The Uganda Project

I know the name of this project isn’t super creative, but it gets to the point. You might be wondering what in the world I have to do with Uganda. Let me explain. A year ago, teaching post-virtual learning brought new challenges. I naively started the school year thinking This year is going to be different. Things are going to start to feel normal again (just with masks). I couldn’t be more wrong and I know I wasn’t alone. Since this is the first time any of us have gone through something like this, no one could predict what was around the corner. We just had to experience this new reality and take the challenges as they came. I would be lying if I said things felt more close to normal and the students were the same as before Covid. In general, we saw students act more aggressively toward one another, lack basic social and academic behaviors they once had at their developmental level and many lacked compassion for one another. I know I wasn’t alone in these observations. Many teachers across the country mentioned the same observations in the closed Facebook groups I belong to. It was alarming and many teachers felt overwhelmed and unsure of what to do.

In one of the groups a teacher had mentioned the memoir, I Will Always Write Back as a suggestion for a nonfiction text. I read the novel and it became the catalyst for a series of events that changed things for me. As a former social worker, I have always been interested in different cultures and the way people live, think and celebrate life. I got to thinking: My students only know what they experience. Maybe one way they would feel more compassionate toward one another is to help them learn authentically about other ways of life that are different from their own experiences. I researched many websites that had programs for KeyPals and PenPals and put my information out there. I was hoping to connect with another teacher from a different continent. Months went by and I had not heard anything. Finally, the weekend after we had finished reading A Long Walk to Water, which takes place in Africa, I received an email from a teacher, named Joachim, in Uganda. He was interested in connecting and having his students write to my students. From that point on, we regularly emailed and shared information about our cultures and lives. My students were especially excited to write to the students from Victory Primary School in Kayunga, Uganda.

There was a huge learning curve when it came to communicating with Joachim. There is so much we take for granted that is part of our day to day lives. For example, The Victory Primary School does not have a computer or photocopier. Joachim communicates with me through a cell phone that was gifted to him from a former student who now lives in Florida. I learned that I should not “reply” to his emails, but start a new email each time. I also needed to keep my emails short and not include pictures. All of that uses data, which is at a premium when you do not have WIFI wherever you go. Instead, we use the WhatsApp to share things like pictures and school schedules.

As a precaution, I read through the letters sent from his students before giving them to my students. I didn’t know what to expect and I wanted to be sure that I was being careful of the information going back and forth. His students sounded like sweet kids who in many ways, are like our kids, just with much less. One student, reported losing her father last December, leaving her mother with five girls to raise on her own. Other students stated that they enjoyed digging in their free time. I learned that matooke is a favorite food among his students. They also enjoy netball. My students and I got a kick out of looking up recipes for matooke on Pinterest and watching netball on YouTube. We had never heard of the sport before and Joachim couldn’t believe it. It’s kind of a big deal out there!

The experience of connecting with a teacher from Uganda has opened my eyes to so many things and it has fostered a greater appreciation for what I have. Things like electricity, running water, and public education are not common there. Many lack basic school supplies and struggle to afford things like shoes, a school uniform and money for school tuition. And these facts are the reason I am writing this blog. This is the first year since starting my business that I am not doing Santa or holiday minis. I wanted to focus my time on doing something charitable for the holiday season. After all, isn’t that one of the themes in the beloved classic, A Christmas Carol? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I had to tie a literary classic into my post somewhere! This is where you come in. My goal is to help as many of Joachim’s students as possible this holiday season. I cannot do it without the help of our community. If you are interested in helping in some way, please fill out this FORM and I will reach out to you. Thank you for reading my blog and considering helping!

“Children wielding envelopes they received” from my students.
Student letter
“One of our sources of water. This is called a borehole.”
“This is how some children travel to and from school. I am the one on the motorbike.” Note: This is called “piling” and Joachim wrote a book about the dangers of this practice.
“A picture of a Ugandan villager woman wearing a gomesi”

Uganda students receive their second round of letters.

