A few months ago, I wrote a "What Ever Happened To" story about actress Wendy Kilbourne. Star of NORTH AND SOUTH and MIDNIGHT CALLER, she had been an actress I always liked, yet hadn't acted in over 10 years.
In the story, I wrote how she married her NORTH AND SOUTH co-star James Read in the late 80's and had two children. I speculated that maybe she had just retired to become a mom.
The post became very popular, with visitors wanting to find out what happened to her. Finally, a few weeks ago, I got a comment, from Jacqueline Langley, PhD., directing me to what she is doing today.
Turns out, she is doing something far more important than acting.
Wendy is the Chief Executive Officer of the Children's Project of Santa Barbara. They are planning to build a school for foster children in grades 7-12. It will be the first charter boarding school of its sort in the country.
I was able to contact her and she agreed to do an interview.
How did you get started in your acting career?
I was involved in youth theater groups growing up in Orange County, but my first paid job was a small part on Three's Company when I was 17. I then did numerous guest-star parts on all those 80's shows (Dynasty, Knight Rider, RipTide, ATeam) before being cast in North & South.
NORTH AND SOUTH was known for all the major stars in cameos (Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, James Stewart etc). Do you have any memories of working with them?
I was only 20 when I did N&S, so I was amazed to be able to work with those icons. Robert Mitchum in particular was such a delight...playing his daughter was a career highlight.
You also worked with your husband, James Read, on NORTH AND SOUTH. And, you’ve been married for 19 years. Any advice you’d care to give to the rest of Hollywood?
No advice...we just got very lucky! I knew when I met him that he would be my husband in real life as well as on screen.
MIDNIGHT CALLER was a favorite of mine. What was that like to work on?
I cannot imagine a better working situation. We all loved working on that show. The cast, working in San Francisco, the crew.....it was so much fun.
The last acting credit that I could find was a 1996 TV episode. What made you give that up?
I decided to go to law school.
So, you are a lawyer as well?
Yes...I am a licensed attorney in California.
Can you tell us about the Children’s Project.
I started The Children's Project in Santa Barbara County in 2004 with support from a local foundation. The objective was to find a solution to the increasingly problematic outcomes of our county’s 600-plus foster children. A steering committee of over forty key public officials (including the Directors of Social Services and Mental Health, and the Presiding Juvenile Judge) and community leaders met regularly to address the issues. As a result of this collaborative planning process, The Children’s Project Academy, the nation’s first residential charter school for foster youth grades 7-12, was envisioned.
How did you get involved?
When I was 21 and living in Los Angeles, I volunteered to be a "special friend" to a young foster child. Over the next 12 years, from the time he was 6 until he "aged out" of the foster care system at 18, he was moved 27 times. I learned a lot about the dependency court system through his experiences. I feel so strongly that we as a society must do a better job of raising these children that come into our care. It is this conviction that drove me to law school and ultimately caused me to start the Children's Project.
What can anyone out there do to help?
Any number of things. Find out about how to help foster children in your communities. Become mentors. Look into CASA. (Court Appointed Special Advocates.) Find out who your judges are that make decisions affecting foster youth. Visit our website. (www.childrensprojectsb.org) Let's make improving foster care outcomes a national priority!
A big thank you to Wendy Kilbourne Read for the interview and to Jacqueline Langley for her comment. For more information, please visit her website.