Baltimore, Maryland. So much has been said about the city, criticism that came from way beyond the city itself. But Rebecca Kassay, the co-owner of the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, saw something incredible from the people living there. There was a community in the neighborhood of Cherry Hill growing fresh fruit and vegetables, teaching others to farm, giving access to fresh food for people who live several miles from the nearest supermarket. The program, called the Black Yield Institute, was making a difference in their community, and the Port Jeff resident said she knew it needed to be seen by the world.
“What they’re doing there is just so incredible as far as combining uplifting the community — integrating culture and fun,” said Kassay. “It was amazing to experience it with my own eyes and be there while this incredible group said, ‘we’re going to create this garden, how can we help people become more aware of health issues and social issues?’”
The inn owner is out on the road, touring in a renovated 1991 Winnebago with her husband, Andrew, and their dog. Filming with a Setauket-based crew, she is trying to spread the news of just how many nonprofits and volunteer works are out there and how much good they do for their respective communities.
“What I really love is connecting people, not just with a cause they love to help, but more importantly, connecting them with the power within themselves,” she said.
The show, titled “Be the Change with Rebecca,” is finishing filming throughout the fall before transitioning to full post-production during the winter. The show expects to come out sometime in spring 2020 on Amazon Prime video.
Kassay, 30, who was born in St. James and later moved to Port Jefferson to open the Fox and Owl Inn with her husband, said the show is inspired by modern serialized documentaries, and takes a form much like a show she loved as a child, “Dirty Jobs,” hosted by Mike Rowe. In much the same way to that Discovery Channel hit, which had the host performing a variety of blue-collar jobs on screen along with the regular workers, Rebecca gets down and dirty with the volunteers, whether it’s driving in nails while building houses or digging in the dirt in a community garden.
“We’re collecting the stories of how they do the work and how they decided to come out,” she said. “Such as, here’s what it looks like when you volunteer at a community garden, here’s what it looks like when you volunteer to restore an oyster reef.”
By the end of their trip, they will have traveled as far east as Baiting Hollow on Long Island, as far south as Washington D.C. and as far west as Detroit, Michigan.
Kassay had the idea for this project nearly two years ago, working off her own background as a youth volunteer project manager at Avalon Park and Preserve. She reached out through local Facebook groups for a crew interested in taking on the project, and the Setauket-based Aureate Visuals production team answered the call.
The three filmmakers, Steve Glassner, Larry Bernardo and Marvin Tejada, have donated their time on a pro bono basis to help make the project possible. All three have worked on projects before, such as Mentally Apart, a feature film set to premier by the end of the year. All three met while in school at Five Towns College.
“It’s been a very, very fun experience, especially all the people we meet and the locals who worked on the crew with us,” said Glassner. “It’s been a real learning experience. We’re meeting people from all walks of life, and it’s amazing and incredible what they’re doing in their own communities.”
The project has taken in this spirit of volunteerism with the crew. The folks at Aureate Visuals, in keeping with the spirit of the show, have volunteered their time to the project. Several of the crew work day jobs, and so they are constantly travelling back and forth from Long Island to where the next shoot is taking place.
Glassner added production has been smooth, and each shoot “felt like we were a family — no egos — it’s one giant collaboration.”
For the most part, the project is self-funded, though they have received significant pledges from the Port Jefferson Rotary Club and have financed $1,654 so far from backers on Indiegogo. Everything else is coming from the owners of the Fox and Owl Inn. Their minimum budget, according to their Indiegogo page, includes $3,000 for travel and lodging, $3,000 for local crew wages, $1,500 for per diem food, $500 for miscellaneous expenses and $800 in Indiegogo related fees.
As the family goes around in the renovated Winnebago, retrofitted with whitewashed cabinets and flooring to make it feel like home, she has become surer this was the right way to get the message across.
“Working with these young people when you connect them with a power within themselves, they just light up,” Kassay said. “The light in their eyes is something the greatest gift you can give someone, connecting them with that.”
The project still has investor space open, and the Indiegogo ends on Sunday, Aug. 18. People can visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/be-the-change-with-rebecca#/to donate.