I can give to people I can scream “I get it!” to and that, to me, is really a huge blessing.

My Celebrate the Special photo sessions for families with children with special needs offer a donation to the National Down Syndrome Society but no payment whatsoever to me. The sessions are unique in that we find a location that is safe and most comfortable for your child and family -- whether that’s your backyard or a state park or somewhere in between. We also take our time and use things that will keep everyone happy.

One of my first families to reach out to me about a Celebrate the Special photo session is the Docal family. I first heard from the eldest sister, Maria, who heard about the photo sessions from a nearby cousin. Maria’s first email shared how much her younger brother, Ory, 11, impacted her life.

“My brother has changed my world and my family's world for the better,” she said.

We set up a family photo session for her, her brother, two sisters and her parents at their home with a gorgeous and large backyard this summer. Meeting them all was like feeling like you were already part of the family. There were hugs and questions and just total kindness.

Ory reminded me so much of my son -- and not just because they both have Down syndrome -- because of their smiles and love of family and sports and sweet cuddly personality. Photographing him and his family was such a joy.

Ory’s mom told me before we started that they haven’t been able to do a family photo of all of the siblings together since Ory was born. I cannot tell you what happiness it brought me that I could give her that long-awaited gift of memories and family.

Enjoy these peeks into an incredible family.
For more information on Celebrate the Special photo sessions, go HERE.

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A&K: A Lakefront Childrens’ Birthday Photo Session in Lake Linganore with Wendy Zook Photography

When Mom contacted me about a photo session to hit the pause button on her kids’ rapidly-growing and rapidly-changing childhood fleeting by, she was understandably nervous about a photo session. Photo sessions can be intimidating, especially if your kiddos are energetic and don’t like to slow down. But I welcome this! I love adventuring with young children -- they get to be in charge and we go with the flow and keep them comfortable.

For my photo session with A and K, who are 2 and 4 years old, we met on the beach in our Lake Linganore neighborhood. We first explored down a nearby forested path along the edge of the lake. They ran, twirled, pointed out little animals. We then made our way back to the beach where we let them enjoy time playing in the sand and wading in the shallow water of the lake. It was just pure joy and whimsy.

About halfway through our session, Mom gave me a supreme compliment, saying that she was so comfortable and that I made the experience surprisingly easy for her and the kids. That made my heart so happy to hear. I love that we can make the capturing of memories easy and enjoyable for everyone.

Enjoy this peek into two adorable kiddos adventuring on the beach!

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An Appetite for Advocacy: The C21 Dining Experience in DC with the National Down Syndrome Society

I’ve already shared how much I value my opportunities to advocate with the National Down Syndrome Society but it’s worth repeating. The resources they’ve provided our family and hundreds of others throughout the years in our journey with Down syndrome are so priceless. I love the modern approach they’ve taken with advocacy -- understanding you have to appeal to people in different ways to be heard in a noisy world.

I’ve also shared how much I love their C21 (in honor of the third copy of the 21st chromosome found in people with Down syndrome) dining events. These pop-up restaurants have already taken place in New York, Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans (one of my favs) and now Washington, DC twice.

The most recent DC C21 event was flawless and impactful. The element of surprise may be gone but you cannot take away the impact of seeing individuals with special needs working hard to ask people to open their eyes and change the world. It’s just huge.

It’s not easy to act as host and hostess, waiters, bartenders and chefs on a busy night in a space that isn’t typically a restaurant venue. But I suppose it’s also not easy to fight daily to prove to people what you’re capable in this world.

This event was filled with some of DC’s most elite and powerful people, but my favorite moments are always watching proud parents and siblings watching their loved one. It’s so, so beautiful.

Here are some peeks into the most amazing restaurant staff you’ll ever experience.

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Kevin & Kate: A Maryland Engagement Session for a New York City Couple

Kevin and Kate are a powerful duo of adventure, excitement, spontaneity and love. Over the course of their relationship, they’ve traveled, they’ve gone on hikes and they’ve explored together.

The best part about them? I get to call them cousins. Cousin Kevin and I reconnected a few years ago after spending much of our adulthood apart in different states. He’s now like a brother to me. He travels three-plus hours for Appalachian Trail hikes with me, visits our family a few times a year, is known as the “tree climbing cousin” by my daughter for how he made her smile on a recent visit. He supports Zach and our efforts with the National Down Syndrome Society, too. Seriously, he is like a brother.