The Longest Day

Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 44 million people worldwide.  It is said for people suffering from Alzheimer’s that everyday is “The Longest Day.”  Alzheimer’s awareness day or The Longest Day is held annually on the summer solstice to honor those living with the disease, along with those who care for them (

When co-owner of Goddard in Elgin, Sheryl Nelson called me to pitch her idea of a photo booth and dance-a-thon for her fundraiser, I was happy to help out.  Before becoming a teacher, I worked in social services and had the opportunity to work directly with individuals suffering from Alzhiemer’s.  I’ve witnessed firsthand the disease’s impact on individuals and their families.  Approximately a year ago, Sheryl lost her mother to Alzheimer’s and this was a great way to honor her late mother’s memory.

My kiddos and I ran to a few stores and grabbed whatever we could that was purple, the color that represents Alzheimer’s.  We also found some things that are symbolic of the illness, Forget Me Nots and butterflies. We were excited and ready to go for the big day!  Unfortunately, torrential rains hit the day of the event, and we were going to have the dance party outside.  We needed a plan B fast! We ended up setting up the party in the front foyer.  It was a tight squeeze, but you know what?  The kids didn’t care!  They had a lot of fun getting their groove on and celebrating!  If you are interested in contributing to Goddard’s fundraiser, click on this link The Longest Day Fundraiser Remember, every little bit helps!














Click! Digital Photography Workshop

Whew! My first digital photography workshop for beginners that was held at Craft Donuts & Coffee in Dundee, IL was a success.  I am so proud of my participants!  I threw a lot of information their way and within 2 hours, everyone was shooting manually.  That’s not easy, but these ladies were great students!  I cannot thank Craft Donuts & Coffee enough for working with me to make sure the participants had the donuts of their choice ready to go.  They do sell out, so we planned ahead!  Not to mention, they were amazing hosts and allowed us to move things around and use their space for the workshop.  If you haven’t been there, you must try them out!

The workshop was 3 hours and went by so fast.  A wonderful L2LP client agreed to bring her triplets so the workshop participants could practice their new skills outside in historic Dundee at the end of the workshop.  This trio is not only adorable (they are among my favorite little clients), well-behaved, but I felt they would give the participants an experience typical of photographing their own littles.  And they did just that!

I’m experimenting with the date of the next workshop.  It will be held on Tuesday, July 10th.  I wanted to see if there would be interest for a time that is during the week.  If you are interested in the workshop and have a group that would like to participate at a different time, please do not hesitate to contact me:  Also, I have had some interest in classes for middle to high school aged kiddos. If you are interested in having your child participate in a workshop that is designed for this age group and your child has a DSLR camera, please let me know!






Two Worlds Colide

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you might remember the episode when George’s two worlds collided and he was not happy about it.  Now that I’m in my 16th year of teaching and 5th year of business as a photographer, I’m starting to see my two worlds collide.  Unlike George, I love this “phenomenon.”  Several months ago, a woman contacted me to photograph her engagement session.  This woman is a former student who I taught when she was in fifth grade.  She was one of my little cherubs from one of the most memorable years in my teaching career.  When I posted a sneak peek of the session, my best friend messaged me and said, “We’re so old!” I replied, “I know!” lol

