Originally Published: Feb. 4, 2013
Author: Kelley Mohr
Original Article Link: The Daily Record. Wooster, Ohio.
At last count, 661 people — men, women, teens and children — filled West Hill Baptist Church to see and discuss the film.
Estrada — famous for his character officer Francis “Ponch” Poncherello on the ’70s TV show “CHiPs” — first showed the film, then held a discussion and signed autographs along with stars of the film.
The purpose of the event, which was open to the public for all ages, was to spur discussions in the home about Internet safety.
“We made this movie for the children, but also for the parents. We have a situation in this country — it’s happening now and it’s happening here, as we speak,” said Estrada. “The guy that’s on your phone, the sexual predator that’s on your computer, he’s a click away. The bad guy is truly only a click away.”
The film is based actual events, following a girl named Faith who falls victim to and is abducted by an Internet predator.
When the credits closed on the film, the church erupted in a standing ovation. The reaction, according to viewers, was positive.
“It was very educational,” said Donda Massaro of Wooster, who explained that her children are very computer savvy. However, the film opened her eyes — and those of her children — to the real dangers that are out there, she said.
Wooster resident Rita Wenger agreed.
“It had a really good message that kids and parents need to see,” said Wenger, who saw the film alongside her son, daughter and their friends.
Not only did she love that the movie was faith-based, she said, but it prompted a discussion on the realities of Internet predators.
“We knew a little bit (about on-line predators), but I wasn’t aware of just how easy and how much bad people are able to track and how easy it is for them to get access,” she said.
The movie was filmed in coordination with the Safe Surfin’ Foundation, which focuses on Internet safety. The organization is spearheaded by Sheriff Mike[sic] Brown of Bedford County, Va., one of the first to create a task force to tackle Internet predators.
As a celebrity spokesperson for the Safe Surfin’ Foundation for eight years, Estrada decided he wanted to do something meaningful with his fame.
When Estrada met Brown, “He had like $30 in the foundation. Since I’ve been with him, we’ve raised a lot of dollars together,” said Estrada. These dollars are used to make educational software and to raise awareness in school systems across the country, he said,
“That’s what we do. We will come to your school, we will do it and it’s free,” said Estrada. “We need to be the mouth, the hands and the feet of Christ. We have to bring awareness and education.”
Above all, the film seeks to educate, using a compelling story to educate parents and children about Internet safety in a non-intimidating way while revealing the work and accomplishments of Virginia’s law enforcement agencies, specifically the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
In addition, the film seeks to give teens a comprehensive and realistic understanding of Internet safety and to challenge teens to live dynamically and purposefully.
“This is why we made the movie: Kids have to realize what is going on. The Internet is a great tool for education, business, social media and more, but kids are not educated on what to do on the 40,000 plus chat rooms that kids can go on,” said Estrada.
This education would teach children and teens not to give out personal information or accept gifts or even use real names, he explained, and to teach them not to meet in person with the people they meet on-line.
“If you are talked to inappropriately, you go to a trusted adult and, God willing, that adult will tell the authorities,” he said.
While the film’s story is frightening, in some ways, it isn’t scary enough, said Estrada.
“We couldn’t get too graphic with everything, but I would have liked to — not for the purpose of scaring you but for the purpose of letting you know, this is real here. The sex trade in this country is real … It’s here. And education is the best prevention,” he said.
For children under 12 years old, the church showed a separate movie and held a discussion session with local law enforcement officers, including detectives and specialists in Internet safety, about the dangers and trends presented by the Internet that currently are faced by Ohioans.
After the film, Estrada chronicled the events in his life that led him to make “Finding Faith” — growing up in Spanish Harlem, filming his first movie, “The Cross & the Switchblade,” his work as a police officer in Indiana and, currently, his aim to educate the nation on the importance of Internet safety.
West Hill Baptist Church was chosen to be part of the movie tour, which began Jan. 19 in Virginia, because of its support for Liberty University, which provided the equipment to film the movie.
Estrada and the Safe Surfin’ Foundation will head to Akron and Canton after visiting Wooster. The team plans to tour the nation for the next year to promote the film, as well as appear on Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show “Huckabee” and Marie Osmond’s talk show “Marie” on the Hallmark Channel to continue to discuss the importance of Internet safety.