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Idaho Voices

Photographer, facing past, focuses on hope and foster home

Sun., Nov. 7, 2010

Calendar project to help Kinderhaven

It was a secret she kept for 13 terrifying years as she lived in constant fear. There was the fright of revealing her secret and then there was the terror that came each night when she went to bed knowing what was about to happen.

For Cocolalla, Idaho, resident Jackie Charlebois, 31, the sexual abuse started when she was 3. And the person who violated her was the one man she should have been able to trust more than anyone – her father.

“It became a nightly ritual,” said Charlebois, who is willing to share her story in the hope that it may help others. “And along with the sexual abuse came all of the emotional issues.”

Not knowing anything different, she said it took her awhile before she realized her father’s actions were not what each child experienced.

“I just thought every child went through this.”

But as she grew older she knew that was not the case and it wasn’t until she was a junior in high school when, with her boyfriend by her side, she found the courage to break her silence.

“I was afraid that my mom would disown me, but she was very supportive,” said Charlebois, grateful that her friend stood by her and would be there for her if in fact she was rejected by her mother. “It was good to have a plan B. The street was never an option.”

Her mother divorced her father after learning of the abuse, and neither Charlebois nor her brother has a relationship with their dad.

“This person completely stripped my childhood away from me,” she said.

Five years ago, Charlebois and her husband Charley moved to Cocolalla from Germany where he had been stationed.

“I love it here,” said Charlebois who is originally from Florida.

Since their move Charlebois has been busy raising four children ages 16 months to 10 years and establishing her business as a photographer. As owner of Jax Creations photography, Charlebois said she wanted to use her talent to do something for the place she now calls home.

“I knew I wanted to do something to give back to the community but had not yet decided what,” she said. But when she read an article last April about Kinderhaven – an emergency shelter and foster home for abused and neglected children based in Sandpoint – she knew exactly where to devote her time and talent. “It touched my heart and kept playing over and over in my mind.”

She combined her passion and art and chose to help those children with whom she could deeply identify.

“I put it on myself to try to make a difference,” she said.

Charlebois approached Kinderhaven board member Kathy Chambers and they arranged a meeting with Kinderhaven’s executive director Phyllis Horvath.

“We made a plan and started,” she said of the project they named Angels of Hope.

Charlebois charged $30 for a sitting fee for any family who wanted their child photographed as a potential candidate for the Angels of Hope calendar. All the sitting fees charged were donated directly to Kinderhaven.

Each child – ranging in age from newborns to 4 – was photographed wearing angel wings and their photos placed on Charlebois’s professional website, Jax Creations.

All images from the angels’ sessions were considered for the Angels of Hope calendar and Charlebois charged a dollar for each vote cast on her website.

The result is a beautiful calendar of those photos that finished in the top 12. “The calendars will be available Nov. 10 but I am taking pre-orders now,” she said, adding that she would not have been able to pick just 12 of the children so she was grateful to have the community’s input to decide. “The price is $15.99 each and all the money is donated directly to Kinderhaven.”

Charlebois said she plans on doing the same event next year and hopes to raise even more than the estimated $2,500 she did this year.

“I was shocked at how much money Kinderhaven needed to keep the doors open each month,” she said, adding that she was extremely impressed when she toured the emergency shelter. “It’s just like a very warm home. It’s very personalized and just a great environment.”

Recognizing that the legal system can only do so much, Charlebois said if something like Kinderhaven had been around when she was young, she believes it would have given her the courage to step forward sooner.

But instead of letting her past define her future, Charlebois is choosing to share her story and do what she can to help those in this community who have experienced a horror that no child should ever have to go through.

“If sharing my story can help another person, then I’m an open book,” she said.

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