On November 7, 2008 a special football game took place that set in motion a profound culture-changing movement.
Steve Riach, the CEO of Eterné Films, Russell Lake, Eterne’s president, and Carmen Studer, a film producer, each had children enrolled at Grapevine Faith School. They each received an email from Faith’s head coach, Kris Hogan, regarding the coming game with Gainesville State School, a maximum security juvenile facility housing the most violent teen offenders in the state of Texas. Coach Hogan’s email asked Steve, Russell and Carmen to join the Faith community in an outreach to the boys from Gainesville, in an effort to give them hope. Sensing this would not be a normal Friday night football game, Steve asked Russell to bring his video camera to capture the moment. As is turned out, it was the only camera there that night.
Faith families formed a massive “spirit line” for the Gainesville Tornadoes players to run through. Parents held up a banner for the Tornadoes to burst through. Faith cheerleaders led cheers for Gainesville. Faith fans sat, en masse, on the Gainesville side of the field and rooted for the Tornadoes against their own children. They held up signs with the names of Tornadoes’ players, and cheered for those boys all night long. The impact of that night was easy to see, from the expressions on the faces of the Tornadoes players, to the tears in the eyes of the Faith fans.
Steve Riach, a veteran filmmaker and documentary and television producer, had been looking for several years for the right story to come along for Eterné to tell through a feature film narrative. As he watched the night unfold, Steve recognized he was seeing the scenes of a movie unfolding right before his eyes.
Following the game, the group went to work to turn the story into a feature film. Steve and Russell, and their crew, went to the Gainesville prison facility to conduct background interviews with several inmates and staff members. During the filming one inmate who was a member of the Tornadoes team, Mack White, revealed that he was being released the next day. Steve asked Mack if he was excited to go home. Mack replied by saying he was terrified because home was a dangerous and a hopeless place.
The entire production team was heartbroken over Mack’s story and decided to find a way to help him. Shortly thereafter, Carmen located Mack at his father’s home in Houston, TX. She and her family met with Mack on Mother’s Day 2009, and invited him to live in their home. For one of the forgotten population, it was a fresh start.
The conditions most incarcerated youth go home to upon release are tragic. Most have no job, no family, no hope for the future. The vast majority lack the tools and skills necessary to have a chance in life, much less succeed. Drawing on Steve’s background with nonprofit work, he and his team sought to change that.
For over 15 years, Steve has served as Board Chairman for Heart of a Champion Foundation, a highly effective 501(c)3 charity that has transformed the lives of over 500,000 youth in 26 states across America through proven life skills and mentoring programs. Based on the foundation’s success in public schools, after school outlets and juvenile justice facilities, inmates at Gainesville were targeted as a follow up program to the football game. The results were remarkable. Thirty inmates were taken through One Heart programs and measured, while a control group of and thirty additional inmates who did not go through the program were also measured. All thirty of the young men who went through the program were released early based on good behavior. Only one in the control group was released early.
Nationally, nearly 70% of incarcerated juvenile males are rearrested; the vast majority within six months of initial release. Of the 14 boys who participated in the original Gainesville-Faith game in 2008, only three have been rearrested now three years out.
Steve, Russell and Carmen quickly saw that the One Heart film would not only be a great entertainment vehicle, but could also become a massive “megaphone” to activate and mobilize people across America to take part in a wide-spread movement to impact youth in great need right in our own backyards. They foresaw hundreds of volunteers and staff members coming alongside to help change families, communities and cities; and most importantly, individual lives.
Upon this realization, the One Heart Project was born.