It’s a sobering statistic: In the 30-county area of Central Texas, there are more than 3,500 children in foster care.

Removed from their biological families because of abuse or neglect, the children are legally free for adoption — and every foster child hopes a call will come saying a permanent family has been found.

That’s where the Heart Gallery comes in.

Founded in New Mexico in 2001, the nonprofit Heart Gallery projects proliferated across the U.S.

Combining websites and exhibits featuring professional photographic portraits of foster children, the goal is find “forever families” for children in various foster care systems. The Central Texas affiliate of the Heart Gallery travels from city to city in the area and displays images on its website.

“The idea is to humanize these kids,” said Jane Boone, marketing director at Temple’s Cultural Activities Center, while the framed portraits were being hung Wednesday afternoon. “These beautiful portraits help to put a face on the issue.”

About 60 documentary and portrait photographers in Central Texas volunteered their time and talents, photographing youngsters from shelters, foster homes or residential treatment centers across the state. The individual subjects are based on recommendations by Child Protective Services, CASA, case workers employed by child placing agencies and foster families.

The Heart Gallery emphasizes that “we do try very hard to include kids who are older and at risk for aging out of the system,” and the photos displayed on the Saulsbury Gallery’s walls show a wide age range — not just adorable babies and irresistible toddlers.

Most photographers have chosen close-ups and placed their young subjects in an environmental setting; these are not studio portraits, but rather an attempt to “show the personalities and characteristics of the kids,” the nonprofit stated.

Since 2005, hundreds of foster kids have been placed with families in Texas and around the country. About one-half of the children spotlighted in the Heart Gallery of Central Texas are adopted each year, according to the organization. Many more still wait.

To learn more about adoption from foster care, call the Adoption Coalition of Texas: 512-301-2825.

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