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The Greening of Greensburg

Very early on the morning on May 5, 2007 I got a call from NBC News to hurry from Denver to Greensburg, Kansas.  There had been a huge tornado and the town was devastated.  Go! Go!  When I pulled into the town six hours later I was stunned to see wreckage so complete that even the bark had been pulled off the trees.  These skeleton sentinals stood over a community of people who were lost and dazed.  The EF-5 tornado had 205 mile per hour sustained winds.  Almost the entire town was in ruins.  It was apocalyptic.

The grain elevator was one of the few buildings left standing in Greensburg, Kansas after an EF-5 tornado destroyed the town on May 4, 2007.

It was hard to imagine coming back from that scene or even having the will to rebuild but Greensburg is a plucky town.  One of the residents, who is now the mayor, Bob Dixson, had a sign on his property within days.  It read “Future home of the Dixson family.  We are blessed.”   They were still optimistic.  I guess when you consider that 11 of their neighbors had died and many more were injured, they were among the lucky ones.  I took this photo when I was out there covering the disaster.  The powerful image made me feel hopeful.

The sign in the rubble of Bob Dixson's home in Greensburg, Kansas following the tornado. He and his wife were among the first who decided to rebuild.

The town decided to pull itself out of the rubble by capitalizing on the Green in Greensburg.  They would come back environmentally friendly and create a community that was truly sustainable.   Over the years I had pitched this story to various news outlets with little success but when Budget Travel magazine singled Greensburg out as one of the coolest small towns in America I had a newsworthy hook and HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports said let’s do the story.

Almost five years later I returned to Greensburg and what I saw was as stunning as that first post disaster morning.  The town is cleaned up and there are beautiful new buildings.  The school, the hospital, City Hall and the John Deere dealership are all built back to the highest environmental standard called LEED Platinum.  There is a pretty little Main Street with shops and even a business incubator sponsored by Sun Chips.  People are living in new eco-friendly homes and are saving up to 2/3 on their utility bills.  And there are wind turbines everywhere powering the community.  Imagine using the same wind that destroyed you to help resurrect yourself!

Bob Dixson's eco-friendly rebuilt home today.

Greensburg still has its work cut out for it.  The town has half as many people as it once did but they are determined to repopulate.  Like many of the small towns in rural America, Greensburg had been dying.  But even after the tornado the folks there said we are not dead yet.  So they set out to create a sustainable future, a vision for their tomorrow that would make Greensburg a place children would want to stay, that would be attractive to new families, invite companies to relocate, and create jobs and economic development.

What’s extraordinary here is that folks in Greensburg are very conservative.  These are not tree huggers but they realized that by going green they could build a community of the future.  Today they are an inspiration for other cities reeling from disasters like tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  In a time when huge disasters seem to come at us with alarming frequency, Greensburg is showing us how to rebuild and recover.  And the message they send is that green goes with their rural values.  It is just common sense.

The foundation of a new Greensburg is in place.  It has been a gut wrenching process for people who lost everything to imagine something this big when it would have been so much easier to somewhere else.  As the town approaches the fifth anniversary of the tornado this May, they have an enormous amount to be proud about.  I personally would like to go back in five years and see how much farther they have come.  If you are traveling along Highway 54 pull off at Greensburg and see what’s been accomplished.  And if you can’t do that, watch tonight on HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports to see the hard work and ingenuity that brought Greensburg back.

Our Dan Rather Reports crew in Greensburg, Kansas during October 2011 covering the remarkable comeback of the town.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

For more of Vicky’s photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.

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9/11 Ten Years Later

Kyle and the 9/11 Firefighters

Kyle and the 9/11 Firefighters

There are some things I never forget. The day President Kennedy was assassinated. The day the Challenger exploded. Columbine. What I was doing on 9/11/2001. My husband called me and said turn on the television. I got there in time to see the second plane hit the tower. I watched with my hand over my mouth then turned to my little son and said “Kyle, we’re going to war.” All day long I walked around in a daze. That evening I was called by NBC News. Justice correspondent, Pete Williams, had been vacationing in Yellowstone National Park. He could not get back to Washington so he went live from KUSA in Denver. I was his producer. I wasn’t at Ground Zero. I wasn’t among my east coast colleagues. After a couple days Pete finally was able to get home and I returned to my routine and family.

