For many of us, an outing to see the latest movies is something we are often able to do and enjoy. But for some kids, a night at the movies is out of reach.
As a lifelong movie fan himself, Jordan Maison set out to create something to help.
“ReelOutreach was an idea I’ve had kicking around for a long,” he said. “I was a film major in college, and have worked as a writer/critic about the industry for over a decade. Movies are a significant part of my life! When I was younger, however, my family wasn’t well off and getting out to the theater was maybe a once a year event. The experience of those trips, however, was a big influence on my young mind.”
He continued: “There are a number of great organizations and charities designed to fulfill the basic needs of kids (food, clothing, etc). There aren’t many that focus specifically on letting kids be…well, KIDS! I want ReelOutreach to fill that gap, to attend to the cultural/socialization aspect kids in this demographic might be missing out on.”
So in 2018, along with two of his friends, Jordan launched ReelOutreach, a non-profit that is dedicated to giving every kid, regardless of their circumstances, a chance to enjoy a night at the movies. They accomplish this through their theater events where they’ve take large groups of kids and fill out theaters that they rent, or sometimes get access to.
In 2018 and 2019 ReelOutreach was able to host 6 events per year (one every other month), but they had to stop when the pandemic hit in 2020.
“Even then,” Jordan said, “we put together a portable theater system with a big inflatable screen and a projector so we could hold “drive-in” style events during the time theaters were closed/limited.”
ReelOutreach also takes the leftover toys they receive from these events and puts them together in fun movie-themed gift baskets that they take to the children’s hospital for kids who are stuck there over Christmas. Along with what ReelOutreach has already accomplished, Jordan also has bigger goals in mind for the organization.
“On top of making us a more nationwide endeavor, with different chapters, I very much want to be able to bring these big movies into the hospitals for kids,” he said. “The logistics of that have been tough, especially since the pandemic, but I’m still very much working on making that happen.”
While the process and journey haven’t been entirely easy, Jordan has worked to overcome those challenges. Because ReelOutreach is relatively small and much of the legwork is on Jordan, he said it can be stressful to balance updating donors, push the fundraiser, communicate with studios/toy companies, and of course, work with different foster agencies to get kids in the seats.
“But the end result is more than worth it,” he said. “Every single event, we get at least one kid who has never been able to go to the movie theater before. Ever. Some of them were almost teenagers, too. It’s truly humbling to be able to witness the pure awe and joy of their first movie experience, let alone providing it for them. It’s tough to describe how that makes me feel. There’s joy, obviously, but also a bit of sadness. That something so many of us take for granted, or treat as inconsequential, has been denied to them.”
For other kids who have been to the theaters, Jordan said several have never been able to get their own concessions before.
“I remember one kid at our second event who just looked at me with wide eyes and disbelief when I handed them a gift card for concessions; saying, ‘You mean I can get candy?’ It was such a simple thing, but meant the world to this kid. It completely changed their movie-going experience for that night, and I’ve never forgotten it. When I first started this, I wasn’t sure what the response would be. Moments like that remind me how worth it, this is. Even when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels, or struggling to keep up with it all, watching those kids enjoy the simple pleasure of a movie is what keeps me motivated.”
Jordan says the movie events also allowed kids to just be kids: “Growing up is hard enough, even without factoring in life circumstances. There’s much more to a childhood than simply having the basic needs seen to, and everyone needs a break sometimes. If we do nothing more than offer kids a chance to forget about whatever struggles they have going on for a couple hours…that’s a success to me. People deserve joy.”
He ultimately hopes people can recognize how important and meaningful a trip to the movies can be for a kid.
“The biggest thing I want others to understand through our work is just how NECESSARY it is. It’s easy to look down on movies/entertainment stuff as frivolous. Every fundraiser we have, I inevitably get comments along the lines of ‘No one needs to see a movie,’ or ‘Why not take them to a museum instead?’ There’s no denying movies are a major part of culture all over the world; so why should some kids be excluded from that aspect simply because of their life-circumstances? More so, there’s absolutely a socialization element to it.”
Jordan continued, “Say you’re in school and everyone’s talking about the latest Avengers movie (for example), and that’s all you read about online among your peers. It’s easy to feel left out of the conversation. There’s a degree of knowing you’re missing out on something culturally relevant and thus feeling excluded from things (even with friends) because of that. The same can be said for those kids stuck in the hospital. Regardless, knowing they’re missing out on something (or being excluded from the moment) certainly impacts mental health. It may not seem necessary to those of us who are privileged enough to treat movies as nothing more than weekend entertainment. But I’ve seen firsthand how sitting in a theater utterly transforms these kids; even if only for a couple hours.”
Jordan also encourages anyone who is wanting to make a difference in their community to not be afraid to do so: “I would say, “do it!” Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Don’t wait for everything to line up perfectly. It simply won’t ever happen. Taking the plunge and getting started is by far the most important step. Even if you’re only impacting ONE person in your community, it’s worth it.”
“There’s no metric for making the world a better place,” he said. “It’s something I have to remind myself of as well. I’d love to see ReelOutreach be my full-time pursuit, with branches all across the country and able to reach thousands of kids. But if that never happens, that doesn’t change the fact I helped the kids that I could. It doesn’t change that I was able to bring a bit of joy into their lives.”