Sunday, March 16, 2008

Carlana Stone eliminated from "Oprah's Big Give"

The judges sent home Carlana Stone, the wheelchair user who was a contestant on the philanthropy reality show, at the end of the March 16 show.

I have mixed feelings about her being eliminated, because she was basically being penalized for trying to make her team work as a group. The eight remaining contestants split into teams of four to help two different disadvantaged elementary schools in Houston. Each team had a celebrity helper for the team.

Carlana's team tried to raise money for a playground for the impoverished school, which basically had only a section of blacktop for its playground. She clashed with team member Rachael early on, when Rachael and other contestant, Kim, did not wait for Carlana and contestant, Sheg, before meeting with the school officials. Rachael and Kim didn't even think about the few extra minutes it takes Carlana to get out of the car and reassemble her wheelchair.

Rachael charged ahead in most aspects of the fundraising task, and Carlana wanted the four to work as a team and communicate in decision-making, which never really happened. It was an uncomfortable dynamic, and Carlana basically gave up trying to push that idea. In good news, thanks to their celebrity helper, Andre Agassi, they raised $210,000 for the elementary school -- more than just playground equipment, but new computers and other resources for the school.

What irks me about any of these "helping" shows is that they are raising money for under-funded public schools, (or equipment for people with disabilities or better housing for the poorest Americans, etc.) all of which should be properly funded by the local, state and federal governments. It's sickening to see that poor children have few resources available in their school and not even a decent place to play. How can the cycle of poverty ever be broken if poor children never get any educational resources equal to other kids? Having grown up in Texas, I know this problem arises from the use of real estate taxes to fund schools, so basically kids in poor neighborhoods have underfunded schools and kids in wealthier neighborhoods have schools with greater resources. This exact problem causes funding disparities in many other states as well.

In terms of disability topics, the ABC show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (the lead-in show for "Oprah's Big Give") has built several accessible homes for people with disabilities over the past couple of years. That's wonderful, but I still contend that something is wrong with our society if the only way some people with disabilities can get the accessible home they need is to receive charity from a reality TV show. A friend of mine has a cousin with muscular dystrophy and the cousin's family couldn't afford the construction costs of adapting their home to make it wheelchair accessible. They went on a local home makeover reality show, but my friend told me the cousin is very shy and really did not want to appear on TV. But, of course, no show would agree to do the makeover without the adorable young wheelchair user appearing. So even though it was upsetting, the cousin had to spend time on camera. Is this what our reality-show-soaked society has come to -- putting a young person through an unpleasant experience just to get needed resources?