But 9/11 wouldn’t let go of me. I was consumed by the reports and confused by my feelings. I was feeling detached, panicky and somehow responsible. The more I listened to television and radio the more I felt that the United States had somehow brought this upon ourselves. I needed to bear witness to get some perspective. I decided to go to New York and see things for myself. No one I knew would travel with me so I took my son, Kyle, the same one who looked at me confused when I said “we’re going to war.” We arrived in New York City one month to the day after the attacks. My family was incredulous that I would take him there. My husband’s family was furious that I would put him in danger. What kind of mother was I?

I was afraid to get on a plane. I pushed through it. I was afraid of the Muslim cab driver who picked us up from LaGuardia Airport. I pushed through it. He was as shellshocked as everyone else. I was stunned by the incredible compassion of New Yorkers who were so wounded yet so grateful that we had come. Even the homeless thanked us from their street corners for helping New York get back on its feet. Broadway put on its musicals but theatres were empty. The city was edgy. There were anthrax scares. We went to Ground Zero while it was smoldering. The facade was still standing, crews were still combing through the wreckage and the smell of death remained in the air. We read the flyers with faces of the missing. We saw the flowers and makeshift memorials. I was stunned into silence. I finally cried uncontrollably when we went to Grand Central Station and saw the bulletin boards full of pleas from families desperate to locate loved ones. It was all so much to take in.

I wanted Kyle to know what was lost on that day and what we still had. We couldn’t go to the Statue of Liberty so I took him for a ride on the Staten Island Ferry so he could at least get an idea of what this country stands for and why this attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the very essence of America, was so traumatic. And the most profound thing happened. On board the ferry were so many firefighters. They were all from out of town. They had come to attend funerals of their fallen brothers because there simply were not enough firefighters left to honor so many who had died. They were riding the ferry from one funeral to another to give their brothers a proper farewell. Kyle stood among them and had his picture taken. Kyle and the heroes. Later when we were in Midtown Manhattan we paused and watched a funeral processions for a fallen policeman. It was so somber. There was so much sadness in the air.

Now ten years later we pause and reflect and watch memorial tributes on all the television networks then on September 12 we will quickly get on with our lives. So much has changed as a result of 9/11 but so much has really stayed the same. I think most people wish it would just go away and we no longer would live with this cloud of vulnerability. The memories are so painful. But of course it won’t leave us and we persevere. It never will go away and we shall always remember the day and what we were doing when we first found out. I will always be grateful for that time I spent with my son in New York in October 2001. It gave me a chance to grieve and such a sense of clarity. The United States did nothing to provoke this. Did nothing to deserve this terrorist attack at the very soul of America. And yes we did go to war. At the moment it seemed so right. So necessary. We’ve had a lot of time to reflect on that too.

Going to New York after 9/11 was life altering for me and one of the most profound teaching moments for my child. A couple years ago I took my other son, Blair, to New York City. It was a much more festive time but we still went to Ground Zero. It’s a construction site now with a memorial to the side. I kept babbling about memories from the trip I took with Kyle. I wanted Blair to feel it too. We went to the little church next door that withstood the blast and is a memorial to this day. A choir was singing in memory of the fallen, all those years later. There were touching memorials to the New Yorkers and first responders who died. And we went to the Statue of Liberty so he would know what was lost and what this country still stands for to Americans and the world.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see more photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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Gone to the Dogs

My friend, Niza Knoll, has an art gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver.  Knoll Gallery is a fantastic array of creativity and is emerging as one of the best galleries in Denver (in my humble opinion.)  Each year Niza does a juried exhibit featuring art on dogs.  Gone to the Dogs 3 opens this Friday, August 19, and runs through September 17.  I asked Niza why she does this particular exhibit each year.

“I grew up with dogs and always loved their company when I came home.  They give us unconditional love.  They fill an empty spot in my life.  I like being needed.  It always fascinated me that a creature so different than us can connect with our feelings and moods and be able to live with us.  I have always connected more with people that like dogs or cats so I thought it would be fun to share my love for this amazing creature with others.  It really has been lots of fun and I have met some great dog lovers.”

A couple of springs ago I was fortunate to have an exhibit at Niza’s gallery and I had a couple of dog photos that I took on display.  The chihuahua on the sidewalk was taken at Union Square in San Francisco, California. I loved how this pampered pooch was in complete lockstep with her owner. She was a little diva of a dog.

