The statistics are staggering. The horror stories are too numerous to comprehend.
Children who wind up in the nation’s foster-care system face a much higher risk of experiencing physical and emotional traumas, from homelessness to substance abuse to suicide.
But there is no more powerful tool to raise awareness of the needs of children and youth who are in need of foster-care services than a testimonial from one who has been in their shoes. And there is no more meaningful way to instill hope than the story of a person who not only survived but has thrived in his adult life.
That’s where Scott Koondel comes in. Koondel, CBS Corp.’s chief content licensing officer and senior VP, endured years of substandard and abusive foster-care homes before striking out on his own as a young teenager in New York City. Today, Koondel is a successful business executive, husband and father of four.
For years, Koondel rarely spoke of his childhood experiences, even to his own kids. But a few years ago he decided to reflect on his past in an effort to help make a difference for kids who are facing the same painful, bewildering transition that he did as a boy after his father died.
A few years ago, as his daughter began working on a service project, Koondel became involved in One Simple Wish, a Trenton, N.J.-based nonprofit organization that aids youth in foster care. He also used his vast network of media industry connections to secure commitments from major networks — including ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, Freeform and Ion — to donate PSA time to the L.A.-based advocacy org FosterMore. He also arranged for Showtime to air the short film “Momma,” directed by Nachos Arenas. It tells the heartbreaking story of a boy’s fear of being drawn into foster care.
In recognition of those efforts, Koondel will be feted May 16 by CASA NYC at its annual A Time for Heroes gala at Manhattan’s Marquee. Court Appointed Special Advocates is a national volunteer-based organization that works with judicial systems around the country to pair the most at-risk children and youth in foster care with advocates who will help guide them through the maze of legal and social services they need to survive.
|Koondel championed Nacho Arenas’ 15-minute film “Momma,” securing a small-screen debut on Showtime this spring.|
“What Scott is doing is so powerful,” says Kerry Moles, executive director of CASA NYC. “He has brought together the entertainment industry in a way that we have never seen before. That’s a pretty amazing thing on its own, but then he can have so much influence by sharing his own story.”
As a pre-teen, Koondel endured neglect and emotional abuse in a group home until he finally ran away for good. He lived by his own wits, on and off the streets, but made it through high school and managed to get into Syracuse U., where he got his first exposure to the entertainment industry.
The conditions Koondel faced in 1970s New York were unusually brutal. Today, CASA NYC serves about 1,000 of the 13,000 kids a year in the New York City area who spend some time in the foster-care system. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges for kids facing the most challenging circumstances. Government funding covers about 25% of CASA NYC’s annual budget of about $1.5 million. Private donations and annual fundraising are crucial for the organization, which is why Koondel’s drive to raise awareness of the plight of foster-care children and the need for caring foster-care families has been so significant, Moles says.
A big initiative for CASA NYC is develop a volunteer council specifically designed to address the needs of kids who are approaching 18 and thus aging out of the foster-care system. “Navigating the way to adulthood is hard for any kid, but imagine trying to do it without role models or a support system,” Moles says. CASA NYC’s goal is to pair volunteer advocates who will remain in connection with foster-care youths through the age of 25.
“He has brought together the entertainment industry in a way that we have never seen before.”
Koondel is also working with several orgs on a digital initiative to provide support services to young adults emerging from foster care. He has been energized by the overwhelming response to the PSAs and “Momma” airings. FosterMore reported an increase of more than 100 families per month signing up to serve as foster parents after the PSAs aired earlier this year.
“At this stage of my life, I felt the need to do something to make sure no kids ever had to go through what I went through,” Koondel says.
Seeing the impact that orgs such as One Simple Wish, FosterMore and CASA can have on the most hard-luck cases has been inspiring, he says. “There is a community out there for kids now. [Media] can do so much to make sure their stories are told.”
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