Op-Ed As Published in The Christian Post

The 'Unbroken' Story Changes Today's Challenged Teens Into World-Changers

By Heather Fuller ~ September 2018

Hope, Faith, Dignity and Forgiveness.

Not topics teenagers are likely to discuss openly or care to elaborate upon . . . especially in front of their peers. But as an educator in my eighth year of teaching, I've been surprised by my teen students' willingness to share their vulnerabilities. And, oddly enough, it all started with a book and a 70-plus year old story.

Harkness discussion led by Heather Fuller involving her 9th grade class in this immersive style of learning.

Harkness discussion led by Heather Fuller involving her 9th grade class in this immersive style of learning.

It wasn't just any book. It was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The incredible tale of Olympian, Louis "Louie" Zamperini and his time during World War II, including 47 harrowing days in a life raft after surviving a plane crash, years as a Japanese POW and the struggles in his post-war life to deal with his brutal treatment. Despite the war being over, the war never truly left him, until a momentous night in 1949 when he attended Billy Graham's tent revival service in Los Angeles. His life so completely changed that he returned to Japan and personally forgave the captors who had brutalized him.

It was my mother who suggested this book, and from the moment I picked the book up, I was hooked. This was the type of story you want to tell people about so they can experience it for themselves. And we kept coming back to the notion of how teens needed to hear this story and discussed how to make this relevant today.

Teens are in such a precarious spot in the modern era. It has always been a challenge to endure the teen years, but the challenges that inundate students today are different and more widespread than the challenges I faced as a teenager. Feeling lost and hopeless seems to be their constant state of existence.

Add a dash of hormones; mix in the mad, unforgiving world of social media where comparison abounds; couple that with the realities of bullying and you have a recipe for disaster. No one can deny that teenage struggles, family dynamics and culture have changed in the United States. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we need to be honest that this change has occurred. Ultimately, our classrooms must change as well to reflect the needs of young people today.

Within my school district, the economic disparities are evident and vast, but the social and family issues aren't quite as different as our students may think. Drug issues, divorced families, poverty, wealth, grandparents raising their grandchildren due to jailed parents, families torn apart for a myriad of other reasons— are just a few issues that plague students, not just in my district, but frankly, all over our nation.

Yet, we often don't discuss these openly, and we're missing an opportunity. It is an opportunity for dialogue, for learning, to further our education about an experience we've not experienced ourselves, an opportunity for self-improvement and reflection.

This concept was always evident to me, but how do you bring it to life in a classroom? How could I make 14 and 15 year olds realize this and care? Become engaged? Learn hope? Compassion? Forgiveness?

I made the decision to read Unbroken aloud to my students—300 pages to six separate classes.

That's a hard sell these days. Especially to teens who unabashedly declare they're not fans of reading or books, but would rather spend their free time streaming shows, scrolling through social media or playing video games.

I was absolutely blown away by their reaction. On the first day, there were audible groans of disappointment when the bell rang because we had to stop reading. They were hooked, just as I had been.

And what an impact it has had during the four-plus years I've been doing this. Some of my students had seen the first UNBROKEN film in 2014, but realized the book went further and covered his traumatic post-war life. This period of Louis' life, including the forgiveness of his tormentors in the POW camp, was often the most impactful to them. Recently, several of us pre-screened UNBROKEN, PATH TO REDEMPTION that will release nationwide this Friday and loved it. A man who overcome so many obstacles, deprivation and torture crumbles when the war ends, tormented by nightmares and PTSD. How does one overcome this cruelest chapter in his life? One word––Forgiveness. Thus began a life dedicated to the service of others, a legacy that the Louis Zamperini Foundation strives to continue.

Over the course of reading Louie Zamperini's amazing story, the more I asked students what their own personal beliefs are on hope, faith and dignity, how their own journeys echo that of Louie's, the more they have to say. Through Louie's story, the students find their own voices. They begin to cultivate a revolutionary environment: one in which teenagers listen to one another, build each other up and explore their own personal belief systems.

One activity that always cultivates more compassion and empathy during this curriculum unit is our Life Raft lesson. I tape out the standard size of a WWII military raft (2-feet by 6-feet) on our classroom floor, enough outlines for all students to sit three to a raft, just as Louie did.