I love that Kate makes him happy and I’m so excited for their New Jersey wedding in the Spring. When the two of them visited us earlier in the summer, they asked me to snap a few pics for them to use for Save-the-Dates. I whisked them into a path right beside our house and let them just be them -- goofy, funny, sweet and in love.

I can’t wait to put the camera down and enjoy their wedding day in a few months! Enjoy these peeks and enjoy this love story!

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Collaboration with Maryland & West Virginia Letterer and Sign Maker, LetteredLyn

I met Lorilyn of LetteredLyn through a wedding I photographed at Holly Hills Country Club last year. She created a series of incredibly beautiful signs for the bride and groom throughout their day -- signs welcoming people to the ceremony and signs throughout the reception.

When I reached out to her shortly after the wedding to share photos from the wedding for her to use, we began talking and keeping in touch. We eventually met up for coffee and had a wonderful time talking about business things, wedding days and personal stuff, too. We decided to create a little collaboration together to make use of some quiet winter off-season days. I joined forces with my friend and fellow photographer Virginia of Photography by Virginia and we captured some of Lorilyn’s beautiful creations for her to use on social media and in promotion of her business.

Working with both of these ladies was such a treat. I loved that we were able to steal a line from my favorite creatives organization -- The Rising Tide Society -- and really showcase “community over competition” and how people can come together with no end goal other than believing in one another and supporting each other.

Be sure to check Lorilyn out (and wish her congratulations on her upcoming baby!) and enjoy these peeks into her work.

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A C21 Pop-Up Restaurant Event in New Orleans with the National Down Syndrome Society

I have photographed events with the National Down Syndrome Society now for four years (consistently and frequently for the last two) and although all of them are powerful and impactful in their own ways, the C21 events are hands-down my favorites.

C21 is the name NDSS has given to pop-up restaurants across the country (Washington, DC, New York City, Atlanta, Dallas and more) featuring only workers with an extra 21st chromosome (hence the name). These self-advocates act as hosts and hostesses, servers, bartenders and musical and artistic entertainment. They greet you with a warm smile, clear your dishes with kindness, pour your red wine with care and leave love on your heart -- and a clear message that says “We are employable and we are hard workers.”

In February, I traveled to the Big Easy and photographed a Buddy Walk Organizers training conference and the New Orleans C21 event. Although I was only in the city for about 22 hours total, I immediately felt the warmth and vividness and joy from its residents.

This C21 event was held at New Orleans’ WWII Museum which is just a dream to visit and photograph in -- windows and high ceilings and amazing little details around every corner. It was filled with so many incredible volunteers and guests and had some of the best reactions to the event that I’ve seen so far -- we’re talking beautiful tears of happiness and amazement and so many “Aha!” moments.

I gained a new friendship -- with my friend Shawn, a fellow DS Momma and mom to TRIPLETS, including Coldon, the inspiration for Coldon’s Krewe. I happened to be photographing near her table while her and her husband heard powerful speeches asking for equal opportunities at so many basic human rights and saw firsthand the way the event touched her. It was so beautiful. I can’t wait to see her in September for the NDSS Buddy Walk.

Enjoy this peek into a beautiful night!

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An Extended Family Photo Session as a Gift for Mom and Dad

I’ll be the first one to tell you that I think memories and images are one of the most treasured and important gifts in this world. So, when I have a client reach out to me about gifting images or photo sessions to a parent or grandparent, my heart is so happy.

The session was a gift for a mom and dad, parents of five children and grandparents of two adorable little girls. Capturing all of them plus significant others made for a fun photo session with 11 people exploring a favorite local photo location.

Everyone had great outfits that worked with their individual personalities but complemented each other really well with hues of blues and greens and whites. And, each of them could easily have been a model -- easy and natural in front of the camera and so photogenic, too!

We started with the kiddos first -- two adorable sisters in matching outfits with a love for hamming it up in front of the camera. They made it so easy! We captured a variety of groupings -- the five siblings, the couples, the family of four and then a large photo of the whole group.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity to capture this group and these memories just in time for Mothers Day and Fathers Day this past year. I know the photos were treasured and I’m so happy my clients saw the value of images as gifts.

Enjoy these peeks!

