You Know You’re From...Kronenwetter: Tamara Niewolny
KRONENWETTER, Wis. (WSAW) - Inside the round barn at Willow Springs Garden a special photo shoot takes place.
“I’ve never had pictures before professionally,” said Nikita Gasiorowski, about her senior photo shoot.
“Getting to get ready and having pictures that uplift you,” Katelynn Dowty added about the entire process.
“I want to make them feel amazing and I want my pictures to show how amazing they are,” said Tamara Niewolny.
More than 40 years ago, Tamara Niewolny’s foster journey began in her home state of California.
“I was 3 years old,” she recalled. “It started with my mother driving me to Hillcrest, which was the place you wait for placement. And then she had me get out of the car and she drove away.”
From that point, the search for a home and a family felt never-ending. Sometimes because of a foster family.
“I did suffer abuse, severe abuse,” said Niewolny.
And later her own doing. As a teenager she said, she found rebellion. But it was a moment with one of her last foster moms that set Niewolny straight.
“She was saying that I need to learn to love myself before I can understand what it’s like to be loved,” she said through tears. “And so that was a big life lesson for me. It’s very precious to me.”
Now married for almost 20 years with a family of her own in Kronenwetter, she’s giving back. As a part-time photographer, Niewolny is giving seniors in foster care an experience she never had.
“I don’t really have any pictures with the exception of my one photo shoot with my youth counselor. I don’t have any photos of me younger.”
She calls the project ‘17 Pillows.’
“One day I sat down and tried to figure out how many placements I had been in. It was 17,” said Niewolny.
‘17 Pillows’ gives them the supermodel treatment. From a couple of new wardrobes to hair and makeup at ‘V Beauty House’ in Rothschild.
“When you make someone feel pretty, that goes a long way,” said Vanexa Lang, owner of ‘V Beauty House.’
“I trust her (Lang) with all my clients who want to do hair and makeup because she’s amazing,” Niewolny said.
Spencer native Nikita Gasiorowski graduated from Wisconsin Dells High School in 2020. She was in foster care for 2.5 years, from a sophomore through her senior year.
“In foster care, I wasn’t allowed to have a phone. So those are pretty much the only photos I have during foster care,” Gasiorowski said.
Katelynn Dowty moved from Wausau to Pittsville before her 8th-grade year. After 5 years with her foster family, she walked across the stage earlier this month.
“It’s an amazing experience to know that someone is thinking about us in cares,” Dowty said. “I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know Tamara and having these photo shoots.”
It’s cathartic, too, for the students and Niewolny.
“The reward for me is just giving them a gift that I knew I would’ve really loved,” Niewolny said.
“We’re still normal like everyone else,” said Dowty. “Just because we don’t live in the same household as our biological family.”
“Just getting out of the foster home because I usually didn’t go very many places,” Gasiorowski said about her experience.
“I think I leave, like, a piece of me with each session that I do,” Tamara added.
There are little reminders every day of her journey.
“I’ve been asked if I could rewind time and not go through those things,” said Niewolny. “I don’t necessarily know that I would want to do that because I don’t think I’d be who I am today.”
Niewolny had 25 volunteer sessions for girls and guys. She takes care of most of the costs, with small donations here and there and from ‘Be Amazing.’ Niewolny’s hope is for other photographers to join her network and provide opportunities for kids in foster care where they live.
To learn more about ‘17 Pillows’ and Tamara’s photography business, Scene Portraits, click here.
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