Category: Road Trip

The Power of Public Media

If you head due south on Highway 57 out of Chicago, and drive a couple of hours through vast fields of corn and soybeans, you’ll end up in Urbana-Champaign, vibrant home to the flagship campus of the University of Illinois. Illinois Public Media lives on campus, providing access to public radio, television, and digital content – including PBS/NPR programs as well as locally-produced work – to residents throughout the state of Illinois, with its primary audience living in the “belt” stretching across the widest part of the state.


Illinois Newsroom reporter Lee V. Gaines listens during an interview at Illinois Public Media’s studios.

Illinois Public Media works tirelessly to serve its many audiences. News and public affairs, especially in these times, are a priority; the organization’s powerful local and statewide newsrooms (the latter, Illinois Newsroom, is a partnership involving other public media organizations in Illinois, and is anchored at Illinois Public Media) and talk shows like The 21st provide thoughtful, comprehensive coverage and in-depth analysis of news affecting state residents. However, it’s important (and sometimes a relief) to balance this reporting of the news with entertainment and lifestyle programming designed purely to inspire audiences. Television shows like Mid-American Gardener (now also a podcast) encourage Illinoisans to get outside and enjoy their local environments. Webseries like Classical:BTSspotlight regional classical musicians and practitioners while reminding viewers of our classical FM station. And these are just two examples!

Illinois Public Media’s Mid-American Gardener crew gathering footage in a local viewer’s garden for the program’s “Other People’s Gardens” segment.

Audiences grow in response to meaningful content, presented respectfully. But in public media, some of that growth must translate into financial support. Public media has always been financially supported in large part by its generous viewers and listeners, all of whom are “paying it forward” by helping provide a service that’s available to everyone.

Composer and harpist Julia Kay Jamieson was one of six artists profiled in Series 1 of Illinois Public Media’s Classical:BTS webseries.

Paul Newman was a big believer in the power of public media. Newman’s Own Foundation has helped pave the way for stations like Illinois Public Media by helping our membership team accelerate our stations’ reach into all of our communities via matching gifts, which incentivize new members to step up and have their gift to Illinois Public Media matched by Newman’s Own Foundation. Sometimes, it’s just the push new members need, and this support has made all the difference as we continue the work – and the privilege – of providing the news… and inspiring an informed and engaged public.

Encore on 52nd Street

In Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, just off of Tenth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets, is The 52nd Street Project, an after-school arts education organization that teaches kids how to create new work for the theater. On Tuesday afternoons, they offer their Playmaking program for kids ages 9 and 10 to learn about creating characters, conflicts, and dramatizations. At the end of this eight-week program, each child pairs up with an adult dramaturge/director and two professional actors such as Frances McDormand, Mozhan Marnò, Jonathan Groff, Bobby Cannavale, Billy Crudup, Edie Falco, and Nancy Giles. The kids interview their actors then head off to a writing retreat to create an original work, which is then produced free of charge for the general public.


Edie Falco

The 52nd Street Project has invited us to join them at their Five Angels Theater today to enjoy a few of the productions that the most recent Playmaking group is putting on. We’re excited for the opportunity to see the shows the children have created from their own imagination, which the adults have helped bring to life with sets, costumes, lighting, sound, and live music. Just as the show is about to begin, we notice the Playwright’s Desk on the corner of the stage. We learn that this is where each kid gets to sit while their show is being performed.

We thoroughly enjoy the first production, and applause erupts in the theater as the actors take their bows. They are then joined by the child, and they all take their bows together in what is truly a magical moment for everyone.

The Playmaking program is available for kids all the way through high school with additional opportunities for performing, writing, and technical design. The 52ndStreet Project tells us that alongside their theater programs, they offer academic and mentoring programs as well as an employment program for the teens.

As we wrap up our visit with The 52nd Street Project, we’re grateful for the opportunity to see these original productions by such a talented group of kids.

Greetings from Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center

On the corner of Walnut Avenue and Chestnut Street in downtown Santa Cruz, California, there stands an old blue Victorian house. Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center has called that house at 303 Walnut Avenue home since 1944. Many of the families participating in Walnut Avenue’s programs are from under-served populations due to poverty, early pregnancy, homelessness, and/or domestic violence.  

Here at Walnut Avenue, the Family Support Services (FSS) program provides support to their participants by managing their Food Bank. The goal of FSS is to ensure that everyone who enters their doors feels welcomed, respected, and cared for.  

One of Walnut Avenue’s participants shares, “My children and I have benefited from the supplemental food program greatly, allowing us to have healthy meals at home together.” Another states, “The food donations help me to save a little extra money for prescription co-payments and other things that I couldn’t normally afford, like movie tickets or a professional haircut.” The food Walnut Avenue provides to their participants has alleviated financial stress for them and their families. One notes that, “It is so helpful. I’m able to put the money I save towards my PG&E bill.” 

Rachel Willis, one of their many dedicated volunteers, arrives at Walnut Avenue bright and early every Thursday morning to make 25-30 supplemental food bags, which are passed out on Fridays.

Their Food Bank will soon include a fridge for fresh produce, made possible by Newman’s Own Foundation. The fresh produce is vital for the health of the families they serve, especially as the cost of living keeps rising.  

