Santa Barbara News Press 1999

Santa Barbara News Press 1999

Careers Santa Barbara… From the HEART

By Andrea Estrada

Three years ago, Kate Carter’s good friend Tairi Gould got some chilling news. Only six weeks after the death of her husband from Lou Gehrig’s disease, the young mother of three learned she had breast cancer and a poor prognosis. Not long after, another friend suggested she sit in front of a video camera and tell her children everything she wanted them to know about their parents and offer advice on how to mange the rest of their lives without a mother or father. This simple act resulted in the non-profit organization From the Heart and Kate Carter’s dream job as its executive director.

From the Heart takes advantage of modern video technology to create recordings for people experiencing health crises or bereavement. The organization has a particular soft spot for children who have lost a parent.

“There are existing agencies that help children with grieving, but these same children have a never-ending sense of separation from the parent that affects them developmentally and socially for the rest of their lives,” Carter said. “We can assist with that.” Using recordings to maintain the child’s connection with both the sight and sound of a deceased parent has a profound effect in helping children remember and connect with their parents throughout their lives, she added.

“One of the most painful fears for a dying mother is that her voice will fade with time and her children will not remember her embrace,” added Nancy Oster of the Breast Resource Center in Santa Barbara.

The organization’s efforts have broadened over time as Carter introduced new areas and uses for the tapes. Working with the organization’s board of reference and local experts in the field, From the Heart has developed a program for hospitalized patients whose medical treatments keep them separated from their families.

“For parents who are hospitalized and have young children at home, we record them reading their children’s favorite stories or perhaps singing their favorite lullabies so the children may have the tapes at home to help alleviate the anxiety of separation,” Carter continued. The recordings assist not only the children at home but the hospitalized parent to whom the process of recording brings a sense of usefulness and empowerment.

“Conversely,” added Carter, “for children in the hospital whose parents cannot be with them all the time, we record the parents reading their favorite stories, singing their favorite songs and giving them words of encouragement and comfort so their separations aren’t so distressful.”

The videotapes are produced on a sliding fee scale basis to people in the throes of a health crisis and From the Heart does all the production work from the professional set-up and filming to final editing. Debra Jackson, the owner of Creatrix, a Santa Barbara-based video production company stepped forward and volunteered her services and equipment to produce the recordings.

“I felt compelled to provide any assistance I could,” Jackson said. “Having experienced the loss of my husband five years ago when our son was eight years old then the lost of my best friend, the mother of three sons, four years ago, I fully appreciated the significance of and the need for this organization to exist.”

“With Carter at the helm, From the Heart has grown from little more than a good idea to a highly effective aid in bereavement and grief management. Carter’s telephone rings every day with calls from people in hospices, hospitals and social service agencies who desperately want to create videos for their families. And Carter is doing her best to accommodate them all. But not everyone who calls From the Heart is in a desperate health situation. Some clients want to make videotapes just to have the peace of mind of knowing they exist and will speak for them when they cannot speak for themselves. In these cases, From the Heart charges a production fee.

“We were continually approached by people who said they would like to make a video for their family ‘just in case,’” Carter explained. “They weren’t sick or dying, but felt that a video would be a wonderful thing for their family to have just in case something should ever happen to them.” With this group of people in mind, Carter devised a “Loving Will.” In the same way as a written will provides for the financial future of your loved ones in the event of your death, a “Loving Will” provides for their emotional future.

Sometimes high school and college students volunteer time with From the Heart to fulfill the community service requirements their schools require. According to Carter, the taping sessions are emotional and profound experiences for them, for her and for the professionals doing the technical work.

“I’m so glad to have the students with us,” she exclaimed. “Not only do they receive technical training in video production, more importantly, they’re exposed to profound experience of compassion and caring.”

Despite the emotional nature of her work, Carter loves what she does because, as she said, it allows her to have a positive impact on the lives of other people. The work also keeps her connected to Tairi Gould the woman whose own struggle served as the impetus for From the Heart. “I started this off thinking it would be about preserving memories,” Carter said, “but I have come to know it’s about keeping people connected.”

Between the day-to-day administrative work, fundraising efforts and community outreach, Carter has her hands full. But each task, she said, is a labor of love and each one comes straight from the heart.