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Portrait Project

An Interview with Donna Mitchell by Sarah Scales
Taken from our Winter 2010 Newsletter

These pictures of our friends are part of Donna Mitchell's Portrait Project at Parklands. Click the image to enlarge.
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Over the past year, Friends Across the Ages has been honored to be a part of a photo project created by one of our board members, Donna Mitchell, for Parklands Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. So far, Donna has photographed 35 residents at Parklands and displayed their photos in their hallways. Here is our Q&A with Donna:

What inspired you to create the Portrait Project?
I was thinking how even though it's great to have a volunteer visit, a nursing home resident still has lots of hours in a day and in a week. I thought it might be good if there were a tool for making it easier for residents to get to know each other, that maybe by having a way to learn or be reminded of someone's name and a couple of details about what is important to them, residents would be more likely to strike up conversations with each other and develop friendships that would be there for them on a more around-the-clock basis. After 15 years, I was getting ready to close my portrait business here in town, and I was looking for a way to get back to photographing for the love of it and in service to an idea that might do some good in the world and also broaden my own outlook.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about a resident?

The surprise has come from many residents, and it has to do with how often I see people whose futures are likely to be forever in the nursing home and yet they don't show a single trace of self-pity or anger or bitterness or resentment. Instead, they talk about their spiritual or philosophical efforts and what they care about in the world. The only word I think comes close to describing this phenomenon is grace.

Would you like for this project to expand to other nursing homes?
I think it would be fantastic to have photographers all over the country doing their own variations on this project -- it would be fun to see all the different approaches, and also to see what the common threads are. If enough photographers would do this kind of project, we could put together a big show and travel it around the country, and maybe it would get Americans to start thinking deeply about our long-term care system and all the people who need it and will need it.

For more information about the Resident Portrait Project at Parklands, contact Donna Mitchell at

Note: The Resident Portrait Project is supported by a 2009 Carter Williams grant from the Pioneer Network and by Friends Across the Ages through a bequest from Annie Mae Townsend and her family. Parklands Rehabilitation & Nursing Center hosts the project and has hired Donna to be their Community Liaison to work on various projects to support residents' quality of life.

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