Joyce Terhaar

From the Executive Editor: Weekly photo feature touches hearts, souls

Joyce Terhaar
Joyce Terhaar

Some people tutor. Others coach. Some work with the homeless, help the elderly, rock premature babies.

Across the region, the passion many of you have to give back in ways large and small eases suffering and brings joy. It makes Sacramento a better place to live.

Yet if you aren't a politician, an athlete, a community leader or even a criminal, you aren't routinely part of news coverage.

That's why we created the Monday "I Care" photo column in January 2012. More than 18 months into the column we've featured about 80 people who help improve the lives of others. The photography is published online as well as in print, and we're beginning to experiment with video as another way to tell these stories.

The column is a perpetually bright spot in news coverage that, by its very nature, often chronicles the worst disasters, tragedies or human failings.

It is intended to showcase the photography, though it includes a short story. It allows us to reflect the community back at you with images that will be familiar to some, inspirational to others.

"To me it's great to see all the amazing people just doing, just giving, from the bottoms of their hearts," said Bee photographer Lezlie Sterling, who took over the column in May. "Even people who you think don't have a lot to give they still reach into the depths of their souls and give back to the community.

"It's like you're writing about the beauty of the human spirit, and what's more rewarding than that?" Sterling said.

Photographers play a unique role in news coverage because their role is in-the-moment. They must get closer to a wildfire than a reporter, fight for position at a news event, risk being run over while on the sidelines of a sporting event. The job is physically and sometimes emotionally demanding.

The work behind "I Care" provides some balance.

Sterling took over the column from Autumn Payne, who also has been the visual journalist for our annual holiday Book of Dreams coverage.

Payne said the column "gave me the opportunity to explore, in depth, the good things in our community."

"It's easy to get bogged down by all of the difficult news that we cover, but I knew, while shooting the 'I Care' column that I would get to spend some time with someone really special and inspiring once a week."

Sterling and Payne find many of the column's subjects themselves. Others come from reader suggestions, and I'd encourage all of you to tell us about people in the community who inspire you with their commitment to give back. We try to photograph people with a variety of passions, so don't suggest a reading coach if we just featured one in a recent "I Care." Do send suggestions to Sterling at

Payne and Sterling say they've found that life experiences drive many of the column's subjects to volunteer.

Payne said some, like Lou Fifer, who is tutoring underprivileged kids in his retirement, is giving back because he benefited from scholarships early in his life.

Others are looking for meaning in the aftermath of tragedy. Payne points to Janet Steinbach, whose only son was murdered in an area frequented by the homeless. Now she volunteers at Loaves & Fishes.

"Though the stories of these people are each unique, almost every one of these volunteers think their own lives have been enriched through this service even more than the people that they have helped," Payne said.

Reach Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar at (916) 321-1004. Follow her on Twitter @jterhaar. Back columns,