Katie Norris, BSFCS ’08, always knew she wanted to make a difference with her career and found Baylor to be the perfect university to help shape her direction.
“College is such an incredible time where you’re trying to define who you are, who you want to be. The world is your oyster,” says the Dallas native. “I’m someone who has a lot of big dreams and creative passions. Being at Baylor allowed me to find out who I wanted to be and what I wanted my life to be about.”
Norris was a Pi Beta Phi Sing chair, studied abroad with Baylor in Costa Rica and Great Britain, was active in the art department and took photography classes while majoring in interior design.
“It’s a major with lots of studio time and nights until four in the morning,” she says. “I really think I’m doing what I am today because of the lessons I learned through that major and attention to detail and diligence. One of my biggest influences there was Dr. Adair Bowen. She really saw me for who I was and went out of her way to give me permission to dream beyond my major.”
During her time at Baylor, a couple of Norris’s friends died. Through the experience, she says she learned that life is a gift and how to live intentionally.
“I know this sounds cliché, but we really only have one shot at this life, and I’m so thankful I learned that lesson. I think about how lucky I am to be here, and be married, and be doing what I’m doing. I have the motivation to work harder, to love more deeply, to give and serve more, and to see the big picture.”
Just three weeks after marrying Reece Norris, BBA ’03, in 2008, the couple decided to leave their promising careers to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations. Katie started a professional photography business, Katie Norris Portrait Arts. Photography had been a passion in college, and she had a garage sale in order to buy her first camera. She rented her first lens for six months because she couldn’t afford to buy it.
In 2011, Katie felt called to use her gift of photography to give back to others and to start a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. “I told my husband this idea—he’s so great—Reece said, ‘That’s awesome. Let’s do it.’”
Katie and Reece have always shared a deep appreciation for true stories. Their team went to the drawing board and the concept of Fotolanthropy came quickly. They would pair film, photography and philanthropy. Fotolanthropy’s mission would be to document inspiring true stories of people overcoming adversity through the gift of photography and film. Any recipient of Fotolanthropy would receive a portrait session, coffee book album, short film and a platform to share their story.
“I truly felt that this was God’s calling for my life. I was recharged and excited,” Norris recalls.
Fotolanthropy’s first story was of a fellow Baylor alumna, Kara Wilkerson, BA ’05, MSEd ’10. Wilkerson had received the devastating news that her son James had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“She said, ‘He’s 8 months old. He’s got the most beautiful hair, and I really want someone to capture some photos before he loses it. I got your number from someone who said maybe you could help,’” Norris recalls. “I was very humbled by her call and thankful to be able to offer her the gift of Fotolanthropy.”
Norris assembled her team and put together a portrait session and short film for Wilkerson. A few weeks later, the child died from his illness.
“In honor of James, Fotolanthropy continued its movement to document inspiring true stories,” Norris says. “The film made an impact by helping viewers to understand what Kara’s family was going through. Understanding someone’s life circumstances can be a catalyst to renew your perspective in your own life. These are the kind of stories we have the privilege to work with.”
Thus far, Fotolanthropy has completed 15 stories and nine short films. Six of those, including Wilkerson’s, have involved Baylor families. The project that has received the most attention is Fotolanthropy’s first feature-length documentary, Travis: A Soldier’s Story (see the trailer at travisthemovie.com).
Norris served as producer on the film, which tells the inspiring story of the recovery of Travis Mills, a family man and one of only five soldiers to have survived quadruple amputee injuries during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This film, recognized as the Best Documentary Short at the 2014 GI Film Festival and selected for the 2014 Lifetree Film Fest, has received local and national attention from CNN, FOX, the Today Show, and Huffington Post, among others. The movie has screened in more than 35 cities with more to come, including at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Norris says, “Producing this film has been the highlight of my career. It’s been a life-changing experience getting to share Travis’s inspiring story with veterans and audiences across the country.”
In addition to running Fotolanthropy and her portrait business, Katie founded and designed the Fotostrap, a high-quality camera strap, with 10 percent of each sale going to Fotolanthropy. The Bagby, a green and gold strap, was created to honor Baylor. FOTO has retailers across the country and internationally.
The Fotolanthropy team involves other Baylor Bears, including Brooke Moore, BSFCS ’11, vice president; Reece Norris, BBA ’03, executive producer; Shay Dixon Paulson, BA ’09, director of public relations; and Candace Randolph, BBA ’01, board member. As their work continues to inspire more and more people, Fotolanthropy receives story ideas from across the country and now around the world.
Like many students, Norris did not instantly discover her calling upon setting foot on Baylor’s campus as a freshman. She hopes her story encourages others to dream big and chase their aspirations.
“I am very honored to be recognized,” Norris says. “I wasn’t the perfect, straight-A student, and it took me some time to figure out what I wanted to do. I hope this can encourage people that you can go for your dreams, and, if you work hard, you really can achieve them.”