Debbie McFarland: Spreading Sparks of Kindness
Story by Bonnie Helander, Photos by The Studio at Cedar Hill

Local Photographer, Debbie McFarland, owner of The Studio at Cedar Hill, is celebrating her 25th anniversary since opening her photography studio in 1998. Her business vision has always been to create images which capture each client’s uniqueness, value, and special beauty. Debbie admits that for many years she struggled with self-doubt about her own appearance until one day she had an epiphany – she realized she was God’s unique creation, and she was being disrespectful to doubt His design. This fresh perspective gave her the increased impetus to continue to help others see themselves as God sees them, and motivated her to spearhead projects to encourage kindness, and to help women and girls be more confident and understand their potential.

A move from Boston when she was nine years old landed Debbie in Peachtree City Georgia.  She was in the first graduating class at McIntosh High School and later received an Art Degree in Printing and Drawing from Georgia State University. It was an elective course in photography that captivated Debbie and pointed the path to her future career. Debbie took additional photography courses and worked hard to be certified through the Professional Photographers of America before opening her photography studio in 1998. She has received many international awards over the years, including the Kodak Georgia Photographer of the Year, and was recognized as one of the top 5% of photographers whose work was featured in numerous publications

Debbie and husband, Kevin, reared six children, now grown, and have five grandchildren. A year and a half ago, right in the middle of the pandemic, Debbie and Kevin purchased a 1930s farmhouse on ten acres. They have completely renovated the farmhouse and updated the barn, which is now Debbie’s art and photography studio. The couple opened The Flower Farm earlier this summer at the farm in Brooks as a backdrop for her photography clients and a place for anyone from the community to come out in the summer and, for a small fee, pick some beautiful, old-fashioned flowers like dahlias, sunflowers and zinnia.

Debbie’s business priority is to treat her clients like royalty. She designed her studio in serene and peaceful colors so clients feel comfortable, loved and pampered when they come in for a sitting. “I was given this God-given gift of photography, and I should honor that by giving back to people. It is all about how you treat people,” says Debbie.

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Spreading Sparks of Kindness

In December, 2014, on her 45th birthday, Debbie decided, as a gift to herself, she would do 45 small acts of kindness to help make other people feel loved and valued during the holiday season. She posted her commitment on her Facebook page, along with her ideas for small acts of kindness, and hoped it would inspire her friends and followers to do the same. According to Debbie, “It only takes one spark to ignite a wildfire!”

Facebook friends were captivated by her challenge and began posting their own small acts of caring. Her kindness movement spread rapidly worldwide to over 50 countries and was featured prominently in news stories and TV interviews all across the country. This avid, worldwide interest motivated Debbie to create an international Facebook page, Sparks of Kindness, which now has over 8,000 members. Debbie also administrates a similar Facebook page, just for Georgia residents, called Sparking Georgia.

According to Debbie, “Sparks of Kindness is about being on the lookout for opportunities to do random acts of kindness by keeping our eyes, ears and hearts open to see the moments when we can jump in and make a difference. If we open our hearts to doing a tiny act, God opens doors to bigger acts.”

While some acts are spontaneous, Debbie also encourages people to plan acts of kindness into their schedule. For example, if you have a doctor’s appointment, take flowers for the receptionist or bring hot chocolate on a cold day to the school crossing guard. And always leave a small encouraging “spark card” note! The Sparking Georgia Facebook group has several planned events each year to “spark” people with kindness. This fall the group is collecting winter clothing to distribute to the homeless in the Atlanta area. They will put together packages for each person that includes a bag, blanket, coat, gloves, scarf, hat, underwear, socks, toiletries and snacks. Last year they donated 533 bags!

Tween Empowerment

Debbie has a heart for young girls who are struggling with their appearance and self-esteem. She has noticed that girls younger and younger are unhappy and feel lost – a result of the insidious influence of social media, with its unrealistic portrayal of life. To help girls (ages 9-12) understand their true beauty and worth, Debbie hosts Tween Empowerment photo sessions. In advance of the session, Debbie asks each girl’s mom to send out a series of questionnaires to loved ones and friends to write words of affirmation and uplifting stories about the girl. After the photo session, when the young girl returns to see her photos, she actually sees a slideshow Debbie has created that displays the photos, intermingled with the loving words people shared in the questionnaires. After seeing the slideshow show, each girl responds with a big smile and usually a mixture of laughter and tears. Many remark, “I never knew people felt this way about me.” The photo sessions have proven so successful that Debbie recently hosted a Tween Empowerment Workshop for 50 young girls that featured motivational speakers, swag bags, a short photo session and an art project. It was a huge hit!

Debbie is indefatigable in her pursuit of kindness. During the COVID pandemic, she donated free photo sessions to 120 seniors of the class of 2020 so they could be photographed in their prom outfits or senior graduation caps and gowns, even though proms and graduation ceremonies could not be formally held that year! Debbie recalls one senior girl sharing she had tried on 45 prom dresses before she picked “the one” and then prom was cancelled. “I tried to bring a little bit of bright light into their lives during a horrible year,” recalls Debbie.

“Hometown Heroes” were next to benefit from Debbie’s “sparks of kindness” during the pandemic. She identified local heroes who were making a difference and invited each to meet her in an outside space to have their picture taken as a thank you for their dedication during this trying time. She photographed first responders, medical personnel, a lady making and donating masks, another doing online free art classes for children and one hosting free online yoga classes. Grocery store workers, pilots and many others who kept tirelessly working during COVID were photographed and written about on her blog and in social media.

An artistic mural on her barn door shares a message that sums up Debbie’s philosophy – LOVE LOUDER! For more information about The Studio at Cedar Hill, Sparks of Kindness, or Tween Empowerment, visit

Ten Sparks of Kindness Tips

  1. Drop off treats at a police or fire station.
  2. Take pet food to an animal shelter.
  3. Leave flowers anonymously for your neighbor.
  4. Send a thank you note or drop off treats for your pastor.
  5. Leave a thank you note for the mailman.
  6. Take coloring books and/or magazines to waiting rooms at hospital.
  7. Donate toys, clothes, food, and furniture to local charities.
  8. Thank a teacher or hair stylist with candles.
  9. Leave quarters with note at the laundromat.
  10. Pay for someone’s meal at a restaurant.