By: Nu Yang
Many journalists have to overcome obstacles in the form of public records lawsuits or uncooperative sources in order to bring their stories to light. Journalist Daniel Heimpel climbed a mountain — literally. In July, Heimpel, along with nine others, climbed the 14,000-foot Mount Shasta in Northern California’s Cascade Range as a fundraiser for the foster-youth-run advocacy group California Youth Connection. The climb raised $7,500.
Heimpel’s passion for foster care began in 2006, while reporting on the issue as a journalist in Los Angeles. In his personal life, he also served as a mentor to two boys who had aged out of the system. His stories on foster care have appeared in publications such as LA Weekly, The Seattle Times, and the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. His LA Weekly story about growing up in foster care was honored with the Anna Quindlen Prize for Excellence in Journalism.
Heimpel said the stories “opened up windows for me that showed the broader cracks in society.”
In 2010, Heimpel founded Fostering Media Connections in San Francisco, which combines the power of journalism and media to improve the well-being of children in foster care. He said his goal is to “recruit an army of journalists to cover foster care, make it right, and actively fix it.” He added that FMC was created as a “sustainable network for journalists and policy makers.”
Heimpel also teaches a course at the University of California, Berkeley, called Journalism for Social Change, which explores journalism, public policy, and child welfare. The class also includes an FMC summer fellowship. Heimpel said the course will be introduced to the University of Southern California next year, and he is looking into opening the class to law and education students.
FMC is also building an online publication called the Chronicle of Social Change. The website is set to launch this month at chronicleofsocialchange.org and aims to raise the level of attention dedicated to youth-related issues and assist professionals in the youth work industry. Heimpel serves as publisher and works with editor-in-chief John Kelly, former managing editor of Youth Today newspaper.
Each of these steps led Heimpel to Mount Shasta this summer. Members from two other foster youth organizations, Camellia Network and Courageous Connection, joined Heimpel and his FMC team on the climb. Eight of the 10 climbers made it to the summit, including Heimpel. Five were first-time climbers.
Heimpel, who has previously made four trips up Mount Shasta, said he was “impressed” with each participant and their strength — especially after falling rocks struck a few climbers — and he was encouraged to see different organizations come together for the same cause. He said he would like to make the climb an annual event.
Overall, Heimpel said his vision is to make “dramatic changes” in foster care policy. He plans to do that by “expanding Journalism for Social Change to other schools, expanding the Chronicle of Social Change into a media hub, and expanding (the organizations’) ability to find stories that are compelling enough for journalists to follow.”
For more information, visit fosteringmediaconnections.org.