The other photograph was taken in Talkeetna, Alaska.  Talk about a dog and master looking alike. What characters!

Hope you can make it to see Niza’s show.  Her gallery is at 915 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, Colorado, 80204.  The Denver Dumb Friends League will be there with adoptable dogs so maybe you’ll come away with art and a pup to love.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see more photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.

 


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Happy Birthday, JonBenet Ramsey

JonBenet Ramsey would have been 21 years old today. I covered this story for years for NBC News. For a time the world could not get enough of this murder mystery.  Was riding a train in Italy one day and mentioned to my seat mates that I was from Colorado. All they wanted to know is “Who killed JonBenet?” Fifteen years later we still don’t know how the little girl died during Christmas 1996 in Boulder. Hopefully someday this case will be solved. Since then, JonBenet’s mother, Patsy Ramsey died and father, John Ramsey remarried. But still no justice for JonBenet.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/05/jonbenet-ramsey-murdered-_n_919553.html?icid=maing-grid7%7Cmain5%7Cdl6%7Csec1_lnk3%7C84175#s323617


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Where’s Doonesbury?

I must have been out of town when the Denver Post yanked “Doonesbury” along with “Peanuts” and some other comic strips.  I’ve been thinking I should write in or call or say something because I miss “Doonesbury” and I’m annoyed, but I haven’t and apparently neither have many others.  Westword wrote a blog about this.

http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2011/06/denver_post_yanks_doonesbury_peanuts.php

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development



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Facetime Instead of Facebook: 36 Hours in Honolulu

The Sunday New York Times had a feature in its Travel Section today on how to spend 36 hours in Honolulu.  It singled out some of my favorite places like Kapiolani Park, Chinatown and the drive from Hanauma Bay to Waimanalo with stops at Sandy Beach and Makapuu.  With no disrespect to the author, Jocelyn Fujii, I would like to suggest my own itinerary based on recent travels and a reunion with Na Kani Pela, a choir I sang with in high school that represented Hawaii for the Bicentennial celebration.  I guarantee you will have a magical time.

Na Kani Pela choir gathers for 35th Reunion in Honolulu.

First, start by bringing in the people who made your high school years memorable.  Collect them all on Facebook then invite them and their families for a big reunion bash.  Bug them until they say yes, as showing up for a reunion 35 years later gives people considerable angst.  Get people warmed up with a small gathering at the Ground Floor on Richards Street in downtown Honolulu and listen to some Hawaiian music.  Hold a pot luck at the home of your calabash mama who looks just like she did 35 years ago.  Watch the spark of recognition in her eyes with each arrival and the tears of joy as she gives you a huge ohana hug.  Realize you are older now then she was back in 1976.  Shudder!  Celebrate as each of your high school friends walks through the door.  Sing the songs that were the soundtrack of your youth.  Take photos.  Hug alot.  Talk story.  Bring tons of food and pig out.

Stay in room 1431 of the Waikiki Beach Marriott with a view of Honolulu that will make you never want to leave.  Spend time with your sisters for the first time in three decades on your island home.  Bring your sons along as dates.  Let them roam around Waikiki like you did when you were teenagers.  Get up early every day and walk around Diamond Head.  Discover the Farmers Market at Kapiolani Community College.  Have inari sushi, fried green tomatoes and shave ice for breakfast.  Talk to a homeless man named George on Kalakaua Avenue who reminds you that “just because you don’t have a roof over your head, doesn’t mean you don’t have a home.”  Visit your favorite beaches on Oahu.  Eat plate lunch at Zippy’s, L & L, Kaneke’s and Ted’s Bakery.  Have breakfast at Wailana.  Char siu omelet.  Ono!

Na Kani Pela picnic in Waimanalo

Have a picnic on the beach at Sherwood’s in Waimanalo.  Make Kukui Nut leis with your buddies and talk more story.  Watch your children play in the surf and get stung by Portuguese Man of Wars just like you did when you were a kid.  Be baffled as they stay in the water even though the pain makes them want to jump out of their shorts.  Realize that if your son was growing up in Hawaii today it would be a perfect fit just like it was for you so many years ago.  Have a banquet at the Elk’s Club and watch 4th of July fireworks in the distance.  Ooh and aah!  See all your friends in their muumuus and aloha shirts.  Realize you are all older and a few pounds heavier but you can still sing and raise the roof like you did when you were teenagers.  Watch two generations of hula dancers and tell your friends just how much they meant in your life.  Hug some more, this time holding on tighter, as you say goodbye for now.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

