Why I Love Virtual Photo Walks

vpw postcard

I’ve mentioned Virtual Photo Walks before and I’ll probably keep mentioning it because I think it is SO great!

When I was in my 30’s my older sister was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition and given a few months to live. Being a stubborn, disciplined person, she did everything the doctor told her to do and she lived 6 years longer than they expected. I was one of her main caregivers. Having 2 small kids and caring for her was quite a challenge. My kids spent much of those 6 years in waiting rooms, hanging out with my sister as she gradually became housebound. We watched a lot of TV. We watched all of the O.J. Simpson trial. All of it. (Can you detect my sigh and eye rolling?)

Fast forward to 2015. My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like my sister, I walked by her side until she passed. Again, I spent many hours and days in waiting rooms and hanging out at her house watching TV and dreaming of trips we could take if we could.

I don’t know how I forgot about Virtual Photo Walks, but I did. Too many things on my mind, I think.

I remember when I initially found it I thought, “This is the greatest idea ever!” And when I ever have time I’m going to volunteer to be a photographer for them.

Since I’ve “retired” I have started volunteering with them and I want to spread the word, that’s why I’m writing another post about it.

What Is Virtual Photo Walks? 

VPW is a non-profit organization run by volunteers who are passionate about giving those isolated by illness, age or disability the chance to “escape” their isolation and travel the world!

John Butterill, the founder, organizes the walks through a video conferencing app called Zoom. Photographers from all over the world work with John and plan walks and visits to sites from archaeological digs in Russia to volcanoes in Hawaii to sites in Japan. John sets up the video conferencing meeting and connects the participants who may be in their homes or rehabs, day care centers, nursing homes or are in the hospital and they connect with their computers to participate in the walk.

“The Secret Sauce” 

The magic of Virtual Photo Walks is the live, real time interaction the participants can have with the photographer and also the others who are on the walk with them.


The participants can talk to the photographer, ask questions and make requests like, “Can we see what’s to your right?” or “Can you take a photo of that tree?” Everyone laughs together and are amazed together in real time. It is a completely different experience than watching a video.

I joined a walk to Yosemite a couple of weeks ago from my office. It was so moving to be with the other participants as we saw the mountains and a beautiful waterfall together. On another walk to an archaeological dig in Russia we had participants from Israel and Japan. It was so interesting.

What VPW Can Do

I remember spending endless hours, days, months and years indoors with my sister and later, my best friend. Too weak to go out and sometimes even to leave the bed. Both of them had to restrict their exposure to germs so even though they might have felt okay, it was too dangerous for them to go out. It was isolating! They were lonely!

Virtual Photo Walks can give people who are isolated a chance to travel to another place and do it with a community of people! Nobody cares what you look like – you can cut the camera off to yourself so no one sees you if you’re worried. Everyone is just glad you joined. And away you go to some beautiful or interesting place together to get away from your bed or hospital room for an hour.

It really does carry you away for a while. It’s magical.

Please Share! 

Here is a great video about VPW. Please share with people you know. Share on social media!

As I said, VPW is a non-profit organization. It’s free to join. The participant just needs internet access to their computer.

You are required to make a request to join because John makes sure all the participants are safe and he protects their privacy.

If you or someone you know would like to participate in a walk, you can join here: 


If you’d like to volunteer to be a photographer and share the beauty of the world around where you live or where you travel, you can volunteer here:


You’ll need a smart phone, a good data plan and a tripod.

If you’d like to donate, that would be amazing! Please share with businesses who could possibly donate to help provide equipment and internet access. Donate here:


Thanks for your help in this very worthy cause!







Not a Teacher, a Friend

ARF8NK Red-kneed tarantula Brachypelma smithii

About 17 years ago I taught a really small class of 4th graders. It was the first year I taught 4th grade. I had previously taught 6th. The students seemed so little and less smelly and I instantly fell in love with them.  They were precious.

I had them do an activity one day, you know, one of those fillers. I had them draw and color a picture of their favorite day. I got pictures of birthdays and Christmas and then one picture of a car wreck. It was a horrible scene with bodies strewn on the road, blood and an ambulance. I took the picture, smiled and asked the student to explain it to me. I said, “how can this be your favorite day?” He said, “It’s the day I got my heart.”

Well, that afternoon I called his mom and told her about the picture and said, “Is there something you’re not telling me?” She laughed and explained that her son had a heart transplant when he was a few days old. They had taught him to be grateful for his heart.

We had such a great year! That student was so unique and fun! He brought in his pet tarantula and we kept it and his cricket supply for a week or so. One cricket escaped and stayed with us for the rest of the year, chirping during tests.

I had the privilege of teaching at the same school with that student until he graduated. I kept in touch with his family as he grew into adulthood and got a job. His family celebrated every day they had with him because the doctors had said he may not live far into his teens. He is now the longest living heart transplant patient!

Now in his 20’s I just got news that he’s not doing very well. So, today I’m going to go have lunch with him and just hang out. He’s not just my old student, he’s my friend. And that’s the cool thing about being a teacher: once your students leave your class they become your friend. You end up with a lot of them. But none quite as special as the one I’ll be visiting today.