By Guest blog post by Ron Turiello
I first met Full Circle Fund founder Josh Becker and FCF member Andrew Byrnes in 2006. At the time I had no idea that my connections with them would lead me to produce a feature length documentary with a multi-award winning director. It was quite a leap from my years of political involvement and practicing law at Skadden Arps to making “The G Word” documentary, and Full Circle Fund played a large role in it.
Although Josh and Andrew didn’t persuade me to join FCF right away, they planted the seeds that would lead to a life much more engaged in philanthropy. I had spent years helping politicians raise election funds, and had grown disillusioned, when a friend suggested I use my network for good and introduced me to New Leaders for New Schools. I joined its Bay Area chapter advisory board, and around the same time I joined Full Circle Fund and its Education Circle. Up to that point I had very little experience in the nonprofit world other than giving pro bono legal advice to a few nonprofits.
But through FCF events and retreats I learned a lot about the nonprofit scene in the Bay Area and about education nonprofits specifically. Through FCF, I had the good fortune to meet Jeff and Eva Camp, two philanthropic leaders who had immersed themselves in education reform. I credit them for a large part of my growth as an advocate for education reform. Through the grant cycles I met many leaders in the field and learned about their successes and challenges. By participating in FCF, I gained mentors and experience that helped me develop as a board member for New Leaders and as a philanthropic donor to education causes locally and nationally. And I enjoyed playing in the FCF house band that Jeff organized every year for the retreat – the 360s.
During the Fall of 2010 my education-focused philanthropy efforts became suddenly personal. My daughter’s small school for gifted children unexpectedly faced insolvency, and I faced the real possibility she would have no school that fit her needs. I led the parents to take control of the board of the school, and we dove into figuring out the financial situation. We decided to do what it took to keep the lights on, and in a single night we raised $300k to cover the immediate budget shortfall. Over the course of a few months, we found a new head of school, hired new teachers, and recruited an incoming class. Thankfully, we survived that rough patch, and today the school is a thriving K-8 school located on a 4-acre campus in Sunnyvale and serving about 140 kids.
What I experienced the night of the emergency fund raising meant far more to me than just ensuring my daughter would have a class room. I saw among the group of parents people who were themselves gifted, who had experienced the traditional school system in a way that left them desperate to protect their children from suffering as they had. I decided to write a book about the experiences of that group of parents and explore the significance of gifted education in addressing the variety of challenges so many of us had faced—underachievement, lack of challenge, and hiding one’s true self to fit in.
I soon realized that it was going to take a longer to finish the book than I could keep events fresh in my mind. I decided I needed someone to help me record interviews with the parents, and I reached out to Marc Smolowitz, a FCF alum, who I met through his work on the film The Power of Two, which Andrew Byrnes produced and Marc directed. The film beautifully tells the story of Andrew’s wife Isa and her twin sister Ana and their journey from kids growing up with Cystic Fibrosis to becoming international advocates for organ donation after their lives were saved by double lung transplants. When I shared the stories I wanted to tell with Marc, he saw far more potential than a book. He said it could make a great movie.
Since last year, Marc and I have been actively developing that movie -- THE G WORD, which will be the first feature length theatrical documentary to look at giftedness. It focuses not only on education, but also on how giftedness changes a person’s experience in the world over an entire lifetime. We have begun filming interviews with remarkable gifted young people in the Bay Area, including at a school in the East Bay that serves “twice exceptional” or “2e” students (who are gifted but also have a learning difference such as dyslexia), and in the early entrance program at Cal State Los Angeles, as well as interviewing parents of gifted kids and nationally recognized experts in the field.
With a solid foundation laid, we are now expanding our fundraising efforts so we can continue production. We are fortunate to have received nonprofit fiscal sponsorship through the Center for Independent Documentary, one of the nation's top nonprofits in the documentary business. All charitable donations to THE G WORD are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by the law. You can see more about the film and our team at the CID site here and our website, trailer, and social media are now live here.
And if you’d like to learn more or connect us with me or Marc at theGwordfilm@gmail.com.