Kathy DiFiore, James Earl Jones, Vanessa Hudgens and Ron Krauss. Photograph courtesy of Roadside Attractions

“Gimme Shelter” Movie Inspiration, Kathy DiFiore

Saving Lives Through Scripture and Shelters: Kathy DiFiore’s Faithfulness Inspired a New Film

Written by Kelli Gillespie

For more than three decades Kathy DiFiore has been focusing on helping woman and turning down any opportunity for books, shows, or movies based on her life…until now. But writer/director Ronald Krauss did more than just ask, he entered the world of Several Source Shelters and began connecting with everyone involved. From “script nights”, to meeting girls from the shelter, to witnessing lead star Vanessa Hudgens leaving her High School Musical mindset behind by actually living in the shelter prior to any film shooting, this perfect storm combined with what DiFiore calls “God’s Divine Timer” led to the feature film, Gimme ShelterRisen sat down with both DiFiore and Krauss to talk about the struggles, the partnership with Mother Teresa, the law that was changed, and how faith brings true transformation.

Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine at Hotel Palomar in San Diego, California

Risen Magazine: Share a little bit about your story and how you ended up homeless and how that led to your decision to later convert your own home into a shelter for women.
Kathy DiFiore: I was in an abusive marriage and gave my ex-husband the warning of “one more time and I’m out of here.” And the one more time came when I least expected it. I just picked up my bag and I left. No clothes, nothing, I just left. Consequently, I had nowhere to go. I kind of bounced around for a long time – friend-to-friend, place-to-place. I was foolish enough to tell people exactly what had happened to me so less people wanted to help me because they knew he was abusive. It took me awhile to smarten up. Eventually, I was blessed to have a good job and I was able to buy a very small house. I found myself very lonely and I was inspired to start taking in these young mothers. And they came. First it was two, and then it was three, and then it was four… and then came the babies. Next thing you know, I wasn’t lonely any more.

Kathy DiFiore with Mother Teresa. Photograph courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Kathy DiFiore with Mother Teresa. Photograph courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Risen Magazine: But it wasn’t quite as easy as just opening up your home to these girls. There was red tape and some people that didn’t want to see the shelter happen. So how did your faith, and a friendship with Mother Teresa lead to changing policy?
Kathy DiFiore: One day, on my birthday, the door bell rang and I opened the door to find out I was being fined $10,000 by the state of New Jersey for running an unlicensed boarding house. I didn’t know I had been breaking state law that said you could only have one unrelated person living with you. If it was more than one, it was considered running a boarding house. And to be honest, I laughed. I thought, “God must be behind this. He just has to have a sense of humor.” But then time passed and I lost my job which was my only source of income. Some people stepped up to the plate and started paying my mortgage so we could keep the shelter open. We fought, and we fought [state legislature], and the [DiFiore] bill passed by everybody but the governor [Thomas Kean]. I had gotten a letter from the governor saying he was going to veto the bill.
So that night I prayed, and in the morning I heard a little voice inside my head that said, “Contact Mother Teresa.” I ignored it. And then as I ate breakfast I heard a big voice that said, “Contact Mother Teresa.” I had a business card from a man that I had met in Washington, D.C. about eight months earlier who was very interested in the work I was doing and told me if I ever needed help to call him. He gave me his home number and said, “By the way I volunteer at Mother Teresa’s soup kitchen in Newark.” So the only connection I had to [Mother Teresa] was this guy, and I hoped and prayed that I still had his card. I did have his card and I called his house and his wife answered and said her husband was with Mother Teresa last night. Within three phone calls we had someone talking to Mother Teresa on my behalf. She and I teamed together and the governor changed his mind and he let the bill become law.

