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North Augusta teen raising awareness of scoliosis featured in state photo exhibit

April 11, 2017 GMT

A photography exhibit featured this month in Columbia shows that having a disability doesn’t have to stop a person from leading a full life.

The Look! Forward photography exhibit is hosted by the Family Connection of South Carolina.

About the exhibit

Fifty people were chosen for this year’s exhibit, including 17-year-old Elisabeth Harkins from North Augusta.

Harkins lives with scoliosis, a condition where the spine curves sideways.

“I was excited to find out I was selected,” she said. “I was sort of shocked though because I was not really expecting it. There are so many kids and teenagers with disabilities all over South Carolina that are doing all these awesome things so it is an honor to me.”

Tiffany Clifford, the executive director of Walton Options for Independent Living, nominated the teenager, Harkins said.

Harkins is the only person from Aiken County featured.

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“She’s a sweetheart,” said Mila Burgess-Conway, volunteer and development coordinator of the Family Connection’s Columbia office. “I’m glad she’s part of it.”

The exhibit highlights babies, other teenagers and youth adults.

“It is to raise awareness. It is to shed a light on the various things that children with disabilities go through but also to shed light on their successes, their strength and their beauty and just what they can do,” Burgess-Conway said.

Twenty-seven photographers donated their time to shoot the exhibit’s photos.

“Some of them charge up to $300 for their sessions, but after we added up all their time that they offered us, it’s about a $40,000 value,” Burgess-Conway said.

Rebecca Triplett took Harkins’ photos at the South Carolina State House.

That’s because for the last four years, former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley passed a proclamation that declared June to be Scoliosis Awareness Month in South Carolina per Harkins’ request.

June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month.

The Look! Forward exhibit has been set-up in Greenville, a site of one of Family Connection’s offices, for the past three years.

This is the first time the exhibit has been in the Midlands and can be viewed at the Tapp’s Arts Center, 1644 Main St., Columbia, until the end of this month.

Tapp’s is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

For more information on the exhibit, visit www.familyconnectionsc.org.

More about Harkins, her efforts

Harkins is an 11th-grader at North Augusta High School.

In addition to getting her state proclamation passed, Harkins has gotten North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones to pass a proclamation declaring June as Scoliosis Early Detection Awareness Month in North Augusta for the last three years.

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Her current awareness efforts of scoliosis include requesting S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and Jones to pass proclamations for this June and and leading a local Curvy Girls support group for girls with scoliosis.

Harkins also has attended two Curvy Girls Conventions in Long Island and has participated in the Curvy Girls Fashion show twice.

“With some help from my friend Jan Travis, I got to design my own outfits and model them. Both outfits were designed to show off my scoliosis brace, so that was cool,” Harkins said.

The scoliosis awareness advocate has even created brochures about the local Curvy Girls support group that she is looking to place at orthopedic offices around the area.

“Hopefully, this will raise more awareness and get people talking about scoliosis,” she said. “I would like to come up with a way to get some information about early detection sent out to the elementary schools so they can let parents know. The earlier scoliosis is detected, the better the chances are of avoiding spinal surgery later on. If anyone has an idea to help me with this or how to get it done, please let me know.”

Harkins is very involved in school activities, including being a part of the NJROTC unit, playing the saxophone in the marching band and helping run the Sign Language Club that she started.

The teenager also is learning the ukulele, is an active Girls Scout and has been the president of the Aiken County Red Cross Youth Board for two years.

For more information on the Curvy Girls chapter, visit Curvy Girls Ga/SC - Scoliosis Support Group on Facebook or email curvygirlgasc@yahoo.com.