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Emmy Award-Winning Fort Pierce Teen Turns Eye To Van Duzer Foundation

By Kevin Canessa
Posted November 19, 2013 at 4 a.m.


Shannon O’Connor, left, with Shane Burcaw, the man with whom she produced an Emmy Award-winning documentary.

FORT PIERCE — For many in the television world, the ultimate goal is to win an Emmy Award. Some achieve it after years of hard work. Most never do.

A Fort Pierce Central High School graduate, Shannon O’Connor already has won an Emmy — and she’s only 17.

O’Connor graduated Fort Pierce Central early and is about to earn an associate degree in English from Indian River State College.  With one Emmy won, she is ready to embark on another film — this time about the Van Duzer Foundation.

“I just kind of go with it,” O’Connor said. “I’ve had an interest in film and I was very fortunate.”


A few summers ago, O’Connor helped to produce a seven-minute film about a friend, Shane Burcaw, 21, of Philadelphia, and his struggles with spinal muscular atrophy, an affliction that makes it impossible for him to walk or to do just about anything physical. The affliction will ultimately kill him.

“I was 7 when my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” O’Connor said. “And at a very young age, I was involved with a nonprofit my mom started to help others with cancer. Shane has his own nonprofit, and that’s how I met him. And we both have a love for laughter. So the idea was to do this film, called ‘Happiness Is Always an Option,’ to demonstrate that no matter how bad life can get, laughing more in life is more fun that doing anything else.”

O’Connor helped Burcaw write the script for the short film. Their hope was that anyone experiencing any kind of tragedy or setback in life would be able to come to the realization that if you laugh at yourself, it can be OK.

Their film, “Happiness Is Always an Option,” won an Emmy in New York earlier this year in the “Human Interest” category.


Now, O’Connor hopes to do yet another film — this maybe 30 minutes or more — that highlights the work being done by Scott Van Duzer and the Van Duzer Foundation in St. Lucie County.

“I told Shane about Scott and the work that he does,” O’Connor said. “And at first, we were going to enter the foundation into a contest that would highlight, via a documentary, a worthy nonprofit. But they were looking for a Pennsylvania-based one. So rather than have to go through the application process and try to get them to accept a nonprofit not in Pennsylvania, I decided to do this independently.”

A Los Angeles-based production company will handle the project for free.

O’Connor will begin to film events the foundation puts on starting in December. The first event: a benefit for Christian Medina, a local teen who died a few weeks ago in a car crash, and the two teens who survived the wreck.

The idea, O’Connor said, is to show people how much great work Van Duzer does and how laughter makes it easier.

“We certainly want to promote his mission,” O’Connor said. “But again, we want people to know that out of tragedy, laughter is still one of the best remedies.”

Van Duzer, who has had his share of publicity over the last few years — he was the guy who gave President Barack Obama a bear hug at his Big Apple Pizza restaurant a year ago — is thrilled more people will get to know about the foundation’s work.

“Shannon really is a great kid,” Van Duzer said. “And we’re grateful she’ll be helping us out. You rarely find a 17-year-old who has done all she’s done.”


What: Benefit for Christian Medina and the Green brothers

When: 3 p.m. Dec. 4

Where: Big Apple Pizza, 2311 South 35th St., Fort Pierce

Information: Click here to go to the Van Duzer Foundation website.


Watch “Happiness Is Always an Option”

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