From once-promising cities in decline, to poverty in the Midwest, to working migrant children, NBC News' "Dateline" presents "America Now," a special series airing on Sundays examining issues facing American's today and how communities across the country are pulling together to rise above these adverse times.
"These varied stories capture the lives of Americans who are hurting, but still helping each other despite the tough economy," said executive producer David Corvo. "We found the issues daunting, but the people, inspiring."
"Dateline" anchor Ann Curry brings viewers the first installment, "America Now: Circle of Hands," this Sunday, March 28 (7:00-8:00 PM/PT.) For the report, Curry travels to Grafton, Wisconsin, a small blue-collar town north of Milwaukee, to tell the story of how one struggling town came together to give hope to an extraordinary family, and in doing so, gave hope to themselves.
Karen Longoria, a single mother struggling to raise triplets, two of whom had cerebral palsy, thought that her life was finally improving when she managed to buy a house in Grafton, Wisconsin. Then two of her kids were diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a deadly disease that confined them to wheelchairs. The house in which she hoped to begin a new life, was not suitable for handicapped children. On top of that, two weeks later, a doctor told Longoria she had breast cancer.
A friend nominated the family for the hit TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," but the show chose to help another family. That's when two community organizers had an idea: how about a grand volunteer effort in which the local citizens would donate their time, skill and money to renovate Longoria's house. But that was easier said than done. Grafton had been slammed by the U.S. recession - unemployment had doubled in the last year alone - and the organizers feared that the economic hardships many families were suffering would prevent them from coming to the aid of another neighbor in need.
Their fear was unfounded. They needed to raise $150,000 -- Grafton and surrounding communities donated $50,000 more. They needed hundreds of volunteers to renovate the house -- more than 1000 walked through the doors. Many who volunteered had never met Karen and her kids. And many were struggling themselves with unemployment, and even homelessness.
"Dateline" was there to chronicle it all -- from the first project meeting to the homecoming ceremony two months later -- and shows how and why a community chose to rise above their own difficulties to rescue a family and create opportunities in the face of adversity.
David Corvo is the executive producer of "Dateline."