The Mozzocios. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

On April 9, 2020, my high school officially shifted to online learning for the remainder of the school year. As an involved student and someone who was lucky enough to have a positive high school experience, I was heartbroken.

I am from New Castle, Penn., and it’s small enough where I say I’m from Pittsburgh – an hour from where I live – when asked “where are you from?”

I spent a few weeks feeling sorry for myself, which I think was warranted, and not doing much beside online schoolwork and socially distant parking lot meet-ups with my friends. But on April 26, my mom sent me a USA Today article about several photographers who took pictures of members of their communities in front of their houses so they could remember these unprecedented times. A day later, I organized “New Castle Porch Pictures.”

Over the next week, I traveled across my county, often from breakfast time until dinner time, and photographed over 50 families on their front porches. To extend the reach, I recruited another photographer friend, Michael Mozzocio, to join.

New Castle is a rust belt town that has been hurt by the pandemic, but the community has supported one another, from getting gifts for the high school seniors to ordering take out from many of the family owned restaurants. Michael and I charged people $10 for our socially distant sessions. Our slogan was “10 dollars for 10 minutes from 10 feet away.” We donated all of the proceeds to New Castle High School’s Food Services, a group that has been providing meals for local families throughout the pandemic

I saw, from a photographable distance, an array of people over the course of that week, some of whom are included here.

The Nigons. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

I have known Leslie and Max Nigons for years, and they were the first family I photographed. Max had recently dyed his mother’s hair, and the two of them had me in tears as they regaled me with their at-home salon experience.

The Tervos. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Leslie Nigon paid it forward for me to do her cousin Kirstan’s family’s portrait. Many of the families chose to pay it forward throughout the week so their friends and family could commemorate the times as well. The kids were so excited to show me their dogs … so excited that Ridge Tervos, in the white button down shirt and open-toed flip-flops, couldn’t keep his eyes off of the dogs!

College Seniors. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Kirstan Tervo paid it forward for me to take photos of these four young women. They were roommates and about to graduate virtually from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Penn. Their laughter was contagious.

The Lucases. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Mrs. Lucas is the yearbook director and world cultures teacher at my high school. As if she didn’t see enough of me and my camera as her teacher’s assistant for two years and student for one, she let me take her and her husband’s photo!

The Mozzocios. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Mozzocios are close family friends. I was excited to end one of my long days of shooting with their familiar faces. Masked up and Lysol wipes in hands, they were rocking this quarantine photo shoot.

The Nicholses. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

When I arrived at the Nicholses, the family had just finished watching Marly virtually graduate from West Virginia University. Marly was my volleyball teammate when I was a freshman in high school, and her mother was my elementary school gym teacher. This group made my day.

The Andertons. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Anderton kids were joined by their foreign exchange student, Icare. Icare is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A global pandemic was probably not what he had in mind when he decided to come to America, but I hope this photo serves as a fond memory of his time here.

The Artmans. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Mrs. Artman told me this was the first time she successfully got the entire family together for a family portrait. They seemed like professionals to me and were dressed for the occasion.

The Umbaughs. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Lisa and her husband took some super cute pictures with their two sons, but I was excited to take one of the two of them when they told me they had not taken a photo together in a while. Quite a few couples mentioned this to me throughout the week.

Quarantine caused life to slow down for most Americans, something so rare. Often times, life is moving too fast for some people to justify pausing to take a picture. Taking these pictures, especially of typically busy couples, was the perfect reminder for many of my customers, as well as myself, of how much we can all appreciate taking a second to capture a moment in time.

The Lydens. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Lydens were celebrating their grandmother’s birthday on the day I stopped by. She was so excited to have someone document her special day with her beautiful family, and I was happy to partake in the occasion.

The Cochrans. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.
The Graduate. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

This lovely couple’s son had just graduated from preschool. He was so sweet, and his tiny cap and gown was one of my favorite parts of the week.

The Zeiglers. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Allison Zeigler and her husband are pictured here with their newborn son. How lucky was I to be one of the first people to see this cutie? I was overwhelmed and tired this day but seeing the Zeiglers and their son was too sweet to feel anything but happy.

The Jevcaks. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Skylar is one of my younger sister’s best friends. Skylar, her mom and her stepdad had just moved into their brand new house. They were excited to use these pictures to decorate their beautiful new home. My sister was excited to come along for the ride for this stop, and I was glad to have the company.

The Flannerys. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

The last family I visited was the Flannerys. Jenny was a huge help in advertising New Castle Porch Pictures and is one of my biggest supporters, especially when it comes to photography. She was mad at herself for being last-minute to schedule, but I think it was the perfect way to wrap up the week.

I saw old friends, went to parts of my county that I was not even aware were there, blasted country music on my sunny drives, put my hood up and protected my camera on the rainy days, took my mom and sister along for a day, and met some new and inspiring members of my community.

April 9, 2020 was a day that was incredibly hard for me and a day I will always remember. But a few weeks later I had a time that was one of the most meaningful of my life. I am grateful that my mom kicked my butt out the door with my camera and that New Castle Porch Pictures reminded me of the good around me when I had lost so much hope just days before.