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Some people just seem to be able to find the time. Paula DuPre Pesman is one of them, and since 2005 she’s devoted her working life to inspiring others to do the same.
The veteran film producer—among her projects were the first three Harry Potter movies, Rent, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove—created There With Care to help families in Colorado and California who have a child with “critical illnesses,” such as cancer. To date, the group has about 1,400 families in Colorado with its community-based model that enlists help—from money to goods and services—from local businesses and volunteers to assist families through the most difficult times of their ordeal. On September 28 (in Denver) and 29 (in Boulder), There With Care hosts its annual “Red Carpet Adventure.” This summer, we chatted with DuPre Pesman about her group’s origins, methods, and showcase event.
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5280: How did There With Care begin?
Paula DuPre Pesman: While I was on the first Harry Potter my husband was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. He had aggressive treatments over here, and upon my return to London between the first and second Potter my phone rang. It was a wish association calling for a young girl who wanted to see it before she died. I realized no one was coordinating these requests, so I set it up. We put kids in costumes and makeup, and they had lunch with the other actors in the commissary, and got their photos taken with them. Gaffers would lift their wheelchairs over everyone so they could fly overhead. Everyone got into it.
We ended up doing similar events for about 65 more families. I thought these people might be getting plenty of help, but a parent told me it was his worst nightmare, because not knowing how to help, no one did much of anything.
5280: What made you decide to turn this into a full-fledged organization?
When I moved on to San Francisco to do Rent, I kept being haunted by what is the day-to-day stuff that makes these wishes come true. We got our nonprofit status in 2005, and at first I thought I could run the organization and still produce films, same as always. But I quickly realized how tough that would be. I was afraid to leave my job at first because of my husband. I worried about insurance and not having enough money. But I also couldn’t imagine not doing it. I made a very hard call to the people I’d been working with for 16 years and took a leap of faith.
5280: How does There With Care work?
All the families come to us through a licensed social worker, and we partner with about 14 hospitals and health care organizations. Our model supports families through the critical phase of the illness. Some of those original families helped me figure out which services would make their lives easier. That’s why it works; because it came from families who had been there. It might start out with them needing gas money to get to treatment, but it turns out the car needs repairs, so we’ll call mechanics in their area. If they just need someone to talk to, we’ll work with therapists to get them help. Or someone who’s had a bone marrow transplant may need their home to be industrial cleaned. It’s not just an exchange of money, but bringing in the community to support the families. There are a lot of moving pieces, and they’re all moving because there’s a caring person behind it.
5280: Tell us about the annual event.
It’s a “Red Carpet Adventure” that we conceived by drawing from my background of planning premieres and wrap parties. Last year, Diane Reeves sang at the event. This year, Cheech Marin is the emcee, and we have some great music from singers Zach Heckendorf and Heather Maloney, Kenny Passarelli, and Cheech’s wife, Natasha, who’s a classical pianist.
We also have a very special performance from Justin Kauflin, who’s a young, award-winning, blind pianist. He’s being mentored by blind trumpeter [and 92-year-old jazz legend] Clark Terry, who was also Quincy Jones’ mentor. [Editor’s Note: Terry also mentored Miles Davis and honed his own chops under the gaze of a guy named Louis Armstrong.] Quincy and I are co-producing a [Kickstarter-funded] documentary about them, Keep On Keepin’ On, and Justin will be taking time off from his tour to perform for us. I think the guests feel very cared about at our events. A lot of this is about giving people a fun time while they learn about what we do.
—Image courtesy of There With Care