Feeding Fairfield County

For the next stop on our Road Trip, we’re close to home at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission (BRM) in Bridgeport, Connecticut. When we arrive, we head straight to the dining room, where lunch is being served to the homeless and hungry of Fairfield County. We sit down at a table with a few guests to hear more about what’s brought them in today.

BRM
Mobile Kitchens bring delicious and nutritious meals to neighbors in need

Our new friends who we are seated with, let us know that they are thankful for the opportunity to visit BRM every day. These on-site meals are served three times a day all year round, so guests are sure to get a hot meal even when it’s cold or snowing outside.

In fact, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission serves over 550,000 meals each year to men, women, and children in coastal Fairfield County. We learn that in addition to the on-site meals, BRM has a few other ways of getting food to those in need.

Mobile Kitchen: The Mobile Kitchen brings delicious fresh-cooked meals to families living in the Bridgeport or Norwalk low-income neighborhoods.

Food Pantry: Open on weekdays, the Pantry is the largest in the region. It offers groceries, fresh produce, meat, and bread to food-insecure families.

Great ThanksGiving Project: The annual Great ThanksGiving Project provides frozen turkeys, other Thanksgiving favorites, and winter coats to 3,200 families in need.

BRM also helps facilitate programs like Norwalk Summer Lunch, when donors come together to make meals for children at Norwalk Learning Centers. We’re impressed by all the creative ways BRM makes sure the residents of coastal Fairfield County don’t go hungry.

fresh food
Retail partners help bring fresh produce to families in need

It’s been a great visit to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, and we’re happy to help support them as they bring delicious and nutritious meals to our neighbors in need.

Experiencing Summer Camp in the Poconos

Driving through the Poconos in Pennsylvania, just 120 miles west of New York City, we pull through the gates of Camp Equinunk and the campus unfolds before us. We arrive just as the sun begins to set on a busy and active day of fun, and the energy we feel makes it apparent that this isn’t your average summer camp.

Tylil

Camp Equinunk is part of Experience Camps, and it’s a place where grieving children come together to have fun, form bonds, learn coping skills, and know they’re not alone. The secret ingredient to this magical place is the depth and inclusiveness of the relationships that are formed.

Waterfront dance party

Experience Camps has four locations around the country with more than 600 campers, 300 volunteers, 25 licensed clinicians, and countless others whose lives have been affected by loss.

Banana boating

On this final night of camp, the campers gather one last time for their closing campfire. We watch as each child is invited up to light a candle for their person or people who died and to share a few words about camp, grief, or friendship. It’s a remarkably moving experience—one that leaves us emotionally drained, but also charged with hope for each of these resilient kids. The road through grief can be a long one for a child. Thanks to Experience Camps, that journey is shared with understanding friends and a newfound community of support.

ABRI Homes for the Brave

For our next stop, we leave the Newman’s Own Foundation headquarters, hop on the highway, and get off after a few exits when we arrive in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In just 15 minutes, we pull up to the headquarters of  Homes for the Brave (HFTB) and make our way into the three-story brick building.

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HFTB provides housing and support to homeless men and women who have served our country. Today, we’re meeting with Executive Director Vincent Santilli to learn more about the organization. Vincent explains that the transitional home for men,  which holds 42 beds, opened in 2002.  The women’s program, which has 15 beds, opened in 2011 and is the only type of its kind in the TriState area.

Residents range from individuals in their 20s all the way into their 90s, each struggling with physical or mental health issues; drug, alcohol, and substance abuse; former incarceration; limited education and training; or financial hardships. The goal of HFTB is to help the residents overcome these barriers in a safe environment. We learn that each participant of the program works with a team of professionals to find safe, affordable housing and return to a meaningful and productive life. Residents have the opportunity to attend computer classes, pre-employment workshops, and life skills sessions. During our tour of the building, we see the fully-stocked kitchen, laundry room, computer lab, and several social gathering areas. Vincent tells us that each resident helps out with daily chores to keep the home clean and comfortable.

We’re impressed by all the great things happening at HFTB and all the progress these men and women are making with the support of the program.

The Gateway to Learning

St. Louis is most famous for the Gateway Arch, but for local children who have learning differences, Miriam School and Miriam Academy are landmarks of even greater significance. Today, we’re lucky to have the chance to tour Miriam with someone who knows the school very well—current student Devlin Riney.

Devlin and momDevlin and his mother, Heather, greet us at the front doors of Miriam Academy, which serves students in grades 9-12. Right away, we’re blown away by their enthusiasm and appreciation for the school. We can tell this is a place where Devlin feels happy and comfortable.

As we walk down the hallways to Devlin’s classroom, we learn that over the years Devlin has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and anxiety. Heather tells us that growing up, Devlin had few friends and struggled to keep up in the traditional classroom setting. He became more and more isolated, and it was clear something had to change. A friend recommended Miriam, and Heather knew right away that it was exactly where Devlin belonged.

She was right. Devlin found his home at Miriam. “When I drop Devlin off, I sometimes find myself tearing up because I am so thankful for Miriam. The staff not only understand him, they embrace him. Devlin thinks outside of the box, and the teachers know how to encourage him…His experience at Miriam has given me confidence that Devlin has a chance at a really great life, with friends and love. Miriam is the difference between surviving and thriving,” Heather shares.Devlin reading

We’re grateful to have met Devlin and Heather and to have stopped by this amazing school that is making a difference in Devlin’s life and the lives of nearly 1000 other students with learning differences in St. Louis.