Filmmaker Steve Scaffidi finds a new ‘mission’

For approximately 30 years, Steve Scaffidi has been making films and videos in a wide variety of genres – from music videos early in his career to documentaries about 

Catholic teens traveling and gaining closeness to God in Medjugorje.

At first, his career – like everyone else reaching for success – was aimed at making money. But something changed along the way as he veered toward projects with substance and meaning, such as highlighting the struggles of mankind in natural disasters in the aftermath of a hurricane. He made “The People’s Story” after Hurricane Mitch in Honduras and “Forgotten on the Bayou: Rockey’s Mission to the White House” after Hurricane Katrina. His film, “The Execution,” created a dialogue about the death penalty.

The latest venture tugging at his heartstrings is working with the New Orleans Mission and reaching the homeless through music.

A few years ago, through his company, Ghost Rider Pictures, Scaffidi wrote a song,  “Hit Me America: One Night, One Song.” That song was the result of a one-night jam session in night clubs with audience participation.

On the suggestion of a friend, Scaffidi used the same “live event” format to create something special at the New Orleans Mission: the song and video, “Hard Times Don’t Hit Me No More.”

The song is written with professional musicians and singers such as Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. and more than 100 homeless singing and helping write lyrics. The song was submitted for Grammy consideration for best American roots song and best music film, which Scaffidi said is an honor. It helped launch a weekly jam session at the mission.

“I saw joy,” Scaffidi said. “I saw homeless people and others having the time of their lives (writing and singing the song). My goal is to pull back the curtain on this place (the New Orleans Mission)” and show people that the homeless are not so much different than themselves.

Proceeds from the song – available on iTunes and other major music platforms – will go to the mission.

To further help the cause, he formed “Mission Media Productions” in early 2016 to teach a marketable skill to those in the New Orleans Mission discipleship program. That program is based on rescue (getting off the streets), recovery (at the mission) and re-engagement (into society).

Scaffidi, a director, producer and film maker, has trained two disciples thus far, Devin Black and Kirk LaGrange. “I’m really impressed with how far they’ve come,” he said. “My goal is to be able to pitch Mission Media Productions (to companies), and they are going to pay us for the work,” instead of a hand out.

Changed homelessness view

Scaffidi said he’s met amazing people at the New Orleans Mission whose lives were fine until one tragic event might have sent them on a tailspin. He gave an example of one who lost his family in a car accident and started drinking to cope with the pain.

His new mantra is “to let go and let God,” something he’s finding not so easy to live but something he’s striving for as he builds his own faith.

“There are people here (at the mission) who have hit rock bottom but are way further along on the spiritual scale than I am,” Scaffidi said.  “Every day, I’ve got to try harder. … Hopefully what I did on this earth inspired somebody.”

Scaffidi, a parishioner of Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, has committed to helping the New Orleans Mission on this project for three years.

“One day if Devin and Kirk could take it to the next level, doing the work they love, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world. What a statement they will make – two formerly homeless guys working and earning a living.”

Scaffidi is helping the mission with several upcoming fund-raisers: “Best Chefs of Louisiana” with 25 top local chefs April 12 at 6 p.m. at the Lakefront Airport Terminal ($100 a ticket); the Big Easy Big Heart 5K Fest Experience  April 30 that includes a one-mile fun run/walk (inviting people to race with chairs like they would at Jazz Fest) and a 5K race through the French Quarter and Marigny (registration 7:30 a.m., 5K 8:30 a.m.; Fest Experience fun race 9:30 a.m.) with registration at www.big easybigheart.com; and Cards of Hope that people can buy to clothe, feed and house the homeless instead of giving money to those on the streets.

He’s also seeking volunteers for a “social media army” where people can use computers and smartphones to fight homelessness at home.

Scaffidi invites everyone to weekly jam sessions on Wednesdays from 5:30-7 p.m. at the New Orleans Mission Chapel, 1130 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans. Visit www.neworleansmission.org for details. Famous and not-so-famous musicians have shown up and jammed on the open mike with the mission’s disciples.

“Something very special happens every week,” he said. “You just have to be open to the experience. … I want to change the face of homelessness from the guys under the bridge holding signs. … I want to take the mystery out of this place. It’s not some spooky place. Everybody has a unique story.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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