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'Somebody cares': Artists gift struggling families with hand-painted portraits

"Life can be fabulous, but sometimes it can be very hard, and what better thing to do than to reach out to your neighbor and say, 'I care?'"
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

When Cynthia Jones' son, Eric, a Marine captain serving in Afghanistan, was killed during a combat mission in 2009, the New York mom lost her only child, who she describes as, "the light of her life."

But it's a painting hanging in Jones' home, depicting the day Eric was pinned with his aviator wings, that gives the grieving mother a way of remembering her fallen son.

A portrait of the Jones family, painted by Laurie Anspach.Painting for Good Causes

"That day was a day of joy, but for me, as a mom, it was a very bittersweet day, for I knew he would be going into battle," said Jones. "The painting literally transports me back to that very special day."

The oil painting, created on canvas, was the work of Laurie Anspach, an artist who is founder of Painting for Good Causes, an organization that turns cherished photographs into beautiful works of art for families in need.

Laurie Anspach in her studio.John Parsonson

Anspach started the organization a few years ago, after making connections with non-profit organizations that work with military and adoptive families, as well as with families of children battling life-threatening illnesses.

A painting by Laurie Anspach of a family dealing with a childhood cancer diagnosis.Painting for Good Causes

"These people are in their struggle and they have so much courage," Anspach told TODAY Parents. "It's an outreach — a way to try to revitalize our community and give a sense of neighborly caring and compassion."

Today, Anspach works with a team of more than 50 volunteer artists across the country, providing oil paintings to families free of charge.

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"These families, they feel forgotten," said Anspach. "They feel alone in their struggle. Sometimes life can be fabulous, but sometimes it can be very hard, and what better thing to do than to reach out to your neighbor and say, 'I care.'"

Christine Hanlon received one of Anspach's paintings after contacting the organization to request a portrait of herself with her 16-year-old son, Dylan, a childhood cancer survivor.

Laurie Anspach's painting of Christine Hanlon and her son, Dylan.Painting for Good Causes

"Having a different outlook on life after Dylan's cancer treatment and all that he endured, I reached out to Laurie to see if she was able to do a portrait of Dylan and I," said the Florida mom. "I didn't have a portrait of us, and I feel lucky and grateful that Laurie was able to paint it."

A military serviceman and his son, painted by Laurie Anspach.Painting for Good Causes

California mom Ashley Tellez and her husband, Brian, have four children, two of whom are adopted or in foster care. Tellez received a family painting from Painting for Good Causes after the adoption of their first foster son, Joaquin, was finalized.

A painting of the Tellez family, by Laurie Anspach.Painting for Good Causes

"We recently found out that Joaquin's biological mother had another child...after the shock subsided, we were thrilled to welcome him into our family as well," said Tellez. "Laurie has offered to paint another family portrait with our newest addition. We never thought we'd have such a beautiful piece of art in our home that captures the love of our family."

Painting for Good Causes is connected with a large group of non-profit organizations, including Hearts Apart, who provides photography services for military families, and the Children's Cancer Center. And, in addition to painting families, Painting for Good Causes works with adoption groups to paint art displays of children who are seeking adoptive homes.

"I started by reaching out from this little place in Florida, and the next thing you know, we have 56 artists and more than a dozen non-profits and all of these families and kids carrying the knowledge that somebody cares," said Anspach.

The Fierro family, painted by Laurie Anspach.Painting for Good Causes

For Raegan Fierro, a military spouse living in California, knowing she has support when her husband, Richard, is deployed, is something that gets her through difficult days.

"I am a stay at home mom," said Fierro. "We have a blended family of five children, and are truly grateful for receiving such a great gift."