The birth and life of a great story

homelessstudentmapNCPR reporter Sarah Harris hit one out of the park this week. Sarah’s two-part story on the experience of a homeless high-school student in Parishville was months in the making, and we expected that it would do well on broadcast.

If you missed it on air or online, here it is:
Sixteen and homeless, in Parishville woods
Sixteen and homeless, pt. 2: homeless no more

It had all the classic elements of great news coverage, an untold story with great emotional reach, great sound, local voices, and focused on a problem that most people don’t recognize exists in their own backyard. As a plus, it ends well after a great effort on the part of a local community.

The situation was not uncommon, just unrecognized. 3,218 schoolchildren were reported to be homeless in the counties of the North Country last year. Sarah brought this story to light through the experience of one girl and her extended family, but through that lens she tells a story that clearly resonates with listeners across and beyond the region. How can we tell? This story has gotten more traffic than any other story published by NCPR online in the last thirteen years. It went viral on Facebook and was picked up and syndicated widely. It has generated a flood of comments in calls, in email and on the stories themselves.

But beyond the attention paid to this story by now more than 20,000 readers and listeners, it has moved the dial in the real world, too. Here’s what Sarah says about the impact this story has had since broadcast:

Powerful stories can go viral, and have a wide reach. But they also have an impact at home. I spoke with Geri Lynn Wilson, guidance secretary at Parishville-Hopkinton Central School, this morning. She says yesterday, Desiree listened to the first part of the story, along with her teacher and the entire class. They all cried. There were a lot of emotions and a lot of questions. Geri Lynn called it a “teachable moment.” The whole school — from little kids to older kids on the BOCES bus — is talking about the Wieczoreks. They’re learning that homelessness can happen to anyone. They’re learning that it happens in our small communities. And, says Geri Lynn, they’re accepting it. They’re continuing to embrace the Wieczoreks.

Let’s let this be a teachable moment for us also. Let’s take a harder look at how, and why, over 3000 North Country students were homeless last year. Let’s remember that Desiree and her family are real people, and for them, the wide distribution of this story can have real repercussions. And let’s learn from Geri Lynn Wilson and Melissa Scudder, who went above and beyond to help a family when they needed it. Let’s learn how to be good neighbors.


7 Comments on “The birth and life of a great story”

  1. Kudos to Sarah for this moving piece, and hats off to the many good kids and fine people at Parishville-Hopkinton Central School. May this story open hearts and minds near and far.

  2. Dave Weissbard says:

    Very well done and moving.

  3. This was a great piece of reporting, and further, it touches on several issues that I as a BOCES teacher deal with every day. High schoolers in crisis, homelessness, community support: this report reminds me of something that our small North Country schools do so well: love. Our schools can be centers of caring for communities. I’ve had homeless students come to school needing a shower and breakfast; I know how hard school personnel work to make schools safe places, and I know and have worked with Melissa. Thank you Sarah!

  4. Chuck Morgan says:

    It was a terrific story, a very emotional story, and just unbelievable that a situation like this could exist just 16 miles or so from where I live. It makes you wonder how many other homeless families are in this area!

    Congratulations to Sarah Harris on a spectacular job, and congratulations to NCPR! Also congratulations to a community that cares–Parishville!

  5. Donna Smith-Raymond says:

    What a moving story! Great job, Sarah and NCPR!!!

  6. Ann L. Gearhart says:

    Once again NCPR does an excellent job not only bringing us the news, but peeling back the layers of the community we love, and yet sometimes, a detail goes missing. I have been surprised at some of the comments entered regarding this story, but chalk that up to either free speech or too much snow – most people realize life can sometimes provide circumstances that are very difficult. When we think how many pay checks any one of us might be from the same situation it causes us to tremble! Thanks for giving us all the news – the good, solid and factual filled stories that make us better people for listening and thinking along with NCPR!

  7. Michael Greer says:

    A job well done Sarah. Good writing, good recording, good story telling. I’m happy that you are a part of our NCPR community.

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