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me...a journey inspired

My name is Nicki Hollmann-Rawlings. I began my photography hobby in high school when my parents invested in my first camera. 

Over eight years ago, my husband, Rob, and I learned we were expecting. This was not part of our “plan” and certainly caused us both to take a detour on what had been 'inspiring' our daily lives. I was fully invested in my career in federal drug law enforcement and Rob was a military aviator.  We learned early on in the pregnancy that our baby would have Down syndrome.  Prenatal evaluations predicted that she would not survive to birth. Anticipating a miscarriage or stillbirth, we remained “inspired” to our careers in federal drug enforcement and aviation. Every week our baby was assessed and predicted not to survive, but continued to defy the prognosis, we became more “inspired” by her resilience.

Our daughter, Elle, was born, alive and unaware of all of the immediate labels and assumptions that go along with her diagnosis. We had been so certain of a tragic outcome of my pregnancy that my own husband had not even shared with his employer that we were pregnant.  I kept the news of  the prenatal diagnosis from most of my colleagues.

Suddenly, we became part of an amazing community, we were parents to a child with a disability, with special needs, with Down syndrome. Our lives flooded with new friends who were “inspired” by Elle, people who we would have never met without her diagnosis. Initially, I was impacted by my own bias and misconceptions of what our and her life would be like. I became vigilant at protecting her as my career had only prepared me to expect the worst in people, believing our society to be unaccepting and cruel, convinced people would be insensitive, pity her or isolate her. These concerns kept me from sharing my nearly weekly photography portrait sessions of her. What happened to us can only be described as life changing and Elle has “inspired” us and others in more ways than I will be able to describe. My passion for federal drug law enforcement was redirected to advocating for those with special needs.

Upon reaching my 25 career year status, Elle required open heart surgery. We were told she would be very sick for a long time and I felt “inspired” to make sure she had every advantage of my full attention, so I retired.  We then made the decision to move back to the Tampa area from Utah. 

 Returning to Tampa caused our entire family to be more than “inspired” but actually "consumed" with opening the non-profit, GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center. It was a full time volunteer effort.

I began using my photography in the startup phases of GiGi's Playhouse to capture the beauty of those living with Down syndrome.   We utilized the images in our marketing and social media campaigns. Initially,  I was very concerned about allowing Elle’s images to be part of the promotion, but others became more and more “inspired” by every photo of her and others like her as these photos helped us to raise the awareness and support to open the center.

As I met more families,  I learned we shared some the same hopes that the world would see them in the way a parent does.  I became passionate about capturing the beauty of those individuals and families.  

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