Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Surprising Guided Conversation With Foster Child

Every interview is a guided conversation, but in spite of where I think I may be headed with my reporting, my subjects always lead me down paths unanticipated, and frequently they surprise me with their insight.

Foster teen Isaac and his adult mentor Barbara K. have developed a lifelong bond through weekly Saturday visits. iPhone & iPad link. Video by Paul Morris.

My journey down one of those paths began when I answered the phone back in March. Barbara Schechter, Executive Director of the Heart Gallery of Broward County (FL) was on the line wondering if I had any ideas on how to recruit mentors for her children living in foster care. Besides organizing a traveling photography exhibit of children waiting to be permanently adopted, the Heart Gallery provides innovative programs that enrich the county’s foster children.

I suggested we produce a multimedia piece featuring one adult mentor who has developed a successful relationship with a Heart Gallery child so we could tell the story through their eyes and in their own words. I’ve found viewers easily relate to the combination of photojournalism and audio story telling, what I call Public Radio With Pictures.

 Isaac, 13, leaps into mentor Barbara K.'s swimming pool during weekly Saturday visit. Still photographs by Tom Salyer

While Barbara set to work finding the subjects, I began researching mentoring on social service agency web sites and building a list of keywords that would help us filter our story telling decisions. What activities should we photograph, at what locations and the questions we should ask? Why are we making this film?

My keyword list included: guidance, friendship, relationship, trust, sharing, teacher, listen, adult, growth, role model, permanence, family problems, self confidence, support, patience, time, heart, consistency, commitment, approval, the future. Shortening the list to four or five, I was able to state the purpose of the film in one sentence:

Mentors provide children living in foster care with positive adult relationships that encourage trust, self-confidence and friendship.

During a brief telephone pre-interview with our adult mentor, Barbara K. described how for two years she has called 13-year-old Isaac every Friday afternoon to talk about their Saturday plans. Keyword consistency. How they went swimming and made cookies. Keyword friendship. Washing the car, doing homework and attending a baseball game would make great locations. While drawing up a list of questions I tried to anticipate the arch of our story, how to open, our subject’s journey and a final resolution.

Mentor Barbara K. lets her dog lick cookie dough as Isaac, who lives in a foster care group home, looks on.

On interview day in April colleague Paul Morris, running the video cameras, and I were joined by Barbara Schechter and new Heart Gallery Executive Director Ken Crooks. First we interviewed Barbara K., who quickly gave us unanticipated answers.

Among the reasons she wanted to be a mentor:

Selfishly, I have two grown children in their 40s, neither one is married, neither one has any children. I wanted some grand children!

Wrapping up her mentoring experience:
I hope that what ever happens to Isaac that he’s in my life ... forever... you’re have  friend for life, you really will.

When we asked Issac our written question about what his life was like before foster care, he firmly stated he didn’t want to talk about that. But later he offered this unanticipated journey:

I really love Miss Barbara because she is always there for me... like when I do bad stuff, and she tells me the right things to do, like when I ran away...she’s like, Isaac, you should of never (done) that, you could of gotten hurt, and...nobody could of found you, and you could of been dead...

One more guided conversation full of surprises.

This video “Miss Barbara Is Always There For Me” will be posted on the Heart Gallery’s web site, on YouTube and shown live at foster family and adoption training and fund raising events.

 Former Heart Gallery of Broward County Executive Director Barbara Schechter, left, and current Executive Director Ken Crooks supervise car washing scene during filming of "Miss Barbara Is Always There For Me."

Technical Notes:

Paul Morris recorded the video with Canon 5D Mark II and Mark III cameras and lenses. During my still photography, I recorded the ambient sound and conversations with concealed Tram TR50 lavalier microphones and Sennheiser G3 wireless units, and the interview with a boomed Sennheiser MKH 8050 hyper cardioid. I edited stills in Adobe Light Room and Photo Shop, and assembled the video in Adobe Premier Pro and Audition CS 6.