Risen Magazine: Kathy, you have this great testimony that needs to be shared. [Turning to writer/director Ron Krauss] Now Ron, I understand this was quite a personal project for you. You even lived in the shelter for a year with the girls observing and learning from them. You initially thought maybe a documentary style [film] would be the best showcase, but then settled on a feature film. How did that experience alter your decisions?
Ron Krauss: Someone had told me about this place – it wasn’t even a shelter at the time – just this place where a woman was selflessly helping people, but they really didn’t even give me a description of how. I work in that sector of social causes and the human spirit, and I made films like that before so they were contacting me based on that and the idea that this could be of interest to me. It just so happened that the shelter was about one mile from my brother’s house in New Jersey. So during the holidays when I was with my brother, I went over and visited the shelter. I had been in a lot of different shelters and involved in a lot of different causes and my first instinct was just to observe in a goodwill way, reach out and see what they were doing. Then at some point I talked with Kathy, not about doing a documentary, but just documenting the girls; interviewing them, getting to know them, and then maybe just give [the results] to Kathy to figure out what to do with it. I began to think though, “Okay maybe a documentary,” because I just kept coming back to it and saw a connection in many layers of many things I had worked on before. There was a serious interest around this because in addition to the shelter, Kathy showed me her other work, which is basically just helping women in general. Kathy was taking women in and helping them get back on their feet and showing them how they could do it like she did it. Eventually, I started interviewing the girls and learning about them and their lives. Then one evening in late winter when I went to the shelter to meet with Kathy, I saw a young girl standing out in front of the shelter with no coat on. It was dark and must have been only 15-18 degrees outside. I proceeded like I was going in while she was making no effort to go in. I asked, “What are you doing outside here? C’mon inside.” We went inside and were talking but I didn’t know that she didn’t live at the shelter, and she didn’t know that I didn’t work at the shelter.
The symmetry was great and we continued to talk and when Kathy showed up she asked me, “Who is this girl?” I didn’t know and she actually got concerned because [shelters need to be protective and safe] and you never let just anybody walk in to the shelter. So, [he smiles]… Kathy lectured me. Then she spoke to the girl, interviewed her, and said, “You know Ron, we have an extra bed why don’t you tell her she can stay here. It is fine.” Not really thinking much about it, I turn informed the girl, “Darlisha, they have an extra bed, you can stay here.” She responded by hugging me so hard she almost knocked me over. That hug really sent a jolt to my heart more than anything else had. I went home that night and it inspired me that there is something bigger here. We need to reach more people. And I came up with the idea to do a film to reach the masses. I didn’t expect it to be this film. I had no idea at that point. I thought this could be a defining movie in our times to help people more and to uplift society with personal stories. So I approached Kathy and she said, “Absolutely not.

I believe you can teach about faith through scripture study, but I think the most  powerful thing is example.

Risen Magazine: [Laughter] She knew those Hollywood-types.
Ron Krauss: Yes. Given she hadn’t done anything [regarding media] in 33 years of her work regardless of being asked to be on every talk show.

Risen Magazine: Okay so then let me pause for one second and shift to Kathy. What was it about Ron that finally made you feel like after three decades you could say, “yes,” and allow him to share what has been so intimate to you?
Kathy DiFiore: Well I’m a very spiritual person. Everyday I live my life according to what I think God wants me to do. Sometimes He has to tell me more than once because I’m also very stubborn. But He loves me very much. So Ron came and he talked and he talked and in my head I’m thinking, “He seems like an awfully nice guy but, I don’t know.” Because for 33 years it was always, “Absolutely not.” I had heard the most ludicrous offers [from producers to tell my story] coming out of the telephone but over the years I never talked to the girls about doing anything, for fear they would want to do it [make a movie].
Then I started hearing what I call, God’s Divine Timer. It’s never happened to me before and it’s never happened to me since. But every five minutes I would hear, “Trust him.” Ron would talk, and then I would talk. And I’d hear, “Trust him.” It was so monotonous and I was like, “I think I’m getting it. I think I understand what you want.” But I still had this barrier of 33 years of saying, “No, no, no.” And finally I was like, “Okay.” What I did was I inched closer. I let him talk to the girls, I let him get closer and then when the girls decided to trust him, it was [the old adage] actions speak louder than words, because they [the girls]do not trust easily. That’s when I knew that God was directing me in a different direction; the time had come.

Ron Krauss and Kathy DiFiore. Photograph courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Ron Krauss and Kathy DiFiore. Photograph courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Risen Magazine: Kathy, your faith obviously played a big part in getting the film made and is a key component to real transformation with girls in the shelter. What conversation went into how much about faith or prayer or God to keep in the movie?
Kathy DiFiore: I believe you can teach about faith through scripture study, which James Earl Jones’ character does as the priest, but I think the most powerful thing is example. I think the loving, nurturing example that “Kathy” and the other house mother give to the girls in the movie, is seen as it evolves in the girls. Their faith becomes not just in each other, but in God, and it’s shown in a very subtle way. But it models that hope in future behavior that we have to have in each other. Through God’s grace we have to step forward and help each other.
Ron Krauss: This film was made for everyone. It has faith aspects to it, it has moral and ethics and heart with a mainstream cast. This film illustrates how faith can guide you in life. It was my intention to make a film that could uplift people spiritually and help change the culture, and save a generation.

Risen Magazine: If people want to support more than just going to the movie, but maybe directly to the Several Source Shelters, or even start a shelter in the city they live, what are the next best steps?
Kathy DiFiore: I have written a book called, Gimme Love, Gimme Hope, Gimme Shelter: The Inspiring Story Behind the Film. In addition, you can go to my Web site, www.SeveralSources.net, and you’ll find a “How to Open a Shelter” kit and I will help you if you are interested. I’ve had this kit for 10-20 years and have helped people open shelters all over the United States, plus one in India and one in China. We say this isn’t a film; it’s a movement. What we really want people to do is get a little strength, pray, ask God to help you and push forward and help. All it means is talking to someone that needs help, sit down and buy them a cup of coffee. I call it the great compassionate “uh-huh.

Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Spring 2014