by Craig Juntunen
We are back in our nation’s capital. Tonight STUCK was seen by a full theater and a fantastic audience for the 60th and last time on our nationwide tour. It was a fitting conclusion as Senator Mary Landrieu and Congressman Trent Franks led the Q&A and Senator Landrieu announced a legislative package called Children in Families First. If passed, this legislation will be a first tangible step forward to reverse the declining trend line in adoptions.
After we broke down the merchandise tables and loaded the last of the T-shirts and DVDs back into the bays of the bus, the tour officially came to a close. To say the tour has been a remarkable journey is an understatement.
The tour formally started back on February 28th, not far from where the bus is parked right now. In 78 days, we literally completed a geographic circle of significance. We launched the tour with a kick-off party just up the road at the Decatur House. It was a meaningful beginning framed by inspirational speeches by three members of congress and the heart-wrenching STUCK stories of five families. It was a very emotional ninety minutes on a wintery day in February and all kinds of thoughts and meaning draped me as I made my first steps onto the bus I would begin to call home for a few important months.
Fast-forward to tonight—78 days, 60 cities and 18,000 miles later—I can’t begin to count the number of times I was asked today, “How do you feel now that the tour is over?” The truth is, I don’t know how I feel. Obviously I am eager to get back home with my family and enjoy the magic of our simple routines, but on the other hand, I have become accustomed to meeting so many good and interesting people while thrust into the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime learning platform. Physically, the tour has been exhausting, but intellectually and emotionally, it has been invigorating. Connecting with thousands of good people has been restorative, and revitalizing.
It is hard to quantify everything that has happened in such a short period of time. The sum of this tour has been the human condition. This has been a very intense stretch of days and I had the opportunity to witness the real core of people. I experienced the character of the team of people who made this tour work: the Both Ends Burning Staff, the Samuel Goldwyn team, Rubenstein and Company media and the almost 900 volunteers who took matters into their own hands, willing to work around the clock because it meant something to kids.
I met people in communities all over this country who I would be proud to call friends and neighbors. I had heard the term Southern hospitality…well, over the last 78 days, I experienced American hospitality. With everything everyone did for us, the way we were welcomed and the way were treated in every city, I am proud to be an American.
The pivotal human condition is the human condition of the kids we are advocating for. For all of us involved in this effort, the kids STUCK in orphanages were front and center to our thinking and our actions every day. We thought about them, talked about them, and constantly considered how different life could be for them if we could only get our act together and find better pathways to get them into families. The last 78 days were for the kids who are STUCK. Every kid living outside parental care would be in a much better place if they had a family. A family is central to the human condition. It is necessary. It matters to our being. Family is who we are and what we need.
There was, and always will be, a personal family dimension to this tour. Our three growing and thriving kids are a constant reminder that love grows kids. Having them travel with me and be part of the STUCK tour experience created lasting memories. Their vibrant childhood has a flip side as a constant reminder there are kids just like them STUCK in orphanages, when they don’t need to be. Another event that made the tour personal was my mother passing away on the fourth day of the tour. It was an event that formed part of the stress and part of the significance of what we were all doing and why we were doing it. I said my final goodbye to my mom before I left with our kids to start the tour. I told her I was dedicating this tour to her. The fact that I had a mother and a father who gave me the gift of love and encouragement was the cornerstone of my life and an experience that every child deserves. My mom understood the fundamental purpose of the tour. My mom taught me about sacrifice and I went forward, as all of us did, without any question, but with a firm belief that kids need a family and it is a human right we should all be fighting for.
One of the traditions of the tour was the drive away, out of one town to the next. Once everything was packed up and the volunteers and guests left the bus, we would begin our drive to the next city. I would sit up front with Ron and Samar reflecting about the events of the day. One night, as we were driving out of Cincinnati I asked myself, “How did I get here?How did all of this happen?” Anyone who looked at my life years ago would never have imagined I would be driving around the country in a bus advocating for the rights of a child to belong in a family. As unlikely as it was to have happened, it did happen. One conversation on a golf course in the beginning of 2006 changed everything. I don’t know how or why it all happened, I am just glad it did.