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March 31, 2017

Meet Kala DeStefano

As Senior Coordinator, Community Engagement for the Friends of Thirteen, Inc., Kala DeStefano works closely with Dorothy Pacella, executive director of the Friends of Thirteen. “I help the Friends connect THIRTEEN with the community by strengthening local partnerships, encouraging youth involvement with public media, developing and producing local initiatives, hosting events, and expanding grassroots awareness of THIRTEEN’s education resources and quality programming in the New York metropolitan region. The Friends will celebrate its 50th Anniversary in November, so we will have a celebratory event in the fall,” Kala says. Read on to learn about the path that led Kala to WNET, her très magnifique adventures in France, and more.

Kala DeStefano

Kala DeStefano

What is your background, and how did you land at WNET?

I grew up in rural Red Hook, New York (you’ve probably never heard of it) and never imagined I would live in New York City. I graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a BA in History and French. I had spent a semester abroad in Montpellier, France, and knew I wanted to go back after graduation. I applied to work in France as an English Language Assistant and was selected. I spent a year teaching English to pre-school and elementary aged children in Nantes. It was an amazing year filled with travel (I lived out my lifelong dreams of going through Platform 9 ¾ — very Harry Potter! — and taking a 12-hour bus ride from Madrid to Nantes), new experiences, and improving my language skills with my patient French colleagues. In addition, I was lucky enough to chaperone a weeklong trip to Préfailles – a small beach town in Western France – with the fourth and fifth graders. By the end of the trip, they were all experts at the Cha-Cha Slide and I learned to love moules frites.

Upon returning to the States, I moved to the city with two of my best friends to attend NYU’s Institute of French Studies for my MA. I spent three semesters studying modern French history, sociology, and political science. I spent the last semester in Paris, where I ate a lot of French food and wine, walked a lot, and did an archival research project on the deportation of French Jews from Paris during WWII. I really thought my MA would be followed by a PhD in 19th Century French Social History, but I needed a break from academics and a life outside of the library.

I worked in the Community Engagement office at Forestdale, Inc. – a foster care agency in Forest Hills – for nearly a year, but I missed working in Manhattan and ended up at WNET. The rest is History!

You recently joined WNET President & CEO Neal Shapiro, Dorothy Pacella, and other colleagues in Washington, D.C. for the America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) Public Media Summit and Capitol Hill Day. Can you share some highlights of your experience?

I learned so much from my three days in D.C.! It really was a crash course in public broadcasting and grassroots advocacy. It was inspiring to be in the room with so many likeminded people who believe in the importance of public media. I was beyond thrilled to meet Miki Meek, producer at This American Life. She presented with NHK World on the documentary “Five Years, Five Stories,” that was featured in an episode of This American Life a while back. I found this presentation especially interesting because it showed the many different types of relationships public broadcasters from around the world can have with each other. Our work can touch someone a million miles from home. Hearing PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff speak was a real highlight too. She touched on the increasing importance of public broadcast journalists. Her words stayed in my head as we visited with our local representatives on Capitol Hill.

Also, the Friends provide an annual scholarship for four students to attend the Summit. This year, we took two interns from NJTV and two students from Hofstra University, and I mentored them. It was fun to work with them and watch them become engaged during the Congressional meetings. The representatives and their staff were particularly interested in the students’ stories. It’s always good to remind them that federal funding benefits a wider audience than one might expect!

It was an especially meaningful time to be in D.C., given the current threat to CPB funding. If you’d like to stay up to date on the advocacy efforts to protect public media, check out the “I Stand With…” station hubs for THIRTEEN, WLIW21, or NJTV and sign up for updates from Protect My Public Media.

For our Media with Impact campaign, we’ve been asking viewers to share stories describing how THIRTEEN has influenced their life. How has THIRTEEN (or the PBS station of your childhood) inspired you?

I grew up watching THIRTEEN and have a distinctive memory of watching Sesame Street with my brother and pretending to be the Count with towels as our capes before our parents woke up on Saturday mornings. I was a HUGE fan of the The Big Comfy Couch and Zoom too. My brother and I tried to convince my parents to bring us to Zoom auditions in Troy. Wishbone and Reading Rainbow also helped turn me into a young reader.

Which three shows airing on our stations this month are you most likely to watch, stream, or record?

I recently got into The Great British Baking Show. The contestants are so nice and helpful to each other! I’m hoping to catch To Walk Invisible, the Masterpiece film about the Bronte sisters. I also would like to go back and watch the American Masters special on photographer Dorothea Lange.

Where do you live, and what are some of your favorite places in your neighborhood?

I live on the Upper West Side near Columbia University. My favorite places are Absolute Bagels, Silver Moon Bakery (seriously meets my need for real French bread and pastries), Thai Market, Book Culture, and my yoga studio – Yoga to the People. I love Riverside Park too. You can find me there most days after work once spring finally hits.

What book are you currently reading?

I’m usually reading two books, one for a book club and the other for my own enjoyment. For my book club I’m re-reading The Tenth of December by George Saunders. I’m definitely enjoying it way more the second time through. For myself, I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I met him and his wife, Amanda Palmer, at the Spotty Dog in Hudson a couple of years ago – they’re super nice!

Do you have a special interest or hobby outside of work? If so, tell us about it!

As you can guess, I like to read. I’m in two book clubs – one literary and the other French. I’ve also been doing yoga for a little over a year at Yoga to the People. Most weekends, my friends and I adventure around a new part of Manhattan and try new restaurants. NYU’s Institute of French Studies has a lot of cool lectures and conferences too.

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