The Teen Advisory Board of Just Like You Films has recently started working on ways to help students at Shawnee Mission East better understand people with disabilities and conditions like Autism, severe burns and cancer. The Board is incorporating Autism awareness month to educate teens by planning a screening of the Autism film at East, and forming a Just Like You club for the East community.
Just Like You Films (JLY), founded by East mom Jen Greenstreet, will be premiering their Autism Awareness commercial on local television with AMC Theaters in early April to go along with Autism Awareness month. JLY premiered their most recent film, “Autism”, in late March at Standee’s Entertaining Eatery.
Just Like You Films is a nonprofit corporation that creates films and materials to educate audiences of all ages about conditions and disabilities that many people don’t understand, such as Autism and Down Syndrome. JLY distributes films to schools and other communities for free with the help of volunteers and sponsors.
The mission of JLY is to help children that may look or act differently feel accepted. The stars of the films want to show audiences that they are more alike than they are different, or “just like you”.
Greenstreet, the mother of junior Collin Wendel, premiered her first Just Like You film in 2006. This film was the start of the Just Like You Film’s success.
When Greenstreet’s daughter, East graduate Whitney Wendel, was 10 years old, she had a friend named Caroline who was hospitalized at Children’s Mercy Hospital for a severe burn on her leg. Whitney and Caroline wanted to do something to give back to the burn unit at Children’s Mercy, so they planned on making pajamas for kids that were also severely burned.
“The nurses told Whitney that the kids didn’t need pajama bottoms,” Greenstreet said. “What they really needed was a video that could explain to the kids back at school what they went through with their burns.”
While Whitney and her friend raised money, Greenstreet wrote a manuscript for a film to give to the burn unit children. Greenstreet reached out to long time friend Isaac Alongi to help shoot and produce the film. The film, Burns as Told by Three Children, ended up winning The Freddie, an international health and medical media award.
The widely popular first film sought the attention of the cancer unit at Children’s Mercy, and also led to the Down Syndrome Guild contacting Greenstreet. Since then, the foundation has grown to six professional, documentary-style films, with several different translations and prestigious national awards. JLY has won the AMC Cares Award, the 2014 Golden Door International Film Festival Raising Awareness Award, and many more.
JLY is currently in production of their sixth film about facial anomalies. The film will include birthmarks, vascular anomalies, and more. There is also a fundraiser planned to be in November of this year to raise money for the next project on diabetes.
With over 300,000 YouTube hits in 117 countries, JLY continues to reach new people every day. The Down Syndrome film was recently translated to Portuguese for Brazil at the request of the Brazilian Ambassador, who has a child with Down Syndrome.
“I didn’t ever expect JLY to grow into something as big as it has,” said Greenstreet, “We were also contacted a few weeks by a school in the United Kingdom, a college in Australia and a school in Kenya.”
Junior Collin Wendel has been greatly influenced by his mom’s passion for Just Like You. Working with the JLY Teen Advisory Board has helped Wendel to understand kids with disabilities and the challenges they face.
“My mom’s involvement has really had a positive impact on our family’s and my understanding of disabilities and the causes of them,” said Wendel.
Wendel is looking forward to East students getting involved with JLY. He is hoping that once the club takes off, members can apply to be on the Just Like You Films Teen Advisory Board. The club can discuss ideas for future films and ways to promote JLY.
“East students should try to watch the JLY films,” said Wendel, “It would really help to understand kids’ disabilities in an eye-opening way.”
Through the success and publicity for JLY, there are many moments that touch the hearts of the foundation’s members, actors and volunteers. The films have received a lot of positive feedback and excitement, according to Greenstreet.
“There’s kind of a need in these communities,” Greenstreet said. “There are a lot of resources available for the families themselves, but there aren’t a lot of resources educating the general public about what’s going on with them, and they need that badly.”
“We really encourage kids to make their own JLY films,” said Greenstreet. “If you have a good idea, you can go through the process and submit it to us. We then publish it to our YouTube channel.”
Greenstreet encourages Teen Advisory Board members to use social media to spread the word and show the films to their friends or community members.
Teen Board members attend one meeting a month where the board discusses fundraisers, events and premieres. They also escort the kids starring in the films at the red carpet premieres, and take care of any needs they might have. Members use social media to get the word out about JLY.
Many stars of the films have gone on to speak at engagements and screenings. Carrie Hudson, a star in the cancer film, is now a sophomore at Oklahoma State University.
Hudson was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when she was just nine years old. After she was diagnosed, her peers began to treat her like a different person.
“Some of my peers almost began to baby me,” said Hudson. “Once my peers began to realize that the cancer was not changing who I was, they began to treat me normally.”
Not only was it a huge life transition for Hudson, but it was also a big transition for her classmates. They learned at a young age what cancer is, and how cancer doesn’t really affect personality, according to Hudson.
Since the film about cancer premiered, JLY has produced two more films and is currently working on another. Hudson has watched Greenstreet create Just Like You from the ground up.
“I truly look up to Jen so much,” said Hudson. “I see her as superwoman. When I think of strong, female leaders, I think of her. I cannot wait to see where she takes JLY in the future.”
“I think the film is fantastic because it gets on the kids’ level to explain what their friend or classmate is going through,” said Hudson, “It can be very hard to explain to a child what is going on. The film does a great job of staying relevant to the topic while staying on the kids’ level.”
Hudson’s own Child Life Specialist at Children’s Mercy was the one to introduce her to Just Like You, which inspired her dream of becoming a Child Life Specialist herself. Hudson hopes JLY films can help people better understand that “no one’s disease defines who they are as a person.”
Junior Emily Frigon was inspired by her parents’ involvement with JLY films to apply the Teen Advisory Board to herself. She has been a member of the Teen Board for two years, and says it has helped her learn that ignorant actions and words can really affect kids with disabilities, and a lot of people don’t know the harm they are causing.
“The films have helped me better understand disabled children,” said Frigon. “That is the whole goal of Just Like You.”