An angry, sad teenage girl becomes an award-winning television pioneer

“El Nido saved my life”

Last year, Kathy P., proudly added a fourth Emmy to her mantle. She won her first three Emmys as well as a Peabody Award, a Columbia duPont Award, and two Golden Mike Awards for her work directing local newscasts and high-profile trials over the past three decades, including covering the Rodney King trial with the first-ever gavel-to-gavel broadcast of a court case. Kathy’s remarkable accomplishments have come through years of hard work, but they wouldn’t have been possible without El Nido Family Centers, which helped her turn her life around four decades ago. “El Nido saved my life,” Kathy recalls.

Adopted at birth, Kathy had a typical childhood until her mother became ill with heart disease and spent more than three years in and out of hospitals. When Kathy was 13 years old, her mother died, unbelievably, on Mother’s Day. Her father was overwhelmed by the death of his wife and unable to cope with his new role as a single parent. He would leave his young daughter home alone for extended periods of time. “When I lived with my father I really had no discipline. There was no structure. There were no rules. As much as that’s what teenagers say that’s what they want, they need discipline, because that really does translate into love.”

An unsupervised teenager, Kathy began down the dangerous road of adolescent experimentation for two years. Recognizing that she was on a perilous path, she told a school counselor what was going on, and the school contacted a social worker. With all other options exhausted, at the age of 16, Kathy chose to move to El Nido Family Centers’ residential home for girls in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles in the summer of 1975 (the agency operated three residential facilities for girls in the 1970s).

“I was a very angry, sad teenage girl because my life had fallen apart and, as teenagers tend to do, I blamed myself,” recalls Kathy. Unaccustomed to discipline, rules, and structure, initially Kathy continued to push the limits and rebel at El Nido. A few months after her arrival, she and her roommate ran away from the home and found themselves with several older men who sexually assaulted them. The teens returned to El Nido the next morning. “I remember this moment; it was so defining. I looked up the stairs at this houseparent who I was very fond of, and I said, ‘I surrender. Game over.’ And from that point on, I changed everything.”

Life at El Nido was extremely structured and just what Kathy needed. The 13 girls in the house had chores, responsibilities, and curfews as well as group counseling twice a week, and individual counseling once a week. Kathy attended Fairfax High School where she auditioned for, and was accepted into, a television production program. Earning a spot as a reporter covering news stories for and by the students, this was the start of her broadcasting career.

Despite having earned many of the most prestigious awards in her field, Kathy gleams proudly when she says that her greatest accomplishment is her son. The lessons she learned at El Nido about discipline and structure, as well as the importance of expressing one’s feelings, are lessons that she has taught her son. Kathy says she owes much of who she is today to three El Nido case workers – Fritzie Davis, Helen Maxwell and Stacy Banks – who helped her come to terms with what had happened to her. “Everything that happened to me almost killed me, but everything they did for me – their structure, their counseling – got me on the right track.”

More than anything, what does Kathy want people to know about L.A.’s 90-year-old social service agency? “The bottom line and simplest way to explain it is that El Nido saves lives. It saves lives through intervention, through therapy, through home services, in so many different ways. It saved my life.”