The Connect with Kids Network (CWK) was formed in 1997 by Sam and Stacey DeWitt. Stacey was a broadcast journalist and attorney who worked with disadvantaged children. Sam was an entrepreneur who had recently sold out of a successful gourmet food company. As new parents and social entrepreneurs at heart, they wanted to create a joint venture that would impact social change and improve the lives of children.
Through her work, Stacey gained a deep understanding of the power of media, the influence of storytelling, and the positive impact of social and emotional learning on troubled youth and their families. Sam had developed the financial and operational skills necessary to build a strong company. When the two were asked by a local television station to invest in and produce a series of programs for parents, they embraced the opportunity.
The DeWitt’s formed a partnership with a local ABC television station in Little Rock, Arkansas agreeing to produce news programming for parents on social and emotional issues in exchange for the station’s commitment to broadcast the programs in regularly scheduled time-slots. Within a month, television stations in surrounding cities began licensing the service and the first educational components were added to a small Internet site where parents and educators could download print resources and discussion questions for students.
Within a year, a national syndication team offered to distribute the programming nationwide and the DeWitt’s moved the company to Atlanta, Georgia, a top ten television market and regional hub, to produce a full television series that would ultimately include five news re-ports each week, eight half-hour documentary specials a year, and a corresponding educational curricula on social and emotional learning distributed in schools.
In September of 1998, the company’s flagship, Emmy-award winning Connect with Kids news and documentary series was born. Over the next decade, CWK produced and distributed Connect with Kids to over 70 ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox broadcast television stations reaching over 55 million households annually. During that time, the company secured research and educational consultants as well as additional investors. CWK simultaneously produced classroom curricula, professional development for schools and measured the efficacy of those programs winning designations from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The company also developed an innovative social action strategy that partnered local television stations, school districts, and corporate partners to create educational campaigns on issues like school attendance, character development, and bullying and violence prevention. These campaigns attracted sponsors such as Sprint, Wachovia Bank, CVS Pharmacy, All State Insurance and more.
By 2008, the Internet matured, video streaming was mainstream, and the economy turned downward impacting television station revenues and the local syndication model. What initially looked like hardship, became an opportunity. CWK stayed true to its mission, but replaced television distribution with an Internet strategy that helped expand and transform CWK into an educational media company that continues to use the power of story-telling to improve the social and emotional lives of millions of families in local communities.