Vicki was, and still is, a sweet, adorable and incredibly smart young lady.  According to her Lexile score, she was reading at a 12th grade level when I had her as a student!  I have so many great memories from that year.  It was my second year as a teacher and I faced some challenges I knew I was not prepared for.  The school I taught at had a high number English Language Learners from all over the world.  I had no training in this area and I really had no idea how to tackle teaching a student who, for example, literally just came in from Uzbekistan (What!? Where is that?  What language do they speak there?!).  Where was I supposed to start?  Not to mention, I had “neighborhood kids” who were not immigrants too.  I quickly found just by speaking with the parents that there was this “us vs. them” and “my kid’s education better not suffer” mentality.  I even saw it creep into the classroom a little with some of my students comments.  I knew they were just repeating what they heard at home, but I also knew I needed to help change this way of thinking.  We broke down some of these barriers by doing things that celebrated our differences and we learned from one another.  We started by doing little things like coloring and decorating the room with flags of the countries we (or our ancestors) came from.  On birthdays, we celebrated by teaching each other how to sing happy birthday in the many different languages spoken by the students (5 different languages total, not including English).   We took brain breaks every morning during our reading and writing block and did the Cha Cha Slide.  Remember that one Vicki? lol  On the last day of school, we strung a pinata up from a tree outside and sang Cantos para romper la piñata before scrambling to get special Mexican candy off the ground.  By the end of the year, my small class of 22 students became a cohesive group that created and solidified its own unique culture.  I was laid off again that year, found another job teaching 7th grade in Crystal Lake and never got the chance to see these guys move on in 6th grade.  I was able to reconnect with some of these students over the years through Facebook, which is how Vicki and I reconnected.  Never did I think that one day I’d take up photography and end up photographing her engagement session!  I was so nervous before this session; I hadn’t seen Vicki in almost 14 years!  I enjoyed catching up with her and meeting her fiance, and I look forward to seeing these two “kids” tie the knot next year!

P.S.  In fifth grade, Vicki went to Alaska on spring break and brought me back a pretty necklace.  I didn’t wear it for a bit and one day she looked up at me with her sweet little face and asked, “Mrs. Lesko, aren’t you going to wear the necklace I gave you?”  I felt terrible.  For years I’ve been plagued with guilt, so I made sure I wore it to her session.  🙂  Of course, years later, Vicki has no memory of this necklace. lol 😉

A Rising Star

Success is no accident.  It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing.  –Author Unknown

Big dreams do come with big sacrifices, and Jack and his family know all about this.  His dream, to play pro-hockey one day, has not been without sacrifices.  At the age of 16, Jack left his family to play with the Omaha Lancers.  This meant leaving his friends and family in Carpentersville, Illinois to live with a couple he hadn’t met before and attend a private school in Omaha, Nebraska.  Both Jack and his mother said that the family he lives with is wonderful and are “really good people.”  While his move was a lot of change in a short period of time, he adjusted well and enjoys what he is doing!  Recently, he made the US Under 18-Select team again.  This is quite an accomplishment, especially considering more than 200 top players try out for this team.  Jack doesn’t get to come home often or for long, but during a 10-day visit at home this summer, he told me he enjoyed spending time with his family and catching up with old friends.

I asked a few of Jack’s past teachers if they would like to share a few words about him.  Ms. Nancy Garber stated, “When I think of Jack, I think of someone as a 13-year-old who despite being popular, good looking, and athletic, was the most humble, hard working, engaged student a teacher would want. He deserves every bit of success he has in life, and I wish him all the best no matter what.”  Ms. Garber also recalls Jack as being the type of kid who, “. . . always wanted to know how to improve. . . took feedback very well and tried to implement it the next time. A good quality in sports. . . and in life.”  Mrs. Gina Hurley says she couldn’t agree more!  When reflecting on Jack, Mrs. Hurley stated, “Jack is the type of person you meet and instantly earns your respect. He is hardworking in every last thing that he does. He is the kind of person that is so talented, and you will never hear him brag or utter a word to prove it. He will always have a special place with me and I root for him every day.”  We all agree that Jack comes from a great family with great parents, attributing to a solid foundation in which he’s grown.

I know that many of us are rooting for you, Jack as you work hard toward your dream.  Keep at it, and I know you’ll get there!  Please don’t forget to come back and visit us little guys when you are a big star! 😉

WelcomeThe best thing about a
picture is
that it never changes,
even when the people
in it do.

Andy Warhol

Once in a while I get a chance to blog about a recent session I really enjoyed or that inspired me. Keep scrolling to see past blogs from special sessions!

Lens 2 Life Photography


Gilberts, Illinois

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