They are obviously not in the middle of the ocean, but the confines of the space—paralleling Louie's confined existence for 47 days in the middle of the Pacific—actually creates a demarcation for hope. Countless times I hear, "If they can sit in a raft for 47 days, I can sit on the floor for three days," or "Sitting here makes me so grateful for what I have in my life." They talk more of their passions, of their hopes for the future, this arbitrary tape actually breaks through the limits placed upon them from either themselves or societal and environmental factors.

At the conclusion of the unit, students write a letter to Louie Zamperini. These letters often reveal the innermost challenges and thoughts of the students, and illustrate the power of forgiveness.

I was once asked, "What does reading this story mean to you and your students?" I surprised myself by crying, because it's more than reading, more than a curriculum unit in the classroom. It's a journey we endure together, and when we come out on the other side, we're no longer teacher and students, but comrades.

Comrades who allow our vulnerabilities to show, who raise each other up, who allow our encouragement and support to be unbroken. Comrades who encourage others to find their voice and use it with purpose.

I never tire of reading the now well-worn pages (since launching the unit, I've read a total of 7,200 pages aloud) because I know the power of those words. They renew my own faith in the next generation, because the passion of these young people to emphasize the importance of dignity, hope, compassion and faith (whatever path they may take) makes them world-changers.

Heather Fuller teaches ninth grade at Granbury High School in Granbury, Texas. Her immersive, character-building curriculum—developed with The Louis Zamperini Foundation—is being offered to schools across the country. Bring the Unbroken curriculum to your campus by visiting https://www.unbrokencurriculum.org/ for more information.

Luke Zamperini and Will Graham Interview on ABC Action News Morning Blend

If you loved Angelina Jolie’s film UNBROKEN, based on the Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEMPTION, you’ll love the new movie with the  same title opening nationwide September 14th, 2018.

UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEMPTION begins where Joli’s film concludes, sharing the next chapter of the unbelievable true story of Olympian and World War II hero Louis Zamperini.

This follow-up covers Zamperini's struggle with PTSD, haunted by nightmares of his torment, Louie sees himself as anything but a hero. Then, he meets Cynthia, a young woman who captures his eye—and his heart.

Will Graham (who plays his grandfather, Rev. Billy Graham in the film) and Luke Zamperini (Producer of this movie and Louie Zamperini's son) join us to talk about the new film.

Sharing Louis's Story and Making a Difference

Royal Family KIDS and Louis Zamperini Youth Ministries have formed an alliance to develop camp curriculum using our Founders amazing story. These efforts and the curriculum will bring hope to the children, as well as equip them with Louis' extraordinary value system from "Don't Give Up, Don't Give In" and "Devil at My Heels." These life lessons will be shared in unique ways to help inspire and sow seeds of faith to change their lives forever.


Impacting Lives within the Los Angeles County Juvenile Detention Centers and Camps

The Louis Zamperini Youth Ministries is honored to be sharing Louis story of HOPE within the Juvenile Justice Department. We have continued to make inroads into this system. We are happy to report that so far this year we have provided all of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Detention Centers and Camp facilities with copies of the book Unbroken, Young Adult Version

Working with youth pastors and mentors within the Los Angeles County Correctional Facilities, Louis Zamperini Youth Ministries is sharing the good news of HOPE and REDEMPTION. Hundreds of  copies of this book along with Unbroken, Legacy of FAITH EDITION DVD’s have been donated to programs that have book clubs and mentoring for these kids in great need of a second chance!

UNBROKEN, Changing Lives In Granbury Texas

The Louis Zamperini Foundation team just returned from Granbury Texas where we had the honor of filming and interviewing the remarkably gifted teacher Heather Fuller and many of her wonderful students! Stories of faith, hope, overcoming adversity...camaraderie, compassion, empathy, forgiveness...were all on display as the students discussed the impact of the book UNBROKEN. We were able to both witness and document the positive impact this real life hero has on our high school youth! We are beginning our development of this method of teaching based on our teachers curriculum.  With a proven track record of 5 years of being taught we are convinced this story CHANGES LIVES!

