In 2003, Community Chest applied for, and was accepted to be featured on the Visionaries Public Television Program narrated by the actor Sam Waterston. This program — now in its tenth season — profiles thirteen innovative nonprofit organizations (per year) throughout the world that are involved in social change. CCI was selected from over 6,500 applicants. Visionaries is a nonprofit organization that, in addition to doing these documentaries, teaches aspiring filmmakers how to make compelling feature-length films.
From the outset CCI staff saw this as an opportunity to reach a larger audience specifically to bring issues of poverty and hunger into America’s living rooms and — most importantly — examples of how these very personal issues could be addressed and ended locally. After two and-a-half years of effort and countless conversations about how to wake America from its slumber, the film crew, led by director/producer Jody Santos, arrived in February. She and her three assistants spent a week interviewing Community Chest staff and constituents. They followed us nearly everywhere: into our homes, our daily routines, and the prison where we teach poetry, the early childhood Classroom on Wheels, and the drug and alcohol prevention groups run in neighboring communities. They went into the schools, they filmed the surrounding landscape and in the end, captured I believe, what we set out to do: build a healthy community for all people who live here.
Prior to their arrival in northern Nevada, Jody and her interns spent seven months following Vilmaria Harvey and her children through the Boston shelter system. This segment of footage is devastating: she left her husband due to abuse and is fighting a lung disease. Her children suffer immensely from the poverty this separation caused. She is put in the awkward position of choosing between their survival and hers. The two segments of film have been woven together to present one family’s ordeal with homelessness and a model for prevention work to illustrate that localized social change can be done almost anywhere if there is a will to do so. Translation: Vilmarias life could be defined by choice not desperation. I have no doubt the documentary will be met with various levels of relief, anxiety, and frustration. But I also hope that in some living room across America, Jody and her colleagues will have shown the viewer what their hands and hearts can and must do.
In the end, all we have is hope; civilization requires a just template for living. This documentary is not a panacea; it is a step toward fulfilling the human contract: all people must live with food, shelter, safety, and education. These are not my words, but our words.