On June 5th, I experienced the highest point yet in my professional and personal life.
Fostering Media Connection’s mission is to elevate the public discourse about the toughest moments children face. Through hard work, I found myself exactly where I always wanted to be: part of a team that has created the most meaningful television production on the child welfare system to date.
Along the way, I fell in love.
And it all converged on a Thursday night in Beverly Hills.
The setting was the home of Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker, who, through their non-profit organization Foster Care Counts, have become some of FMC’s greatest allies.
At the bow of their stunning ship-shaped estate, they hosted a private screening of an upcoming episode of “Our America with Lisa Ling”, an acclaimed docu-series that airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). OWN and Winnie Wechsler, executive director of the Anthony and Jean Pritzker Family Foundation, had been kind enough to ask me, as a co-producer of the 42-minute television documentary on Los Angeles County’s child welfare system, for help in assembling the guest list.
This meant sharing the warm evening air overlooking Century City and across the bay to Palos Verdes with people like Jill Stewart, the managing editor of LA Weekly. Stewart edited my first story on foster care in 2007 and taught me how to write all the way through the cover story that formed the platform of what would become Fostering Media Connections. There were also a host of journalists I deeply respect: Robert Greene, of The Los Angeles Times; KPCC’s Karen Foshay, who won a DuPont Award for a television documentary on LA’s County’s juvenile dependency court; The Los Angeles Daily News’ Christina Villacorte, whose recent coverage of LA’s foster care system has been some of the best in the county; and Brian Carter of The Los Angeles Sentinel.
There were so many others on the patio that evening, including one who is uniquely important: my co-producer on this particular episode of Our America, Ms. Lauren Terp.
Lauren, having heard of FMC’s work from Re-Envisioning Foster Care powerhouse Judy Cockerton, had called me in May of 2013 asking questions about Los Angeles’ foster care system. Within a month’s time Part 2 Pictures, which produces Our America, had brought me on to help with what would be the “Children of the System” episode.
This meant Lauren and I were working together.
I remember that first night we met, June 23, 2013, to start scouting for the show. She was staying at the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. We agreed to meet on the roof. When I got there, the towering buildings of LA’s financial district all around me, I saw a familiar face. That of Sixto Cancel, a former foster youth who had joined me during a town hall FMC had organized at Harvard Law School in 2011, and who has since grown into a rising leader in the world of child welfare reform. Lauren had spent the day with him, and had invited him to hang out.
As Sixto and I sat there talking, Lauren walked up. I lost my words, felt the pounding in my head, and knew then and forever, she was the one for me.
Fast forward through production spent in all corners of LA County alongside the incredible Lisa Ling and Part 2’s hard-working crew to June 5, 2014 on a pleasant evening spent with old colleagues, new friends, my mother, Lauren’s parents and Lauren herself, who had said yes to marrying me.
From the patio, 80 guests were conveyed to the in-home theater. Lisa graciously thanked the hosts and OWN, and spoke about the compassionate journalism that she has been able to explore on her show. She then mentioned “Children of the System” producer, writer and director Lauren Terp, and her co-producer, Daniel Heimpel.
The lights came down and the room fell into the world I have explored for the past seven years, the world I share with Lauren and the world I want to share with you. It’s the hard edge of our society; where children face things they should never have to, and a dedicated subculture of adults struggles to make it all better.
This all comes as Los Angeles, home to the largest child welfare system in the country, begins the work of establishing its Office of Child Protection, a commitment – as yet unfulfilled – to do better by its most vulnerable children.
When the show airs next month, I hope it reminds us of the people who we are trying to help, the pain we are trying to alleviate and the hard-won moments of hope that happen all the time. These are all things Lisa explained very well when she visited Katie Couric on her show last month.
Please set your dials to the Oprah Winfrey Network on July 3rd at 10:00 PM ET/PT; and set your minds to helping the Children of the System.