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Susan Stephens

CEO and Executive Producer for eFamilyTV

It all started November 3, 2003, the day my grandson was born in Memphis, TN. This event forever changed the direction of my life. Not only did doctors initially tell my daughter that he would not survive birth, but when he was born alive they then told her he would not walk until age five with a walker and wheelchair bound by age 10. Garrett was not diagnosed with cerebral palsy until just after his second birthday. The first 24-months were filled with surgery, hospitals and confusion. As we searched tirelessly for anything that might help him learn to walk, Garrett began walking on his knees. Watching him attempt to keep up with other two-year-olds made us search even harder. (You can catch up on what’s been happening with Garrett in my “Garrett’s Nana” blog).

It was during those days I could not understand why it was so difficult for my daughter and other parents to locate much needed information to offer hope for their children. Consumed with fundraising for much needed treatments and therapies not covered by insurance, I had little time to explore what could be done. I was not very "internet savvy" and had recently been introduced to "Mr. Google" by my daughter. I knew there had to be a way to bring families from around the world together in one location where they could share their experiences and knowledge while also being provided much needed information and support.

The current television market has long been saturated with reality shows on every topic you can imagine except special needs. It was as if it wasn't popular enough and people wouldn't watch it. I visited my new friend "Mr. Google" and found there were over 9 million families raising children with special needs in the United States alone and over 54 million worldwide. Why, there were plenty of people that would watch a reality show focused on the special needs community. I thought not only the families, but extended family member and friends would be interested too. But how in the world would I do this? I had the background in graphic design, marketing and sales, plus I love photography and video. I mean, how hard could it be?

While at the hospital with Garrett after one of his surgeries in November 2008, I was surfing the internet and came across a YouTube video of a dad talking about his son. I was drawn in immediately. You see, there are few dads actively involved online in the special needs arena. There was a link to his blog.

December 2008, I was just beginning my "grassroots" effort. I sent this dad (who turned out to be our very own Nathan Charlan) a message and we began to communicate about his son and my grandson. I shared with him what I was attempting and he very willingly offered suggestions and encouragement. It wasn't until a few months later he told me he was a senior producer with Warm Springs Productions, a professional broadcast television production company. He offered suggestions and guidance as I attempted this project alone. He not only helped me come up with a name, offered direction in my shots, but even worked with me to edit my first episode.

While at the hospital with Garrett after one of his surgeries, I was surfing the internet and came across a YouTube video of a dad talking about his son. I was drawn in immediately. You see, there are few dads that are actively involved online in the special needs arena. There was a link to his blog. This was December 2008, and I was just beginning my “grassroots” effort. I sent this dad (who turned out to be our very own Nathan) a message and we began to communicate about his son and my grandson. I shared with him what I was attempting and he very willingly offered suggestions and encouragement. It wasn’t until a few months later he told me he was a senior producer with Warm Springs Productions, a professional broadcast television production company. Once I realized that I could not do this alone and I prayed, I felt God leading me to approach the dad, all the way over in Colorado, about teaming up with me to produce a show. He did not hesitate to join me. So what now?

I planned, directed, filmed, edited, put up a one-page website with a player on it to launch my show. I had the opportunity to meet Joseph Valenzano, with Exceptional Parent Magazine, during a Skype interview for the show. He willingly shared his insights and wisdom of his years working in the special needs community. He also took me under his wing and mentored me, offering his business insights.

April 11, 2009 (my birthday) the first episode launched online. In a two-week period there were over 32,000 unique hits on that little one page site alone. I could not keep up the pace to produce a weekly show. I figured out very quickly I could not do this alone, but I did not have start-up capital. So I prayed.

Once I realized that I could not do this alone, I felt led to approach this dad, all the way over in Colorado, about teaming up with me to produce a show. He did not hesitate to join me. Nathan would be the host of the show, later being joined by his wife Renee as co-host, but also as VP and Executive Producer. In the Summer of 2009 my dream of providing an online home destination began to take shape. Nathan and I renamed the project and together founded "Exceptional Family TV."

So here at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, a little over six years after Garrett’s live birth, eFamilyTV is launching its first major phase online, gearing up for our May 2010 series premiere. We have a rock-solid team in Exceptional Parent magazine, Warm Springs Productions, and Bridgeworks Creative.

We needed a strong website design and marketing firm to join us. I found myself on the website of an outdoor reality show Nathan was producing. Impressed with the layout, I scrolled down to see who developed the site. It was a Bozeman, MT based company, BridgeWorks Creative, Inc, a professional web design, development and marketing company. I emailed the marketing director, Geoff McDonald, to see if they would have any interest coming on board with us to provide our IT needs. Several phone calls and emails later he and his partners joined the eFamilyTV team. Instead of praying I began to praise the Lord for bringing us all together.

Nathan, in turn, approached Warm Springs Productions, where he was on staff as a senior producer. Almost immediately, WSP accepted the invitation to join with us to make eFamilyTV a reality. Then, eFamilyTV formed a strategic alliance with Exceptional Parent Magazine to bring over 40 years of information, resources and experience in the special needs community to the project. We launched our online home destination website in February 2010 and had our series premiere in early May 2010. We have a rock-solid team with our key partners Warm Springs Productions, Bridgeworks Creative, and a great strategic alliance with Exceptional Parent Magazine.

To all who are reading this, I want you to know it is my heart's desire for you to feel at home here at eFamilyTV. We care. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Nathan and I are not medical professionals; we are just two people whose lives have been touched by the tenderness of a child with special needs. As a grandmother, I have not experienced having a child of my own with special needs, but I do know what it's like to watch my adult "child" search tirelessly for hope, fight with insurance companies, grow weary, and stressed. And when I think she doesn't have an ounce of energy left, my grandson, Garrett, will reach another milestone, and I watch as she is overjoyed and refueled to march onward through this journey. I welcome your comments and suggestions of how we can improve eFamilyTV to better serve you, our family.


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