Fans of the popular NBC show Parenthood know actor Sam Jaeger for his role as stay-at-home father Joel Graham on the hit series. Movie fans might recognize him for his work in Catch and Release, Lucky Number Slevin, or the independent film Miss Dial. Many probably don’t know that Jaeger is a passionate advocate for making life better for children and families in crisis through a non-profit organization called Five Acres.
The Southern California organization serves 6,500 children and families annually, some of whom have been a part of the LA foster care system, and some of whom have been victims of child abuse or domestic violence. Five Acres is particularly dedicated to preventing child abuse, and provides vital services including educational resources, such as child abuse prevention classes. Five Acres also handles adoptions and foster care with the goal of strengthening families. Chanel Boutakidis is the CEO of the organization.
On September 26, 2013, Jaeger is spearheading, and will act as emcee, of a special private event to celebrate the premiere of the fifth season of Parenthood on NBC, while also raising awareness for Five Acres, now a cause dear to his heart.
Other Parenthood cast members joining Jaeger who wish to show their support of a safe and loving family for every child include Erika Christensen, Xolo Mariduena, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Joy Bryant, Mae Whitman, Miles Heizer, Savannah Rae, Max Burkholder, Tyree Brown and Lisa Haskins. Jaeger will introduce the Parenthood cast prior to a screening of the fifth season premiere episode.
In the fifth season premiere episode “It Has to Be Now,” airing on NBC on Thursday night at 10pm/9pm Central on September 26, 2013, Kristina (Monica Potter) is now cancer free and longing to live life to the fullest. Ray Romano and Matt Lauria will guest star in the episode.
In this exclusive Examiner.com interview, Sam Jaeger discusses his passion for Five Acres and his thoughts about the messages the show Parenthood conveys. Five Acres CEO Chanel Boutakidis describes the mission of her organization and how it has been helping Los Angeles families for well over 100 years.
Lauren Ivy Chiong: What is the mission of Five Acres, and how is it different from other organizations?
Chanel Boutakidis: Our mission at Five Acres is to promote safety, well being and permanency. What makes us different is that we have invested in our research department for over 30 years. That work and other efforts have [made us realize] the need to focus on permanency. Although children's safety and well being is the foundation of the work of all nonprofits in child welfare, children will not get out of the system without permanency, without a family that will make a commitment to them. Most children enter the foster care system under the age of 4. About 50% get moved from placement to placement and end up growing up in foster care. This usually leads to them aging out of the child welfare system and entering an adult system of care. If organizations want to make more of an impact, they need to focus not just on mental health treatment, but also helping to find them a safe, loving and permanent family early on.
Sam Jaeger: I will say that what made me want to be a part of Five Acres was what separated it from many other non-profit organizations: it connects real compassion with research on how best to provide for children in need. It's that keen focus, that drive to not only do what's right but to do it effectively, that so impressed me.
Lauren Ivy Chiong: Sam, describe your involvement in Five Acres.
Sam Jaeger: I'm only a freshman at Five Acres, though I'd been searching for an organization like it for years. I plan to be a part of this group for as long as they'll tolerate me, but for now I think it's important to share how remarkable an organization I think it is.
Lauren Ivy Chiong: Parenthood portrays positive home environments. What is the message about family that Parenthood as a series works to convey?
Sam Jaeger: That family is messy. That it's ever-evolving. And that, at the end of a person's life, it's the single most important thing in it. So being a better father or mother or sibling - it's worth every bit of effort you can put into it.
Lauren Ivy Chiong: What are some of the challenges the families on Parenthood face?
Sam Jaeger: I think the show's done a wonderful job of not keeping its central family cocooned. The Bravermans are constantly having to adapt to their changing family and environments, and that's why we've been able to really explore what it means to be a single parent, or to deal with addiction, racism, infidelity, adoption, autism. I know I'm making this sound like the most miserable way you could spend a Thursday night, but I promise it's all done with integrity and heavy doses of humor. And at its heart, it's about how these people endure these struggles - by leaning on one another.
Lauren Ivy Chiong: What are some of the obstacles to a safe and loving home for families?
Chanel Boutakidis: The largest obstacle is that we do not have enough families willing to make the commitment to a foster child. In California we have the largest foster care population. Just in LA County we have 18,000 children. About 50% of these children are adoptable status, meaning their parental right terminated and they are available for adoption. However, as a state and as a county we have a shortage of families.
There may also be a stigma associated with foster children, but I have to be honest that these children are beautiful and capable of amazing things if they were given the opportunities and resources they deserve. Look at Steve Jobs and Nelson Mandela. All adopted but were given the love and resources of a family to allow them to thrive and become amazing individuals. Of course parenthood is never just smooth sailing, but it is a commitment as a family. That a child will always be loved. That a child will be protected. Every child deserves that.
Sam Jaeger: Going beyond the most basic obstacles of not having full involvement from both parents, I think it's a lack of the right tools. The most basic goal of parenting is to make a child feel loved. That understanding for a child, that someone feels an unrelenting love for them, is a foundation that guides them through the rest of life. Something I admire about Five Acres is that there's equal attention paid to what happens after a child finds a home. They want to ensure that every member of that family is not only stable, but evolving, growing, communicating. I think that's incredibly powerful.
Lauren Ivy Chiong: Chanel, what are some of the challenges faced by the families that seek the services of Five Acres? Can you provide an example of how Five Acres has helped a family or families?
Chanel Boutakidis: We work with families that are in crisis and struggling. Usually this is due to multiple factors impacting the family unit placing their safety, well being and permanency at risk. For example, we had one mother who has a special needs child. It was very difficult for her to hold down a job because she was constantly being called from the child's school to be picked up due to his emotional and behavioral needs. The bills were piling up, she had trouble making the mortgage, and she was stressed, which also impacted the interaction between her and the child. She found herself at a crisis point.
When she found Five Acres, we were able to provide a full assessment of child and the family needs. The Five Acres treatment team then helped them to access resources such as a therapeutic school, counseling sessions, parent support group and also linkage to community resources. Just the ability for the child be in a school that worked with him and his special needs versus calling the parent to remove him allowed the mother to find sustainable employment. Her level of stress decreased, which increases safety of the family. With the treatment services and increased resources they received, their well being increased. And with the increase of stability they will more likely stay together as a family.
Lauren Ivy Chiong: I read an LA Times article where the LA social worker said “We're in crisis mode all the time." That is so troubling. The tragedies in the LA foster care system have been making news for some time. How can tragedies like the death of Gabriel Fernandez, a young child who was in the LA foster care system, be prevented? How can the foster care system be made better, and what does Five Acres do to help prevent such tragedies?
Chanel Boutakidis: The LA foster care system is troubling. However, we are all responsible for the safety, well being, and permanency in the lives of children. When a child enters the foster care system, they have already been impacted by some form of abuse or neglect.
So is that really prevention? Prevention should start when a child is born into a family to ensure they have adequate resources, education and services to sustain a safe and healthy family unit, therefore preventing children from entering the system. I think to begin to shift the state of foster care, we need to really invest in prevention and early intervention.
However, currently our foster care system is overwhelmed and in crisis. I know that the Board of Supervisors and the new Director Philip Browning are working to change that system. However, there is a significant community need, which many are ignoring. We have hundreds and thousand of children that are currently in the system. Most are infants to four-year-olds, and we as a county do not have enough families to care for these children. If we do not have safe, loving and permanent families stepping up, where are these children supposed to go?