America’s Youngest Hidden Helpers

By Susan MacLaury

On November 10th, I watched a very moving event broadcast from the White House. It featured First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, Senator Elizabeth Dole, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in honoring America’s Hidden Helpers.

Senator Dole, representing the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, joined the White House’s Joining Forces, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Hidden Helpers Coalition as they pledged support to provide a range of services for children and young adults in military families who are caring for wounded, ill or critically injured warriors – suffering from both visible and invisible injuries – at home.

This year Shine Global was honored to work with Sesame Workshop to produce a short documentary for their HBO Max series, “Through Our Eyes.” We chose to focus on military children of injured parents. At the time, there were no studies that quantified the number of children living with disabled veterans, but the Hidden Helpers coalition just released their study at this White House event revealing this is a population of 2.3 million. Our short documentary, “Homefront,” tells the story of three of them: the Rodriguez family in Connecticut, the Richard Family in Virginia, and the Worleys in Georgia.

The First Lady asked Gabby Rodriguez, one of three children profiled in “Homefront” – to introduce her at the White House event. A remarkably poised and articulate child, Gabby breaks your heart with her simple candor about what it is like to have a father who has forgotten how to speak, how to read, or how to care for himself, and whose PTSD creates  emotional stress within the family.

Introduced by Secretary Austin, Gabby spoke eloquently about her father’s struggle, her mother’s unceasing efforts to care for him, and how she and her younger sister, Ava, try to help. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house by the time she thanked Dr. Biden for her support for military families and introduced her.

I know that there wasn’t a dry eye in our house. As a child, my father had been killed in the Korean War and my life had, of course, been hugely affected. Until we embarked on “Homefront,” however, I never had a real appreciation of the post-war challenges faced by soldiers with serious injuries, those who wouldn’t have survived Korea or Vietnam but, with medical advances, often do today. Their courage in trying to recover their lives and care for their families is something for us all to celebrate and support.

I’m proud that our film Homefront is playing a small part in bringing attention and support to these children and their families.  As Gabby said at the event, “I want every other caregiver kid out there to know that there are millions of us. You are not alone.” And I want Gabby and all the other kids to know that Shine Global is among the millions of Americans grateful for their parents’ service to us and who are pledging to support them.

Dr. Susan MacLaury, PhD, LSW is the co-founder and Executive Director of the non-profit media company Shine Global which gives voice to underserved children and their families by telling their stories of resilience to raise awareness, promote action, and inspire change.  She executive produced the Academy Award® Winning documentary Inocente, the Emmy Award®-winning, Academy Award®-nominated War/Dance, as well as The Harvest (La Cosecha), 1 Way Up in 3D, The Eagle Huntress, Through Our Eyes: Homefront, and Liyana. She is also the producer of the documentary films The Wrong Light and Virtually Free and co-producer of Tre Maison Dasan. Susan is dually degreed in social work administration and health education and was associate professor of health education at Kean University from 1994 through 2013.

Shine Global is an award-winning non-profit media company that gives voice to children and their families by sharing their stories of resilience to raise awareness, promote action, and inspire change. We produce inspiring films and compelling content about at-risk children. Through tailored distribution and outreach, we connect with our audiences in communities, classrooms, museums, and on capitol hill as part of a powerful engagement campaign to encourage social change.



Watch Homefront on HBOMax

Stream “Homefront” on HBOMax