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Seeing the ‘Harbor Lights’
Dawn Yarbrough puts the spotlight on the Twin Cities
By JEREMY D. BONFIGLIO – H-P Features Writer
Published: Thursday, December 8, 2011 1:06 PM EST
BENTON HARBOR – Dawn Yarbrough is usually back in Italy by now.
The Benton Harbor native and jazz singer who also has had stints in modeling and acting on Italian television has spent the better part of the past 20 years living with her husband in Milan.
For the past three years, however, her visits to her hometown have grown longer and longer, thanks to the changes she started seeing in her community.
“When I was here, I started looking at all these inspiring projects,” Yarbrough says. “I saw projects like the Fired Up! program at Water Street Glassworks, and the Boys & Girls Club, and the R.E.A.D.Y. Taekwondo kids.
“Since I have a degree in radio, TV and film production, I just got a video camera and started to tape these events. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I thought it was inspirational.”
On Friday at the Benton Harbor Public Library, Yarbrough will officially launch Harbor Lights TV with a ribbon cutting and screening of a rough-cut pilot episode of the magazine-style television show that is being picked up by WNIT Public Television in South Bend.
The 30-minute show will begin with an eight-episode season, spotlighting the community growth and development of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph through subjects ranging from The First Tee of Benton Harbor, which uses The Golf Club of Harbor Shores as the backdrop for teaching children life skills through golf, to Cycle-Re-Cycle, a nonprofit that fixes and resells donated bicycles for community transportation.
“I grew up here in Benton Harbor, and I know there are still problems, but things are changing,” Yarbrough says. “So many people complain that there’s nothing going on here for us, but there’s so much to do. Am I seeing a mirage? … We have a world-class golf course here and people think that has nothing to do with us, but that’s not true. Just ask the children going through The First Tee program, or the teenager from Benton Harbor who was the first person to have a hole-in-one.”
Yarbrough, who has videotaped 25 potential segments during the past two years, pitched the idea for the “Harbor Lights” show to WNIT three months ago.
“We just jumped on the idea,” says Angel Hernandez, WNIT’s vice president of production. “It’s such a dynamic place, but with a small production crew we don’t get a chance to get up there as much as we’d like to. That’s why Dawn’s proposal was just perfect for us to be able to tell the stories of St. Joe and Benton Harbor.”
Since WNIT is a public television station, Yarbrough is currently seeking sponsorships and financial partners to get the series on the air.
The estimated production cost for the initial eight-episode run, she says, is $125,000. Once half of that goal is reached, WNIT’s crew will begin editing segments into episodes, and when the final tally is met, “Harbor Lights” will begin airing on WNIT.
“It’s a magazine show, so you’re probably going to have three or four different segments in that show plus all the stuff you weave into and around,” Hernandez says.
“We’re planning about 24 hours of editing time and 10 hours of staff time per show to videotape. It then can become a total effort that we can all take pride in. That’s our goal.”
Although Yarbrough is “optimistically hoping” to get “Harbor Lights” on air by the end of January, Hernandez believes that March is a more realistic target date, leading up to the 73rd Senior PGA Championship in May at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores. He also says the program would be shown on both WNIT and its other digital channel, WNIT InFocus, which combine to reach 22 counties in Indiana and Southwest Michigan with a potential 1.2 million viewers.
“We want to be able to place this show on the Indiana channel, as well, so the exposure could even go beyond this area,” Hernandez says. “We saw the possibilities right away.”
For Yarbrough, however, she just hopes to be able to illuminate the possibilities to the people already here.
“This is a community project in so many ways,” she says. “It’s not about me at all. It’s about the power of community to work together and a community coming back to life. It’s not about me, it’s about us.”
So for now, she says, she’s staying put.
“I always try and run back to Italy before the snow comes,” Yarbrough says, laughing. “But I’m going to stay here until this is on TV. This year, I don’t think I’m going to make it.”