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Bright and Vivid Outdoor Family Photo Session

My hour with the Tilbury family was laughter, love, joy, boldness and a great sense of ease. Their daughter is 4000% toddler, meaning it was one of my favorite type of sessions as we work to overcome stubbornness with persistence and just a smidge of bribery.

I know it always makes parents nervous when their kiddos “act out”, but really, it’s no big deal. Truly. As a momma myself, I’ve been down the road of temper tantrums and attitude and I welcome it in other families because it makes me feel less alone! I just take my time and let the kiddo run the show for a few minutes -- do they want to explore a path or climb a rock? Do they need cuddles (adorable photo opps!) or a walk alone? We just go with the flow and great photos are bound to happen.

I loved the bright colors the family was wearing and the way they contrasted so beautifully against the gorgeous greens of a spring day. Our photo session was at one of my favorite spots in Lake Linganore in Frederick County, Maryland -- it’s a spot with a ton of versatile backdrops in just a little bit of space which is ideal for little ones and avoiding long walks while still creating variety in the final images. We had forests and meadows and lakes, oh my!

In the end, we captured so many fun moments that were totally true to the personality of our littlest one and her doting parents -- you can see laughter and exploration and giddiness and adoration.

I hope you love this peek into this beautiful family!

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Diana & David {A Southern Maryland Summertime Wedding by Wendy Zook Photography}

Elegance.
Joy.
Tenderness.

Diana and David’s summertime wedding at The Barn at Pleasant Acres had all of these things and more. The most gorgeous things -- from a romantic lacy wedding gown to colorful florals and sleek suits and everything in between -- punctuated a day that was filled with big love and little details.

The atmosphere was super laidback and relaxed -- no one seemed stressed or overwhelmed and loved ones just flitted in and out of getting ready rooms with food and messages and love. Speaking of getting ready -- the Bridal Suite at the Barn at Pleasant Acres is dreamy -- it’s huge and bright and filled with little details that make the bride’s early hours on her wedding day even better. And, how amazing was Diana’s hair and makeup? Be sure to follow Kristen C Artistry because she is so talented and such an amazing lady.

The entire day took place at The Barn at Pleasant Acres and the venue provided ample room for portraits around the nearby field, trees, front porch, gorgeous wooden doors and more. The venue staff were beyond helpful. They held open doors, drove golf carts from one spot to another and were able to assist with the most random and most minute requests.

The ceremony brought some of my favorite moments of the day -- David smiling with excitement as Diana approached, many people wiping away tears of happiness and a few moments of giggles and joy.

During the reception, it was all about the dances -- with their parents, with each other, a surprise dance from their best man and singing along to favorite songs. The night ended with bubbles and a limo getaway while dozens of loved ones surrounded David and Diana and cheered them on as they departed.

A wedding day’s success is of course mostly about one couple’s love and the telling of the next chapter of their love story, but it’s also made possible by a team of amazing vendors. Many thanks to this wedding day’s vendors:

Wendy Zook Photography
Photography by Virginia
The Barn at Pleasant Acres
Hardesty Haven Catering
Crow Entertainment
Scarborough Farm Flowers
Kristen C Artistry
Couples Limousines

If you’d like to see more of this awesome couple, be sure to check out their engagement session here, too!

A family’s first photo shoot: Capturing a Frederick County family of three

When the H family first reached out to me, it was actually the dad who emailed first, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as the momma in the family contacting me to schedule a session does. Dad was excited to take part in the Wendy Zook Photography spring sessions I offered in Lake Linganore along with his wife and their 18-month-old daughter, E.

I was so honored and grateful when I learned that the H family had never actually had photos taken of them as a family of three. I couldn’t wait to explore our neighborhood together on a gorgeous Spring day, letting Miss E take the lead as she checked out forested paths, rocky trails and lakefront views. She was so adorable, really bright and just so much fun to capture.

We chased ducks and shared a lot of laughs and were able to capture some really adorable moments for them to enjoy long after these fun and funny toddler moments are over. This stage is one of my favorites -- slightly clumsy, super curious and really cute! -- and it goes by so quickly.

After I shared their final gallery with them, they were so appreciative of the images and these captured memories. Sessions like this one seriously make me feel like the luckiest photographer in the world because I get to do something I love, something that means so much to my clients and something that turns my clients into familiar faces and friends in the neighborhood.

Enjoy this peek into little Miss E and her parents!

