Danielle DeRogatis-Gletow has always wanted to work or volunteer in the nonprofit sector, and she has always loved children as well. With her husband, Joseph, who works in pharmaceutical research at Xenobiotic Labs in Plainsboro, she has been a foster parent to three childen, and hopes to do the same for many more.
In her efforts to publicize LifeTies, a nonprofit organization based in Trenton dedicated to helping youth in crisis throughout New Jersey, she has also become a filmmaker. DeRogatis is the writer, director and executive producer of a new documentary, “mary land: the story of LifeTies.” The organization works with children who are homeless or HIV-positive, or who have been abused or neglected.
The “Mary” in the title is Mary Inzana, the founder and CEO of LifeTies. The organization operates four agencies for children: Triad House, which is a residential group home for children aged 12 to 18; Rainbow House, a group home for children who are medically fragile, ages 12 to 21; T.I.L.T. (Teen Independent Living Training), for children aged 15 to 21 who have been referred by the Division of Youth and Family Services, the Capitol County Children’s Collaborative, or the Mercer County Juvenile Justice System; and Mary’s House, a planned housing facility for youth between 18 and 21 who “age out” of the foster-care system.
Inzana and DeRogatis will be at Triumph Brewing Company, 138 Nassau Street, on Sunday, September 9, for a party that will celebrate the unveiling of “mary land” and serve as a much-needed fundraiser for LifeTies. The 18-minute film, says DeRogatis, who lives in Ewing and is a member of the LifeTies board, profiles several of the youth who are helped by LifeTies, as well as staffers such as Inzana.
“The number one goal of this film is to raise awareness of LifeTies and to raise money for it,” says DeRogatis. “Not many organizations can do what we do, and we need more resources, more funding, so we can do more for the kids in the community.”
Narrating the film is Tony Award-winning actress Christine Ebersole, who says she became interested in the work of LifeTies because she is an adoptive parent. Ebersole, who lives in Maplewood, and her husband, Bill Moloney, have three children, ages 11, 12 and 14. “We are a transracial family,” she says.
A friend of Ebersole’s, who had adopted three children of her own, put LifeTies and Ebersole in contact with each other. Working with children in crisis, says the actress, “is just something I am very passionate about. The film’s beauty is that it raises the consciousness of others. Because if you look at it in a big sense, we are all one big family, and if certain members of society are marginalized and not taken care of, that does not benefit any of us. Our tendency to push our problems aside does not make these problems go away.”
Ebersole did the narration gratis. “I was just struck by their dedication and their commitment to making a difference, which I think it awesome,” she says of Inzana, DeRogatis, and the others involved with LifeTies.
DeRogatis, 30, works as the director of Internet marketing at Films Media Group, an educational film company in Lawrence. She was born in Jackson, the daughter of an assistant chief investigator for the county public defender’s office and an office manager. DeRogatis graduated from Jackson Memorial High School and majored in communications at Seton Hall but did not graduate, she says.
When she moved to this area two years ago after living in New York and working in marketing, she says, she wanted to work with a nonprofit that focused on children. “I contacted about five different organizations and met with them and even did consulting work for a couple. But when I met Mary at LifeTies, it was almost as if I had known her for a lifetime. She was the most down-to-earth person I had met in a long time. For someone who is the founder and CEO of an organization, I was not expecting this type of personality.”
Inzana, says DeRogatis, offered her a chance to work with LifeTies on several marketing projects and last year asked her to join the board. Meanwhile, DeRogatis and her husband were working with DYFS toward becoming certified to be foster parents. “It’s a difficult system for children,” she says. “I always wanted to adopt children, and instead of going the route of getting a child outside of this country, I wanted to help children who were right here in this country.”
One of the first things DeRogatis wanted to do upon getting appointed to the LifeTies board was work on a film. She says she never studied film formally and she had never made a film before she put together “mary land.” But with the help of some of her colleagues at Films Media and other friends — including producer/editor/cinematographer Lisa Jackson, art director Kimberly Eaves, and sound man David Giuffre — she painstakingly, through trial and error, put together the documentary.
“I went to them, and told them, ‘I have no filmmaking skills but I want to make this documentary,’” DeRogatis says. “They helped me by getting me in contact with resources we needed to rent equipment, and helped me to do the shoots. I wrote the script and interviewed the kids. Without Lisa and David and a bunch of other people, I would never have been able to do this.”
She says she was very impressed with the children she interviewed for the film, which cost a total of $28,000 and for which she is hoping to find financing to expand into a feature-length documentary.
One young man, a musician, wrote a rap which is the theme song for the film. Another youth, whose name is Nate, is a member of the Bloods in Trenton. “He was one of the most articulate and well-spoken young men I have ever met,” DeRogatis says. But how can she be so impressed with a person who is associated, at least, with a group that has committed many crimes in his city?
Nate, she says, is not an active member of the gang. “But he said that if he were not associated with the Bloods, he would have no credibility with the kids he is trying to reach. He really is trying to use his position as an entry to encourage other young people to make a difference. It’s hard to grasp, I understand that.”
DeRogatis hopes that the stories of young people such as Nate and the others in the film inspire at least some interest in the communities where LifeTies works. “What I want to see,” says DeRogatis, “is a day where people in general believe there is hope for all kids, not just that select lucky few who grow up in the middle class. There are a lot of really, truly wonderful kids who I do not think get the same fair shake that others get because they were born into difficult circumstances, and unfortunately a lot of people do not often take the time to get to know these kids.”
Premiere Party, Sunday, September 9, 2 to 7 p.m., Triumph Brewing, 138 Nassau Street, Princeton. Screenings of “mary land: The Story of LifeTies,” a new documentary short narrated by actress Christine Ebersole featuring the work of LifeTies, a non-profit that works with youth in crisis throughout New Jersey. The director, producers, and film crew members will be on hand. Champagne, hors d’oevres, and prizes. $25. All proceeds benefit LifeTies. www.entermaryland.com or 732-513-5562.