Where do I begin? I don’t think I’ve ever had a more serious case of writer’s block. Usually, the words just seem to naturally flow right out of my fingertips. But today, I am not writing to a brief acquaintance or to a celebrity who has never crossed paths with me. Bill Hemmer is my dear, longtime friend. He is currently co-anchor of FOX News’ “America’s Newsroom.” I do realize that I owe you all the story. So, perhaps, the best place to begin…is at the beginning!
Having what is considered a “chronic, life-threatening condition,” I knew from my early teens that I qualified for a wish, to be granted by one of the several nonprofit organizations that specialize in this. In my case, I was lucky to have an organization that is based in Central Florida, called New Hope for Kids. They have two programs that work together to help children and families experiencing grief, loss, or a life-threatening illnesses. One is the Center for Grieving Children (who have lost a loved one); the other is the Wish Program, for kids with such chronic conditions like spina bifida.
I applied for the Wish Program when I was 16 years old. Depending on the nature of the wish specified by the child, some are granted sooner than others. (You’d be surprised at how many kids ask for a computer, a shopping spree or a Disney cruise!) Of course, it’s not normal for me to go with the norm! Also, I was nearing seventeen, and I decided I wanted something that wouldn’t break, need technical support, or be something I knew I would eventually grow out of. I wanted to either take a trip somewhere far, or meet some of my idols. I considered visiting the set of my favorite sit-com (still!), “Friends,” or meeting one of the popular boy bands who I was hooked on at the time (okay, so it was either Backstreet Boys or *NSync!).
Also, I was a really big fan of J.Lo as an actress at this particular time, so New Hope was already going through the motions of talking to “her people.” Every time they agreed on a date for the meeting, something would come up (on her end!). Eventually, it took so long that I just lost interest. I don’t mean to sound cocky, but I was nearing the age limit (18!), and I didn’t want to blow my wish by waiting.
During the whole process, something strange and wonderful happened to me– I grew up, and so did my interests. Around the same time, the national landscape was changing, as well. I was visiting my family in Puerto Rico during spring break in 2003 when the entire world was watching, waiting for the war in Iraq to begin. I remember watching the CNN coverage with my family, even with those who were not that fluent in English.
There was a particular CNN correspondent that made the news of the developing war especially fascinating! Every day, I was glued to my grandfather’s T.V.– to the point of protesting when he switched to another news network! Bill Hemmer originally anchored for CNN in Atlanta, but later moved to New York for a co-anchor spot on “American Morning,” alongside Paula Zahn, and later, Soledad O’Brien.
When I returned to Orlando after spring break, I immediately contacted New Hope for Kids, and informed them of my change of heart. Their reaction was one of surprise, perhaps amusement, at the news that a 17-year-old girl wanted to meet a journalist for her big, fat, once-in-a-lifetime wish! My response probably was along the lines of, “Have you actually seen Bill Hemmer?” As soon as they did their homework, they realized the real reason behind my new-found devotion to the news. One thing that truly reinforced my decision was when, while “Googling” him, I learned of his strong family values, his faith, and his humility.
This time, it seemed, the stars were aligning in my favor, and the public relations people from CNN were working with New Hope to make my dream a reality. In fact, they were even able to combine two cities, Boston and New York, into our trip’s agenda! So, my parents and I were flown to Boston, and spent a couple of days there, then took a train to Manhattan. I saw it all, including Harvard University, the Salem Witch Museum, and “Mamma Mia!” which had opened recently on Broadway. But these thrills were nothing compared to the anticipation that was building inside of me as I anxiously awaited my encounter with Bill.
That early morning, we walked (I rolled!) from the hotel to the studio on Avenue of the Americas. They were expecting us, and the three of us were amazed at how welcoming everyone was, starting with the security guards. Soledad was out pregnant, so Daryn Kagan was filling in for her. The public relations representative mentioned that the staff was teasing Bill, saying, “What is a 17-year-old doing, watching the news?” It was still early, and Bill was on the air, so the make-up artists and hair stylists took me under their wings and got me all dolled up. Afterward, we were ushered into the studio, and asked to sit in during the show’s shooting. During a commercial break, Bill actually came over to greet us! I never dreamed that Bill was probably just as anxious as I was! I mean, this was my one-and-only wish. He immediately put us at ease, and soon we were talking like old friends. When the show ended, we didn’t really expect him to spend more time with us, but he invited us to his office, and told us the stories behind each of the pictures he had! One of the most poignant pieces of memorabilia were scraps of paper with the edges burned that he recovered from Ground Zero when 9/11 happened.
All in all, he spent an hour and a half with us! Finally, we had to say our good-byes, but he walked us to the exit. I won’t go into too much detail now, but let’s just say I didn’t want to wash my cheek!
The next day, we were (very casually) walking outside the studio, and Bill saw us through the window, and signaled us to go around to the entrance. He walked out to the sidewalk and chatted with us for a while! As down-to-Earth as he is, he even recommended a few restaurants and sightseeing must-dos! Before we said good-bye (again!), he gave me his E-mail address, and asked me to keep in touch.
So, that was how the journalism seed was planted, and soon blossomed into the passion that I have for the field today. I have Bill and New Hope for Kids to thank for changing my career goals (I had studied theatre in high school!). To this day, we keep in touch every now and then. I did get to see him again a year later, in the summer of 2005, when I left for New York for a week the day following my high school graduation. He agreed to meet with Mom, my aunt Lavinia, Kaemi (my cousin), and me and gave us another tour of the studio and his office! He also commented on my watch, which I paid 10 bucks for in ChinaTown. He said we needed to learn how to haggle, that I could have gotten it for five. (A note to Bill– the watch actually stopped probably by the end of the week. Thanks for the tip.)
Whenever I achieve something, even a small milestone, I love sharing it with him, and he is always cheering me on. He was master of ceremonies for the 13th Annual “Heart of the Hamptons” Ball in June, which benefits the American Heart Association. Bill has also hosted a fundraising event in Washington, D.C. to help inner-city Catholic schools.
And to Bill, I want to say that you were never meant to be “Day 30.” You were actually the very first person (número uno!) I thought of for this cause, and you know that I’ll always count on your support, but I didn’t want to put you on the spot– yet.You never know the impact a particular person will have on your life, whether intentional or not. But that is exactly what has happened in regards to you.You not only touched my life– you changed it completely, and for the better. I am now putting to good use some long-dormant abilities through this blog!
And, to all of you, my dear friends and supporters, I hope that you now have a better understanding of my life and the detour it’s taken, now that you have been introduced to my own personal hero.
So, officially, I am asking, (gets down on one knee) “Bill, will you be my hero?”
© 2009, Laura. All rights reserved.