Fall family photo sessions in Lake Linganore are taking place soon! You can grab a spot here.

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Vendors I Love: Video Stories by Olivia Hill in Frederick, Maryland

Livvy and I live in the same series of neighborhoods here in Lake Linganore, Maryland, and have become acquaintances, hiking buddies, Book Club members and friends. She also created the gorgeous business promo video for Wendy Zook Photography several months ago.

Recently, Livvy decided to start the plunge into wedding videography. I loved hearing her talk about wanting to be a storyteller and to share moments and emotions of people’s special days. That resonated so much with me.

I can’t wait to capture weddings together with Livvy -- I think she would be an incredibly invaluable asset to any couple.

Enjoy some photos from a headshot session with Livvy in downtown Frederick Maryland and this peek into who she is and who she wants to be for her clients.

Tell us about you and your business!

My name is Olivia Hill, and my business is "Video Stories by Olivia Hill". I'm based out of New Market, MD, and I tell stories through videography!

What is your goal with wedding videography? How do you want to capture the day? 

My goal is to capture the true story of the day. I want my clients to watch their video for years and years to come,  and still feel the excitement, nervousness, anticipation, love, passion- all the feels when they watch it back. I want to get not just video with music, but some candid moments with the couple as well as important guests throughout the day, making a complete story from start to finish. I love the idea of stealing some couples at the reception to hear about their love story and their well wishes for the newlyweds. I want the video to be a treasured keepsake of the wedding day, but also something to send to friends and family that shared their day. 

What will the wedding videography process be like between you and your clients? 

I would ideally meet the couple at their engagement photography session. I'd offer a video during that session for them to see a sample of my work, and create something awesome that they can play during the rehearsal dinner. I love the idea of interviewing the couple separately about their love story and then saving it for surprise until the rehearsal dinner, where they can view it with their guests. After we get to know each other at the engagement session, I'd like to meet to discuss their vision of how they want their wedding video to look- length, sound, important guests, important moments, etc.  I'd make a plan to capture the story of their day just as they see it.


What is your favorite part of a wedding day?

My favorite part is whatever the most emotional part of the day is for the couple- whatever was "THE" moment. Sometimes, it's the "first look"- or, it's the dad's speech.. sometimes, it's the handwritten vows, or the first dance... it's any part of the day that has the guests holding back happy tears;)

What three words would you use to describe you as a person in general and as a videographer?

Accommodating, Creative, Passionate

Why is storytelling so important to you? 

When I watch videos that are technically very good, with great lighting, awesome angles, crystal clear focus-- but have no clear beginning or end, I get bored. I want my couples to have something that is technically awesome, and also evokes the emotion of the day... something that they can easily share with friends and family, and that will be like watching their day play out like their favorite movie.


When you're not behind a camera or in front of a computer screen, what things bring you your biggest joy?

I love hanging out with my family (3 boys, handsome husband and energetic lab). I also love being outside, and spending time at our "off the grid" cabin in West Virginia. 


How can people find you and reach out to you?

videostoriesbyolivia@gmail.com // www.storiesbyolivia.com // fb.me/StoriesbyOlivia

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Diana & David: A Southern Maryland Waterfront Engagement Session in Springtime

Meeting Diana and David was like a breath of fresh air. They are easy to get along with, talk to and enjoy time with -- they are both hardworking, kind, considerate people. Perhaps its their chosen professions which both deal with helping others, but I couldn’t help but immediately feel like we were old friends.

For their springtime engagement session, we decided to meet just a couple of miles from their wedding venue, The Barn at Pleasant Acres, in Calvert County, Maryland. We explored near flowering trees and waterfront boardwalks at Jefferson Patterson Park.

We kept their engagement session easy and comfortable -- strolling, exploring, adventuring and definitely they smooched, hugged, held hands and whispered sweet things to one another.

I loved how cozy each of them appeared throughout the whole session -- Diana is gorgeous inside and out and David has an incredible smile that I loved photographing.

We ended the day with gorgeous golden light and waterfront glistening in the background of every shot. Some of my favorite shots from 2019 came from their session together.

I loved spending the day with them. Stay tuned soon for a peek into their incredible summertime wedding day!

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Jami: A Frederick County Senior Session Featuring Pets

I feel so lucky when clients are friends before clients.