Luke Zamperini, Lisa Zamperini, Heather Fuller & Kids Cropped .jpg

Mentoring Programs Underway

2017 has been an amazing year for The Louis Zamperini Foundation!  We have steadily worked alongside mentoring programs which reflect Louis' life of faith and hope in Christ. From our involvement with 'The Princess and The Police Officer',  Forest Home Neighborhood Day Camp, Youth Correctional Facilities, Sunburst Youth Academy, Royal Family Kids and beyond. . . We have provided at-risk, imprisoned and broken youth with the donation of books, Bibles, and one on one mentoring. We have had the privilege of working with multiple Inner City Programs and their Community leaders, providing kids with opportunities for positive role models, and the inspiration of our Founders' story.  All that we do is with the goal of sparking HOPE through the gospel to those who need it most. As Louis loved to say "Oh Golly! Just give the kid a chance!"  

It is our privilege to do just that. Provide Hope and a Path to Forgiveness and Redemption to these precious kids in need of Faith, Hope and Love. . .

Three things will last forever~Faith, Hope, and Love~and the greatest of these is Love~

1 Corinthians 13:13

Luke at Ventura County Correctinal.jpg

Luke Zamperini sharing with inmates at Ventura County Youth Correctional Facility.

Zamperinis Joined by Torrance Tartars for Centennial Celebration

To welcome the Centennial Anniversary of our beloved Louis, who would have been 100 years old on January 26, 2017, we celebrated in true Zamp fashion by joining the student body of Louis hometown alma mater,  Torrance High School—also in its 100th year—in a big-time birthday extravaganza.

The Zamperini family was greeted by 350 Torrance Tartars, including the school’s track and field team, the student council, and others, along with the Torrance Kiwanis, Torrance Historical Society and several other local organizations standing in formation to spell out “LZ 100” for an aerial photograph.

The Torrance High Marching Band played a birthday tribute to Louis, and local church bells were rung ten times—once for each decade of Louis’ life.

Torrance High School students celebrate the 100th Birthday of the Torrance Tornado.

Here's What The Louis Zamperini Foundation Has Been Up To In 2016

As yet another year draws to a close, we take a look back on the opportunities God has given us to serve him through our mission of providing a better life for disadvantaged children. 2016 was a banner year, ripe with transformation, new relationships, and growth beyond any scope we could have foreseen. Given this season of joy, thanksgiving and remembrance, we are honored to share the ways that the Louis Zamperini Foundation has been afforded to enact our mission.

As with anything fruitful, we started small, with the seed of what has made our mission so exciting for the last 60 years—outdoor adventure. This winter, we hosted a hike to Eaton Canyon Falls in Altadena, CA for a group of boys from Resolute Academy Charter School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. LZF counselor Benjamin Adelmann led the boys, alongside retired LAPD Officer Keith Linton, whose organization Boys to Gentlemen continues to bring family values and educational goals to at-risk boys in some of the toughest communities in the Los Angeles area. For many of the boys, this was their first opportunity to experience the great outdoors.

This June, we proudly partnered, once again, with Louis Zamperini’s dear friend Tai Collins and her organization, A Chance For Children, who sent over 60 third, fourth, and fifth graders from Watts to summer camp at Forest Home Christian Camps—where Louis’ himself had been a guest speaker countless times over many years. The Louis Zamperini Foundation provided Bibles for each student, and sent three groups total on week-long journeys of outdoor adventures and spiritual growth. Together with LAPD Southeast Division’s Sgt. Jesse Ruiz, we are continuing to work with Forest Home to find new and exciting ways to serve youth together, bringing them a sense of purpose and belonging.

During one of our trips to Forest Home, we were honored to be introduced to Pastor Jose Hernandez, a former gang member who, after hearing the call of the Holy Spirit ten years ago, left that lifestyle behind and attended Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa School of Ministry. After graduating, Jose started Hope Central Watts Community Church in a park. He has been faithfully serving the Watts area since 2011. We were so inspired by his outreach that we knew we had to involve ourselves in his incredible ministry for at-risk youth.

Motivated by Jose’s work, we began the Holiday Season with the true spirit of charity, sponsoring a sit-down Thanksgiving feast for hundreds in the Watts community, provided by Hope Central. Just days after the phenomenally successful feast, we partnered with Hope Central once again for their annual Coat Drive,  which provides warm coats for children and families in Watts who cannot afford to buy their own. All donations received through our Facebook Page between December 9 and December 23 will go directly to the drive. 

