by Melissa Brunner
A few weeks ago, I was given the assignment of doing a half-hour special report on the children and families who are staying at the Topeka Rescue Mission's Hope Center. Our general manager Jim Ogle was visiting with the Mission's executive director Barry Feaker about the increase in numbers and how the Hope Center is often overcrowded because so many moms and kids are coming through the doors.
Okay, I thought, I'll call Barry, he'll find me some people to interview and we'll go from there. We discussed our visions for what angles and issues we'd want to include, then Barry and his staff did all the legwork, holding meetings to identify people they thought might be willing to share their stories, then approaching them with the idea. The challenge is that, for many people, having to go to the Mission isn't exactly a source of pride. That's especially true for the teenagers, who face their peers at school every day.
I didn't know what to expect when we arrived for the first day of shooting. I imagine I wasn't unlike many of the women who ring the bell, children in tow, needing a place to stay. Would people be friendly? How clean would it be? Would you be sent to a corner or be free to move about? How long will I be here? Of course, I knew the answer to that last question for me - after a couple hours, I would go back to my job, then back to my home. The answers to the other questions I would soon learn.
I was struck by a couple things. First, the mothers (and, in one case, a grandmother). These women did not come to the Hope Center to sit around all day. They don't want to be there, but know they need to be. They are finding tools to get on their feet, support themselves and create a better life for their children. As one woman who is about to leave said, "They are trying and, eventually, they will succeed."
Second, I fell in love with the children. I'm not sure if I expected shyness or fear or what. What I found is bright, fun, articulate and smart kids ready to take on the world. I also found children who are wise beyond their years. For a seven-year old to matter-of-factly state how they lived in a house but the landlord came and said they couldn't live there anymore, or an 11-year old to say, without skipping a beat, how they came to live with their mommy but their mommy left. And what child would look at carrots and broccoli and exclaim it was a feast? As I said after my first visit, they will inspire you and break your heart at the same time.
They dream of being nurses, firefighters, scientists, even news photographers (okay, meeting Doug inspired that one!). I have not doubt they'll get there. I don't think you will, either, once you meet them. I have included our special, "Children of Hope," here. It will air on WIBW-TV at 5pm Thanksgiving Day, 5pm the day after Thanksgiving and 1:30pm Saturday the 27th.
(Note: There is 2 minutes of "black" in the middle where a commercial break would air.)