Girard photographer offers cash-strapped families free yearbook shots

By Lee Murray


Local photographer Don Mathews is a stickler for good lighting.

“Lighting is what usually separates the professional from someone who just has a nice camera,” said Mathews, as he flicked through last year’s Girard High School yearbook. On every page he finds a picture he is unhappy with. He points to a girl in a blue dress in a photo noticeably darker than the ones surrounding it.

“Look at this one. A beautiful young lady who obviously couldn’t afford to have professional senior pictures done.”

Mathews feels so strongly about yearbook photos that this year he will donate his time and skills to help out six cash-strapped Girard families—who otherwise couldn’t afford professional shots—by photographing their graduating seniors for free.

“I got the idea while sitting in church,” Mathews said. “The pastor was talking about using your talents to bless other people. At that moment I started compiling a Facebook post [about doing this].”

Mathews’ post asked interested families to contact him directly. Out of the replies, he chose six families in need and will begin shooting next week at his studio on West Liberty Street.

Mathews first noticed the need for his services after speaking with high school principal Bill Ryser. Ryser said that he’s noticed that Valley families are finding it tough.

“There’s definitely been a demographic shift in most of the Mahoning Valley, and Girard is no different,” Ryser said. “But all kids, regardless of economic background, should have the same opportunities in their academic pursuits.”

Ryser said that he didn’t know Mathews was doing the free photo packages.

“That’s very nice; it’s wonderful. I’m proud of him for doing that,” Ryser said.

“I’m super happy that they’re offering to do this,” said the mother of one of the kids whom Mathews will shoot for free. “I’m having it tough this year.”

She said that she saw the offer on Facebook, submitted her details, and heard back the next day.

“It’s a big help, a huge help,” she said.

Mathews has offered free senior pictures before, but this is the first time he’s offered a prints package.

“If kids couldn’t afford to have senior pictures done at all, I would photograph them at no charge so they can at least get into the yearbook,” he said, “but this will give parents some larger prints, and the children can have some photos to hand out to their friends so they don’t feel left out.”

The free package includes an 8-by-10, two 5-by-7, and 24 wallet-size photos.

Mathews has photographed missions trips in El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. He said he’s noticed how those who have less appreciate smaller things more.

“I just felt that those are the people who I want to bless,” Mathews said. is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, University of Akron and professional media outlets WYSU-FM Radio, The Vindicator, The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio, both of Akron.

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