Student Colton DeBiase shares stories of Pittsburghers who continue Fred Rogers’ legacy of kindness and love
Broadcast reporting student Colton DeBiase recalls being captivated by the Pittsburgh-based WQED-TV program, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, when he was a toddler.
“My babysitter didn’t have cable, so instead we watched reruns of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on local television,” DeBiase recalls. That experience was the “best thing that ever happened to me,” he says, because it marked the beginning of a lifelong love and appreciation for Fred Rogers and his philosophy of kindness toward one’s neighbors.
Flash forward two decades, and DeBiase is doing his part of encourage everyone, young and old, to live like Mister Rogers. His Live Like Fred project involves traveling around Pittsburgh neighborhoods to interview people he calls “inspiring neighbors.” The interviews can be seen on DeBiase’s “Live Like Fred” YouTube channel and are promoted on social media channels including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
According to DeBiase, a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Export, he and his mother came up with the idea last spring when he was a first-year student in Associate Professor Robin Cecala’s broadcast production class. Cecala suggested that students take advantage of access to the University’s U-View channel and equipment for projects such as “man-in-the-street” interviews.
It was a lightbulb moment for DeBiase. On the way home from class, he told his mom that he wanted to do a broadcast project involving Mister Rogers, “because he was a true Pittsburgher” who spread positivity and the importance of kindness. The Live Like Fred project was born, and since then DeBiase has used Point Park broadcast equipment to travel around the region and interview inspiring neighbors. For example, he recently interviewed fellow Point Park student Christie Wonnacott, a screenwriting major, who organized a Cut-a-thon to enable students and other neighbors to donate hair for the Wigs for Kids project. The wigs are provided to young cancer patients who often lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy treatments.
Spreading kindness and love
DeBiase also recently interviewed kindergarten teachers at Pittsburgh’s Beechwood Elementary School. Every Friday, kindergarten students watch an episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood and do activities related to that particular episode they watched. DeBiase was invited to come on a “Mister Rogers Day” to interview the teachers and talk to the kids about Mister Rogers. “It is a wonderful way to express Fred Rogers philosophies of kindness and love, especially to a generation who do not have a general idea on who he really is,” he says.
DeBiase is also a busy full-time student himself. At Point Park, “I am a reporter/analyst for U-View's Pioneer Sideline and The Halftime Show, co-host of CJ/RJ Sports Point on WPPJ and a play-by-play/color commentator for Point Park Sports Network.” He is also in the Honors Program and a member of the Honors Student Organization. He says his dream job would be doing broadcast play-by-play for any sport.
DeBiase also had the thrill of a lifetime when he earned a spot as an extra in the upcoming feature film about Fred Rogers, You Are My Friend, produced in Pittsburgh last year. Some segments were filmed on Point Park’s campus and several University alumni were involved behind-the-scenes. “It was a dream come true for someone who loves Fred Rogers as much as I do,” says DeBiase. “Along with other extras, I was fortunate enough to film a short scene with Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers.”
“When I started the Live Like Fred campaign, I never dreamed it would give me so many amazing experiences such as this. It also made me proud to know that I am representing Point Park University in the movie. We'll see if my scene makes the final cut when the film is released in October 2019. Either way, it was an experience of a lifetime and one that I will never forget. It has motivated me to continue on with our mission of spreading kindness and love just as Mister Rogers taught us.
“I hope to continue to encourage everyone, young and old, to live like Fred.”
Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by Nick Koehler
The Point is the magazine of Point Park University