There is no place like Hawaii, and to me, there is no place like Honolulu, where I grew up and still continue to call home.  The only problem is that you eventually have to leave.  36 hours go by quickly.  This time when I flew back to the mainland over the lights of Waikiki I took so much more with me.  I carried my friends from Na Kani Pela, I took a tropical sea of memories and the music that played in the background of my youth.  I came back to Colorado with a full heart and a sense of how lucky I was to be a kid who grew up in a place like that, with friends like that, surrounded by love like that.  That’s how you spend 36 hours in Honolulu.  Now we’ll have to stay in touch on Facebook.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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New BeadforLife Party Video

We have just completed BeadforLife’s new party video. If you are not familiar with BeadforLife and the wonderful work this NGO does for women in Uganda go to http://beadforlife.org. BeadforLife is an income generating project which creates a circle of connection and compassion between women around the globe and women in Uganda who are trying to lift their families out of extreme poverty. Women in the slums of Kampala roll beads out of recycled paper and women in North America and Europe sell them. The money is returned to Uganda to help women care for their families, provide food, shelter, health care and education. BeadforLife has also launched an initiative in war torn Northern Uganda where women gather shea nuts for shea butter which is used in cosmetics. BeadforLife also offers a curriculum for middle and high school students to raise awareness and get them engaged in the fight to end extreme poverty.


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Rocky Mountain News Retrospective

Two years ago the Rocky Mountain News ended publication after 150 years.  The Colorado newspaper was a casualty of a changing media environment which saw the bankruptcy of dailies across America.  Recently former Rocky editor and publisher, John Temple, sent out a survey to his former staffers to see how they were faring in their careers.  Ryan Warner of Colorado Public Radio sat down with him to crunch the numbers and have an enlightening conversation on the state of the newspaper business and how things are going in his current job as editor of the EBay backed local online news source, Honolulu Civil Beat.

http://www.cpr.org/article/Rocky_Journalists_Two_Years_Later

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Deja Vu

My youngest son, Blair, is 13 years old today.  A teenager.  Now I have two of them.  I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. Last night I was in his room, sitting on his bed, leaning against the wall, when I had a powerful deja vu.  Just days after his birth I was in the same place, sitting on a futon, holding him in front of me so I could look directly in his eyes, and I was talking to this baby we tried so desperately hard to have.  “Blair, you complete me.”

I was on maternity leave from my “permalance” television production job at NBC News, hoping to get the call that I was being brought on staff.  I was hugely pregnant when they flew me to New York right before Christmas for my interviews at 30 Rock and MSNBC, then I heard nothing.  A month later I left to have a baby and still nothing.  Blair was born on February 1 and I was well into my leave with no word.  I was starting to give up hope that I would get the job.  I remember holding my baby and telling him that it didn’t matter.  “Blair, you complete me.”

Shortly after, the most enormous bouquet of flowers showed up at my door.  It was the kind you see in a hotel lobby.  The card read “Your friends at NBC News would like to welcome Blair Aaron to the world and welcome you to the NBC Family.”  It was one of the most stunning and unexpected gestures I had ever experienced.  Last night I sat on Blair’s bed, cuddling my 13 year old son and I told him that story about how two dreams had come true.  A big boy snuggled in my arms this time and I repeated what I had told him so long ago.  “Blair, you complete me.”

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

 

 

 


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Blair’s First Filmmaking Job

My 12 year old son, Blair Ewalt, a budding filmmaker and 7th grade student at Denver School of the Arts, just produced his first professional film.  It is a two and a half minute promotional piece for an exhibit called “The 4000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks” at Denver’s Mizel Museum. The exhibit opens on February 2, 2011.  

It took Blair less than two weeks to produce the video.  He shot it in high definition and edited it on Final Cut. He did the videotaping over Christmas break so he didn’t miss any school.  What makes me particularly proud about this is that his father and I didn’t get him the job.  The marketing manager of the Mizel Museum, Sue Stoveall, remembered his audition film for DSA, a short called “A Christmas Gift,” and thought he had the right stuff.

He will have his first paycheck soon and the museum is sending a press release out to the Denver Post and other media singing the praises of the middle school kid who they hired.  Congratulations, Blair.  Someday I’m sure we will all be working for you.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.