It all started with a peanut butter sandwich. A woman in Carrollton named Bea Salazar invited a hungry child into her low-income apartment one summer, and one soon turned to sixty. She entertained the children, many from immigrant families, by reading and playing games. When summer ended, the number of children only grew. They were seeking help with their homework that many of them didn’t even understand. Salazar offered that help and more. Now a nonprofit organization with an after-school program at three low-income apartment complexes in North Dallas, Bea’s Kids is there to educationally support the underprivileged youth in this state. Here’s the story behind the story.
How did you first get the idea for this story? What attracted you to this particular topic?
Strangely enough, I was first contacted by O, The Oprah Magazine to do a story on Bea. They had written about her many years ago, and they wanted to feature her in their tenth anniversary issue. They didn’t like the particular story I wrote for them on a freelance basis, and they killed it. But I couldn’t get Bea out of my head. I decided to write about Bea for Texas Monthly in a larger context, asking the question, Could after-school programs like the one Bea almost accidentally invented make a significant difference in helping low-income Hispanic immigrant kids assimilate into the American mainstream?
Given the subject matter, was a language barrier an issue? If so, how did you deal with that?
Yes. Because I speak only a few words of Spanish, language was a big issue. But Bea was right there whenever I was around Spanish-speaking immigrant families, translating every single word everyone said.
In your experience, what are the pros and cons of interviewing sources at one end of the age spectrum? (Either older than sixty, like Bea, or a young child.)
Interestingly, the older and youngest people are the best to interview. The younger people don’t know yet to hide what they are really thinking, and older people don’t care about hiding what they are thinking. Both groups love to speak the truth.
How much time did you spend with Bea?
Probably, when you add in all the time I spent with her on the phone, five full days.
The facts and figures placed throughout give the story context but don’t overwhelm the reader. How many numbers are too many? How do you balance it out?
Well, good question, because in my first draft, I had so many statistics no one would have read the piece. As a reporter, you can’t get too proud of your research. No matter how much good stuff you find, there’s only a small amount the reader is going to take in. So go with your best stats.
How do you get sources like Bea to reveal sensitive information such as depression and contemplation of suicide?
By asking sincere questions. That’s it. If your subject knows you care, he or she will talk.
Did you do anything differently in your reporting of this story?
No. I just kept calling Bea back, over and over, to make sure I understood things.
When you either were told about or saw the scene at the end of your story, did you immediately know that’s how it would end?
Absolutely. I couldn’t have scripted the scene better myself.