Vanessa Hudgens is still best known as the star of “High School Musical” but she’s doing her best to break through that squeaky clean image.
Last year she played a flashy gun-toting co-ed in the R-rated “Spring Breakers” and in her latest film, “Gimme Shelter,” she has her most dramatic role yet – a desperate teenager who is not only pregnant and alone but also living on the streets.
Her character finds some salvation when she ends up at a shelter for unwed teenage mothers.
The story that “Gimme Shelter” tells is based on real people and real places. The actual New Jersey shelter profiled in the film was founded over 30 years ago by a woman named Kathi DiFiore.
Her operation has grown over the years to now include five separate shelters, shelters which have helped hundreds of troubled young women stabilize their lives.
Kathi DiFiore stopped by KIRO Studios to talk about her work profiled in “Gimme Shelter.”
“You don’t have to know a lot to do good work,” says Kathi DiFiore, talking about how she managed to open that first shelter in her very own home, with no real experience.
“The primary thing that the movie is about, is that I took my home, and I made it into a shelter for young, pregnant teenagers. And Vanessa plays the part of one of those many, many teens that’s I’ve taken into my home, that were pregnant, homeless, abused and had no place to live,” says DiFiore. “What they needed was guidance and love and support and really, kind of a mom. Somebody that would tell them, ‘You’re OK, you’re going to be a good mom, I’m going to help you to be a better person and believe in yourself.’ And I’m a woman of faith, trying to get them to believe in God and little by little they take baby steps and they see they’re capable of doing a lot of wonderful things.”
Her operation, Several Sources Shelters, Inc., has grown a lot since those early days.
“We are now, by state law, we can only have six mothers and babies. Like if the girl is pregnant with twins, when the twins come, we always say that’s half a house. So we have a house mothers that live in with them, we have four maternity shelters right now, one of which is temporarily closed right now due to lack of funds, and we have one daytime shelter for homeless women. And these are women for all different facets of life that commonly help them find jobs and they help them find a permanent place to live.”
Through the years, DiFiore not only became friends with Mother Teresa, her charity work has been recognized by three U.S. Presidents and she’s been honored at the United Nations. But she says the real reward is seeing the results of her hard work.
“My God, 33 years! I’ve seen grandchildren, I have women that have served on my board of directors, I’ve played golf with one of the young boys whose life I saved. And it was so much fun to watch him,” says DiFiore. “Driving the golf cart – he stands 6’3”. It’s a blast. I love my life.
And there are countless women out there in the world who are loving their lives as well, thanks to Kathi DiFiore.
“Gimme Shelter” opens in theaters Friday.