Vicky Collins Online

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Addiction Among Us

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I’m learning a lot about addiction now that I’m working on a project for the Betty Ford Center Children’s Program.  I’m learning about the impact alcohol and drug abuse have on kids when there is addiction in the home.  I’m also learning that there is hope that a family can escape the clutches of addiction.  Healing is possible with the right kind of help.  According to the Surgeon General one in seven people in the U.S. will develop a substance disorder at some point but only one in ten will get help.  That’s a lot of people suffering and a lot of children affected by the chaos.

“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” said Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in his report. “Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”  The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has viewed addiction through this lens since it’s inception.  The Betty Ford Center Children’s Program helps kids ages 7 to 12 separate the disease from those that they love and understand it is not their fault when their grown ups are trapped by addiction.  Children who are the first hurt do not have to be the last helped.  Kate Snow with NBC Nightly News did a story recently to show the good the program does.

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Fear and Loathing in West Texas

Carol McKinley of HDNet's World Report speaking to young construction worker from the FLDS in San Angelo, Texas.

Just returned from San Angelo, Texas where reporter Carol McKinley and our crew worked on a story for HDNet’s World Report about the FLDS and how the polygamous fundamentalist Mormon sect is integrating into the local economy.  If you recall, members of the FLDS picked up in 2004 and left their homes in Utah to relocate to Eldorado, Texas.  They built a huge compound and the population has been steadily growing.  In 2008, there was a highly publicized raid where their children were removed because of allegations of child sexual abuse.  Some “Saints” are in jail and Warren Jeffs, their prophet and leader, has been extradited to Texas to face charges of aggravated sexual assault.  His trial is now scheduled to begin in July.

All that is the back story.  The report we are doing is about how, despite the myriad of setbacks for the group, they are thriving in their new home, much to the frustration of many in the community.  A huge conflict is emerging in the construction industry.  Men in the FLDS are highly skilled in the construction trades and are getting a foothold in the workplace.  They are hired on residential and commercial projects.  They also work as subcontractors on city, state and federal construction jobs.  People in the community say FLDS men work for less because they aren’t paid comparably for labor, and there is no longer a level playing field in the trades.  In addition, they are outraged that people in the community would hire men who allegedly sexually abuse young girls.  Everyone in this small town has an opinion on this.

With that in mind we set out to tell the story and encountered a climate of fear from almost everyone we met.  Members of the San Angelo construction community who have spoken out against the FLDS told us about being intimidated.  Folks used the words “Mafia” and “extortion” when describing FLDS tactics.  Almost everyone was afraid to go on camera because they worried they would be sued by FLDS lawyers. They believed they would also be threatened or lose their customers and livelihood.  Big burly construction workers would fill our ear with their stories off camera, but few would go on the record.  It took alot of calls to finally convince a couple people to speak out.  They did so with great trepidation.

On the other hand, the FLDS would scatter almost every time we showed up to videotape.  It was like playing hide and seek.  One builder who has a great relationship with FLDS workers and sings their praises spoke to us, but when we went to find his men on the job that day they were gone.  He was stunned that they would flee.  The only explanation, an email saying that we had been poking around Eldorado and he should not talk to the media, that no good could possibly come of that.  Over the course of our trip we repeatedly tried to catch his FLDS subcontractors at work to get video, but almost every time they heard we were in the area they took off.  It seemed they had a sophisticated communication network which tracked our movements and knew when we would be where.  Three young men spoke to us when we caught them by surprise, but you could feel their palpable anxiety.  We believe a couple even gave us fake names.  They could not have been more kind and polite and you wonder why members are so secretive rather than speaking and helping to foster communication and understanding.

Despite the difficulties in San Angelo, we have a very strong story about the fundamentalist Mormon culture and how they are moving forward in the economy.  Many who have spent their lives in West Texas worry aloud that the FLDS will take over.  It’s a culture clash of the first order.  Carol and the crew also visited Short Creek, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints settlement on the border between Utah and Arizona, that was settled almost a century ago.  Much to her surprise the FLDS is building a mansion for prophet Warren Jeffs in anticipation of his triumphant return when his Texas troubles are over.  Watch for more on HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, February 8th.

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


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Homeless Children

The plight of homeless children was the focus of two articles in the 5/18 edition of USA Today. One is about 11 year old Zach Bonner who is walking from Atlanta, Georgia to Washington, D.C. to raise money and awareness for homeless youngsters. He hopes to meet with President Obama when he arrives in July.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-05-17-wagon-boy_N.htm?csp=34

The other is by CBS anchor, Katie Couric, who draws attention to the rapidly growing “collateral damage” from the economic downturn, children, whose families have lost jobs to layoffs and homes to foreclosure as the recession has worsened.

http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/05/the-recessions-tiniest-victims-need-help-too.html

While working on a story about the impact of the economy on public hospitals I had a chance to see for myself the world that children, some formerly middle class, live in when they lose their homes. Besides being on the move many try to keep their shame a secret from friends. Attending school, receiving medical care, transportation, everything is difficult.  Thanks to Zach and Katie for telling the story.

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


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India Ethics

I wrote a blog on Christmas Day 2008 (after seeing the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”) about how conflicted I was while in Delhi, India over what to do when children begged for handouts.  Apparently I’m not the only person who has struggled with how to respond.  Check out Sunday’s New York Times column, The Ethicist, by Randy Cohen.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03wwln-ethicist-t.html

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


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Slumdogs

I can’t get the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” out of my mind.  Just like India, it was surprising and unexpected.  The beauty and brutality are staying with me.  It made me think back to a little street urchin who came up to our car window in Old Delhi.  I can’t get her out of my thoughts either.  She approached our vehicle when we were stopped at an intersection.  She put her fingers to her mouth to indicate she was hungry just like the little beggars did in the movie.  I asked if I could take her photo and she smiled for the camera.  I dug into my wallet.  No rupee coins.  I gave her some pennies instead.  My companion was disgusted with me.  He pointed out that my American money was of no value to her.  That it was insulting to give her something she could not use.  I felt angry and judged.  How was it worse to give her a small amount as opposed to nothing at all?  He did not go for his wallet.  Was it better to ignore her altogether?

Beggar Girl in Old Delhi

Beggar Girl in Old Delhi

It’s a dilemma in India when you see these children.  You want to help but you’re advised not to.  As in the movie, they are exploited by adults.  We saw many beggar children in Old Delhi.  When people gave them coins on the steps of the mosque they would scramble to nearby adults and turn them over.  You heard stories about families who would cut off the limb of a child or blind him so he would have a more lucrative career as a beggar.  The cruelty is staggering.  The movie captured the horror.  It is difficult to turn away from the faces in the car window, from the children at intersections with hungry eyes or the ones who make you laugh with their quirky little dances.  When I was in Delhi they seemed like nuisances.  I wanted to shoo them off.  But it occurred to me when I saw the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” that each one of these children has a story.  What is that story worth?  Something or nothing at all?

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