2016 was filled with opportunities to spread awareness of our mission, and bring attention to our foundation from a wider audience. In July, the Jolie-Pitt Foundation sponsored a full-page ad for the Louis Zamperini Foundation in People Magazine. We are so grateful for their generosity, and the opportunity for national exposure on a scale we could not have achieved on our own.

Print wasn’t the only medium that picked up on what the Louis Zamperini Foundation was doing—film, television, and music all played a part in telling our story! The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association continued it’s campaign of sending copies of their documentary After “Unbroken” - Louis Zamperini: Captured By Grace to those who donated to their foundation. They also donated 1000 copies of Captured By Grace to our Foundation to be given to the young people we are working with.

In March, Luke Zamperini, son of the late Louis Zamperini, and chairman of our foundation was published by The Washington Times. His feature Power of Prayer: Remembering a Desperate Promise Made in War, Kept in Peace detailed how during his father’s remarkable experience adrift at sea for 47 days, he made a promise to serve God, the fulfillment of which ultimately saved his life from anger, self-destruction, and alcohol abuse. Following Luke’s feature, The Reelz Channel worked with him and his son Clay, interviewing them in preparation of—and featuring them in—their documentary about Louis, The Real Story Of….Unbroken which premiered in September.

From “Don’t Stop Believin’” to “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In,” this year saw us reach new milestones with our continuing campaign to raise funds for our foundation. In August, we created our first Charitybuzz auction, where fans were able to bid on two tickets to the sold-out San Francisco Fest on September 4, where they would meet members of the band Journey, who headlined the festival alongside Santana, Steve Miller and the Doobie Brothers.  The experience was graciously donated by Journey, and the proceeds from the auction went on to benefit The Louis Zamperini Foundation.

Following the success of our Journey auction, we joined forces with the legendary John Travolta for another auction benefitting The Louis Zamperini Foundation. Mr. Travolta donated the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the winning bidder and a guest to sit down to lunch with him in Los Angeles or Central Florida. We are so grateful for his generosity and his continued faith in our mission and the immense power of Louis Zamperini’s story.

We’ve continually been given opportunities for both Luke and Clay to speak to the graduating classes of Sunburst Youth Academy, a part of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program that works to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16 to 18 year old high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens. The students’ response to Louis’ incredible story of survival and his tenacious willpower is always phenomenal. They see Louis as a real-life “ordinary superhero” who, despite his humble beginnings, was able to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and find forgiveness in his heart  for those who had wronged him. We are now able to provide these students with copies of Louis’ documentary, as well!

Our own Louis Zamperini Foundation family has recently expanded, as we invited two new members to join our board of directors this summer. Joining The Zamperini Family in leadership of our foundation is Drake Morton, CEO and founder of Drake Morton & Associates, a highly respected marketing and advertising agency whose past and present clients include American Honda, Ducati Motors, Opus One Winery, and many others. Following Drake’s admission to the board, we were joined by our newest member, Scott Anderholt, VP of Hudson Financial Services, and former Sr. VP of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. We are thrilled to have these two brilliant minds, leaders in their industries, join us as we forge a path ahead for our mission in years to come.

The first of those many years to come is is just days away, with 2017 already looking bright and beautiful for The Louis Zamperini Foundation. We will begin with the great honor that the State of California and the City of Torrance have bestowed upon our namesake, when they will officially name a portion of the 405 freeway, between Redondo Beach Blvd and Western Ave, as “The Louis Zamperini Memorial Highway.” Keep your eyes and ears open for this, and other news about our Centennial Celebration, celebrating Louis’ Zamperini’s 100th birthday in January 2017.

Thank you to all of you who have made this year a success for The Louis Zamperini Foundation, a success for love and hope, and a success for Christ. Please continue to keep our mission in your thoughts, prayers, and charitable giving. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!  We are looking forward to all we can do together in 2017!

The Louis Zamperini Foundation Helps Send 50 Youth to Summer Camp

The Louis Zamperini Foundation is proud to to have helped sponsor 50 underprivileged children from Watts to attend summer camp in partnership with the L.A.P.D. and Forest Home Christian Camps.

Louis Zamperini spoke at Forest Home Christian Camps for many years, and it is now the honor of his son, Luke, to continue the tradition. We are thrilled to continue the legacy of our two organizations working together as partners, as Forest Home is true to the heart of our message.