A nonprofit Kansas City filmmaker is helping children with cancer, autism and Down Syndrome explain their condition to their young friends and classmates using film.
The organization Just Like You Films is raising awareness and acceptance for kids who are often bullied or excluded. Three local kids who are diagnosed with autism will share their stories for the organization's fifth documentary.
The films aim to educate young kids to make them more accepting of each other's differences and the locally produced films are being shown all around the world.
Caroline O'Brien inspired local filmmaker Jennifer Greenstreet to make a documentary for kids who survived severe burns.
"Hi, my name is Caroline. I'm 10 and I love to swim," she says in the video. "When I was 6, I got burned on my leg."
The film explains three children's journeys through treatment inside the burn unit at Children's Mercy Hospital.
"To see a child who has walked through this trauma and is standing on the other side, encouraging them and explaining it to them. I think it is just a different level of hope than what an adult can give them," said Caroline McIntire, a child life specialist at the burn unit of Children's Mercy.
The documentary also shares the common fears kids face during recovery.
"When I went back to school, I was kind of afraid the kids would make fun of me. That they wouldn't want to talk to me or sit next to me," Caroline said in the video.
"Our Just Like You stars look straight into the camera. They open up their hearts. They tell their unique journey of fear or hopes and dreams for the future. When you walk away from a Just Like You film, you feel like you know someone," Greenstreet said.
The nonprofit organization also created a documentary for children diagnosed with cancer.
"It gives the families the ability to share the information without it coming from them. Sometimes it is really hard to say the word cancer. This really opens up that dialogue for us," said Amanda Woelk, a child life supervisor in oncology at Children's Mercy.
Another documentary focused on children diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
"There was a young man there at the end of the film we asked for feedback and he said, 'I've been going to church with a man who has Down Syndrome for a long time. I've always been afraid of him. Now I'm not afraid of him anymore. I'm going to go say hi to him on Sunday,'" said Amy Allison, the executive director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City.
The latest documentary hopes to inspire similar compassion for children with autism and filming is underway.
"The things they are saying in this film are just fantastic. It makes me cry every time. It's tears of joy of being able to spread their message to others," said Jennifer Smith, the board president of Autism Society of the Heartland.
Local Emmy award-winning cinematographer Isaac Alongi helped create the documentaries. Organizations in Poland, Russia, Thailand, Greece, Brazil and South Africa asked the nonprofit to translate their films to share them in each country.
The organization Just Like You Films operates on donations. Click here to find out ways to support them.
They ask anyone to visit their website, justlikeyoufilms.org, to share their videos with as many schools and organizations as possible.
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