I first met Jami when she volunteered at an adaptive learn-to-bike camp that my son attended last summer. She helped Zachary learn confidence in a joyous childhood activity and she helped him with joy and patience and encouragement. Zach and Jami even earned a spot on the front page of our local newspaper!

We kept in touch through social media over the past year and I had always hoped our paths would cross again. But, I was SO pleasantly surprised when she reached out to me about capturing her senior photos.

Jami had a special request for her senior photo session -- that a small portion of the session include a few photos with her beloved animals, including a treasured family cat that was seriously ill.

I loved capturing Jami’s natural, radiant beauty as she moved comfortably, easily along a favorite Frederick County spot. She has a maturity and a grace about her well beyond her years and a most lovely smile. She’s easy to talk with and so, so smart. We explored waterfront locations and my favorite weeping willow tree on a day that treated us to sunshine and breezes. We captured some of my favorite 2019 senior portraits.

The final images were something I was proud of and something Jami enjoyed but in the end, it was about much more than that. Just a few days after the session, Jami let me know that Reebok (her cat) had passed away and that the images we had captured that week meant so much to her.

Our pets are an extension of our family so often and it was an honor to capture Jami and her beloved pets during this exciting and transformational time.

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An Outdoor Extended Family Photo Session of Generations, Grandkids and Giggles

Some of my favorite photo sessions are the ones that go well beyond the families of four (although those are the ones I do most often!). I really love having even more people of all ages to combine in different groupings and capture in mini reunions that are so special to them and me.

This session took place in my favorite neighborhood location in Lake Linganore -- it’s a spot that offers a great variety of backdrops year-round -- forested paths, meadows, rocks along a small lake.

There were 11 people in three different generations all together. We were able to capture Grandma and Grandpa with their grandkids, the smaller individual families and all of the kiddos together and in solo portraits. Extended family photo sessions take a bit more organization and at the same time a bit more of a go-with-the-flow attitude and flexibility. I always wind up with a few photos that are so exciting and surprising that I can’t wait to share with my clients.

Enjoy this peek at this Lake Linganore extended family photo session. You can request your own extended family photo session here.

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Becky & Mike {Elegant Spring Wedding in Frederick County Maryland}

It was like something out of a postcard -- a pair of newlyweds at the top of a hill with seemingly-endless mountains behind them, leaning against a stunning Rolls Royce while the bride’s veil blows in the breeze and two new wedding bands clink together as he holds her hand.

But this Frederick County wedding was real and beautiful and surrounded by a thousand other picture-perfect moments -- the way Becky’s dad reacted to seeing his daughter in her wedding dress; the sweet moments in a family’s beloved church; the tears of happiness during dances with their parents; laughter from bridesmaids saying cheers with champagne flutes; the snap of a polaroid taken by the groomsmen during the getting ready time.

With backdrops of the historical St. John Evangelical Roman Catholic Church in downtown Frederick and the picturesque Maryland National Golf Club in Middletown and surrounded by adoring family and friends, Becky and Mike celebrated their love story in June.

Becky was absolutely gorgeous in her wedding gown and with flawless makeup by Poetically Brushed Hair and Makeup. Her bridesmaids glowed in different styles of long, pale green dresses. They were such a tight group of friends, sisters and sisters-in-law and filled the air with laughter and excitement.

The mood around Mike and his groomsmen was lighthearted and fun, too. They were there to help Mike out with whatever he needed and were great sports during photo time, too!

There were so many special moments on this day. I loved the way the toasts and speeches included funny memories and poignant anecdotes about how wonderful these two were as kids and now as adults and how well-connected they are and how in love they’ll be forever.

From a photography standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than a hazy summer-like day overlooking mountain ridges with a gorgeous, so-in-love couple, a Rolls Royce and a fantastic second shooter like Photography by Virginia. Grateful to Virginia for being a fantastic wedding photographer partner and friend and for her creative eye.

We had not just one, but two opportunities to photograph Becky and Mike outdoors at Maryland National Golf Club. About halfway during the reception, with the incredible DJ Mele keeping the dance floor packed and fantastic music playing, Becky and Mike gifted us some time with a setting sun and a beautiful field just outside the reception hall. Those photos are some of my favorites of the day -- the pressure and schedule worries of the event long gone, the golden glow all around and pure love and joy captured.

Congratulations, Becky & Mike!