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June 1, 2020
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Nicole Mele of Nicole Mele Photography has been photographing families in town as part of the Front Porch Project to raise funds for the town’s Community Services. 

Photo courtesy of Nicole Mele

Nicole Mele of Nicole Mele Photography has been photographing families in town as part of the Front Porch Project to raise funds for the town’s Community Services. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Mele )

Say ‘Cheese’: Nicole Mele Gives Back to Community Services through Front Porch Project

Published April 29, 2020

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Just a couple weeks into quarantine, one of Nicole Mele’s friends suggested she look into the Front Porch Project that she had seen a friend doing in Massachusetts. As the owner of Nicole Mele Photography, Nicole began looking into ways to implement the project—taking family portraits on front porches—in North Haven.

“I thought it was a great idea and I decided to move forward and reach out to Community Services to see if they’d accept a monetary donation that could go to the two food banks in North Haven,” says Nicole. “They were really excited. I also wanted to be sure it was okay with the town, ensuring them I’d be 10 to 15 feet away and there would be no contact.”

With the donation destination set and the okay from the town, Nicole launched the project on her website and social media pages. She announced that 100 percent of the recommended $15 donation would be taken electronically and the photos taken were delivered digitally via email.

“I launched it on a Thursday night and within three hours, I had 60-something appointments,” says Nicole. “It just blew up.”

Since launching on April 4, Nicole has photographed more than 250 people. When she takes the online time-slot reservations, she includes questions in order to get to know the families.

“I want to know a little more about them—who’s the first responder, the nurse, the teachers doing this remote learning thing, two parents trying to work from home,” says Nicole. “You get to meet so many different people and hear so many wonderful stories.”

Nicole has enjoyed going around town and seeing how different families have posed for their portraits. She notes that some have posed in their pajamas, some have created elaborate scenes with props, and others have taken it as an opportunity to get dressed up.

“People are in great spirits and they’re grateful for this opportunity,” says Nicole. “With so many people home and calendars being cleared, it’s been an opportunity for people to actually get a family photo.”

While she is usually the one behind the camera, Nicole was sure to set up her tripod to capture her family for the Front Porch Project as well. Nicole’s entire family has been on board with the project and her two daughters—Gianna, a sophomore, and Ava, a 6th-grader—as well as her husband, David, all play a role in the process.

“David has been the scheduling guy and looks at what we have going on and figures out the best route for us to take,” says Nicole. “The girls come with me. One is on the maps and the other is texting people to say we’re on the way. It gets us out into the community and puts smiles on people’s faces. The girls are loving every minute and it’s given them a chance to see some of their friends from a safe distance.”

Her daughters are part of the reason that Nicole got into photography in the first place. When she was pregnant with Ava, they lived in Wallingford and Nicole and Gianna would walk with one of Nicole’s friends, who always took pictures of Gianna.

Nicole loved seeing the pictures and her friend taught her some techniques. Nicole got her first camera and took some online classes, practicing her new skills on her favorite subjects—her daughters.

As Nicole shared photos of her daughters, friends began to ask her to photograph their children or their families. Those friends then recommended her to others and she began to get busy.

After 10 years of enjoying photography as a hobby, Nicole decided to form an official business in 2016, Nicole Mele Photography. Under her business, she still works with clients from her previous field, doing marketing and design work for businesses.

“I focus on families and children and do some senior portraits, which are fun because we’ll go on location and incorporate who the child is,” says Nicole. “I always worked full time and this was the side hustle, but I had more and more people asking about it.”

Nicole and her family have lived in North Haven for the last five years and she has enjoyed becoming ingrained in the community through her business and through her daughters’ sports and activities.

Even during this time of social distancing, through the Front Porch Project, Nicole is enjoying getting to know more people in the community, giving families a chance at having a family portrait, and being able to give back to the community.

“This is about how can I help. You read so many negative things and I wanted to put a smile on people’s faces,” says Nicole. “With the way it took off, I’m really going to be able to help the community by giving back to Community Services, which was so grateful.

“I’m looking to continue through the end of April,” adds Nicole, noting those interested can visit her website to view time slots and there is a possibility of adding more if there is interest. “Even though it’s a lot of work between organizing it, running around, editing the images, and emailing them to the right people, it keeps me sane and gets us out of the house.

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