Over the years, TODAY Show anchor Natalie Morales and Children’s Rights Lead Counsel Sara Bartosz developed an ongoing e-friendship after bonding over cheeseburgers. When pregnant Morales mentioned she “craved cheeseburgers” on the program, Bartosz reached out to congratulate her on the pregnancy.
After keeping in touch electronically for seven years, Morales, inspired by Bartosz and her efforts to make a difference in the lives of youth in foster care, decided it was finally time to meet face-to-face on air in December. In a segment called “Pay it Forward,” Morales chose to high-light CR’s work on behalf of abused and neglected children, and put a spotlight on the critical issues facing youth in state care across the country.
“I’ve been waiting seven years for this moment,” Morales told Bartosz. “I’ve learned so much from you. You’re that person on the front lines, in the courts, litigating and trying to make sure that the states are taking care of those kids in the system.”
Bartosz responded, “The government can do magical things for children and for families, but without accountability, there’s broken lives, kids who grow up in foster care and turn 18 without a home, without a mom or dad. We’re in the courts trying to make sure that happens as infrequently as possible.”
To demonstrate why CR’s work is so important, Morales interviewed three inspiring young adults — Steffanie, Demetrius, and Kimberly — who recounted their experiences to Morales. In six years Demetrius lived in “25 to 30 different foster homes,” but said, “I never gave up even though it was hard. I am who I am today because of everyone who invested in my future.” Steffanie, who spent nine years in foster care, suffered ongoing sexual abuse at the hands of a foster father, but finally found a “family — [that] has so much love, so much kindness.”
The moving segment touched viewers and raised more than $300,000 for CR’s work. But that’s not all. Morales had a surprise in store for Bartosz, and presented her “superhero” foster care advocate with a special gift — a PSA-style video for CR, featuring herself, actress Victoria Rowell and the three former foster youth — which she showed live on air. The PSA has since gone into national rotation and has aired more than 4,000 times on over 40 stations.
“This gift is incredibly impactful, not just to CR, but to vulnerable children across the country whose stories often go unheard,” said CR Executive Director Sandy Santana. “We’re grateful to have been given a nationwide platform to share these compelling stories of pain, and ultimately hope, in an effort to raise public awareness for our kids.”