Many industry executives have hosted fundraising events for favorite charities at their homes. But few have packed the emotional punch that CBS Corp.’s Scott Koondel delivered in the backyard of his Brentwood home in May when he made the pitch for One Simple Wish, a Trenton, N.J.-based nonprofit organization that aids kids in foster care.
Koondel, 53, spoke publicly for the first time about the trials he faced as a youth shuttling through foster homes until he struck out on his own as a young teenager.
Today, Koondel, who is CBS Corp. exec VP and chief licensing officer, is determined to use his eye-popping story of survival to help raise money and awareness about the needs of kids in foster care, particularly as they enter adulthood
“I feel like I’ve cleansed myself of a childhood that I was ashamed of,” Koondel told Variety. “I’m now in a position to really do some good and make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to other kids.”
The association with One Simple Wish began a few years ago as his daughter Stella sought a public service project in connection with her bat mitzvah. It struck a chord with Koondel, who hadn’t revealed much about his past even to his four children. His wife, Staci, has since joined the One Simple Wish board, and the pair are planning to host another fundraiser for the org in New York in the fall.
“I feel like I’ve cleansed myself of a childhood that I was ashamed of. I’m now in a position to really do some good and make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to other kids.”
Koondel’s activity in the foster care advocacy community put him in touch with director Nacho Arenas, who produced a powerful short film, “Momma,” about a boy’s fear of going into foster care. Koondel has arranged for the short to air on Showtime after it makes the festival circuit rounds later this year.
“We need people like Scott to show kids that they can make it,” said Danielle Gletow, who founded One Simple Wish in 2008 after she and her husband took in an 18-month-old boy. “He knows what it’s like to go to school with clothes that don’t fit and to live in a house where the food was locked up. It’s pretty amazing that he’s decided to open up about it.”
Industry friends and colleagues who have known Koondel for years were shocked as he spoke candidly of the jarring shift from living in the affluence of New York’s Upper East Side to being in an overcrowded foster home at age 10. His father’s death sent his mother into a debilitating spiral of alcoholism and depression.
Koondel came to realize that his foster guardians had volunteered for the program only for the state and local aid payments that came with taking in homeless kids. As a teenager, he turned to unconventional means to support himself, skirting the edges of the underground economy.
By sheer force of will, he made it through high school and wound up at Syracuse University, where he studied communications. His future role as a top TV dealmaker was evident when he launched a successful commercial production company while still an undergrad.
Jason Blumenthal, producer of such films as “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Seven Pounds,” was among those who were impressed by the riches-to-rags-to-riches story he heard in his friend’s backyard. The two are pursuing the prospect of adapting it as a narrative project that could also serve as a vehicle for raising money and awareness about the challenges of foster care.
“As a producer, I look all day for these types of stories,” said Blumenthal. “The bigger the platform you have, the more people you can help and the more you can effect change. There are a lot of people who can be helped by his story. ”