Sabrina Dunckley concluded her school week with an unexpected emotional and uplifting experience.
The junior was among nearly 175 classmates and faculty at Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale to watch “I Lived on Parker Avenue” Feb. 23.
“The movie was so moving. Many of us were crying,” Sabrina, a parishioner of Annunciation-Our Lady of Fatima in Crestwood, told CNY.
The showing of the documentary concluded the junior class’ service-related retreat. Members of the school’s Respect Life Club also attended. Cecilia Brennan, campus minister and theology teacher, first contacted the film crew in September and was emailed in February by executive producer Benjamin Clapper saying they were coming to New York.
Director Philip Braun III stood before the students in the school cafeteria to introduce his film. The 30-minute documentary, filmed in 2013 and set for release March 8, is the story of 19-year-old David Scotton, who travels from Louisiana to Indiana to meet his birth parents Melissa Coles and Brian Nicholas for the first time.
Mrs. Coles became pregnant as a teen and made the decision to have an abortion. She remembers walking to the abortion clinic and hearing a woman protesting outside the abortion clinic screaming, “Your baby has 10 fingers and 10 toes.” As the doctor was about to begin the abortion, she said no to the procedure. She later chose Jimmy and Susan Scotton to adopt her baby.
“The movie was extremely emotional,” said student Angelle Montanaro, a parishioner of Holy Name of Jesus in Hartsdale. “It just helps me realize more that adoption is an actual option. You don’t just go straight to abortion because that’s a real child you’re growing inside. This is a person who is going to grow into a person.”
Braun spoke briefly to students after the movie before surprising the teens and faculty by introducing Mrs. Coles, who was greeted with a standing ovation and tears. She answered questions from students for about 30 minutes.
“I cried a lot during the entire movie. As soon as I saw her, I started balling,” said junior Stefania Rachiele, a parishioner of St. Clare of Assisi in the Bronx.
Mrs. Coles kneeled at the center of a group photo and video with the students after she finished answering questions. Later, students greeted her with hugs as they approached her for autographs.
“It was a life-changing experience, your perspective on life and how sacred it is. Everybody has a purpose in life whether it’s to be a mom, doctor, lawyer…You’re not alone. God is always with you,” said junior Elena Przywarczak, a parishioner of St. Eugene in Yonkers, of viewing the documentary and meeting Mrs. Coles.
Mrs. Coles told CNY she almost backed out of doing the documentary a few times.
“I did a lot of praying about this because it is so private and I’m going to be judged by everyone. People are going to be happy I did this and others are going to be saying ‘I can’t believe she did this,’” Mrs. Coles said.
“But the story is so much bigger than me. I’m just one person that has this opportunity to get this story out to as many people as possible and hopes they save even just one child. If that can be accomplished and I have to put myself out there for that, I’m gonna do it.”
Mrs. Coles told students she and Nicholas kept the pregnancy and the birth of their son secret from family and friends for years.
The two later married and had a daughter—Courtney—before separating. Both have remarried, and David, now 24, is in law school at Louisiana State University.
Maria Regina junior Laureta Pepushaj, a parishioner at Our Lady of Shkodra in Hartsdale, was planning to share her experience with family and friends.
“I want to show it to as many people as I can. It made me cry 20 times and I think everybody should experience what I felt today. You felt what Melissa felt and I want everyone else to feel it as well,” Laureta said.