Annual Utah Heart Gallery aims to find forever homes for foster children

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Thirty-six children were recognized inside the Capitol Rotunda on Monday. They all have the same dream in common -- to one day be adopted into a loving home and family.

It was the 11th annual Utah Heart Gallery.

"My favorite part is my smile, because I have a very beautiful smile," said 15-year-old Vanessa as she gazed at her portrait for the first time.

"I've seen myself in the mirror a lot but I've never seen a beautiful picture perfectly done like the best I can be, I've never seen it like that, it was awesome," Vanessa said.

Vanessa is one of 2,598 Utah children currently receiving foster care services; 153 children are waiting to find a permanent home through adoption.

"It would be so terrific to have a family and hang out with them and get to share feelings and knowing them and be there to support you and knowing that they will always be there for you," Vanessa said.

Over the last 11 years, The Adoption Exchange has featured 360 children in the Utah Heart Gallery. More than half of them went on to be adopted.

"The children in foster care we want to present them in their best light, case workers usually give us photos for recruitment that are probably worse than a driver's license photo," said Utah Director of Programs, Kathy Searle.

All 33 portraits, including three sets of siblings, were made possible by professional photographers who donated their time, money and resources to help these kids find families.

"As they look at the portrait they see the child they see that this is a person that could be part of their family," Searle said.

Eleven-year-old James said the most challenging part about being a foster child is the instability. He hopes his smiling face attracts a new family.

"I've been through 16 or 17 different foster homes; it's pretty hard," James said. "You have so many things going on in your mind thinking, ‘when am I going to be adopted, what's going to happen.’"

November is also National Adoption month. These portraits will be on display at the State Capitol and then the gallery will travel throughout the state for the rest of the year.