"Mom, just because you're not working for 7 doesn't mean you're not a reporter anymore," 13-year-old Blake McCarren gently reminded his then-unemployed mother, 47-year-old broadcast journalist Andrea McCarren.
Despite working for 20 years as a prominent TV news anchor for WJLA ABC7 in Washington DC, the Nieman fellow and winner of seven Emmy awards became a casualty of a high-profile network downsizing in the spring of 2009. McCarren recalls feeling blindsided and humiliated by the public pink slip. She even considered switching careers altogether until her son's wise words inspired a new story idea, which she calls 'Project Bounceback': Andrea would learn how other Americans affected by the downturn are reinventing themselves.
"So basically going on the advice of a 13-year-old, we sold our house, completely downsized, and hit the road in an RV," she recalls.
"We didn't have a real itinerary. We knew we'd start with depressed auto towns, but the rest was driven by social media. People followed us through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, making suggestions of where we should go. This led us all over Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota. It was amazing."
As she met victims of predatory lending, long-term unemployment, weather-ravaged communities and terminal illness, Andrea recalls being dumbfounded by the kindness of strangers with even less material wealth:
"Everywhere we went, people offered their homes, they fed us, they smiled at us. They were so proud to give us books on local history. It was a tremendous experience for our kids."
This past February, a few months after the trip, McCarren was hired by another DC network, CBS affiliate WUSA-9. Her day-to-day is very different ("I'm schlepping a camera, driving my own car, editing my own work, carrying my own tripod") but Andrea says the road trip changed her approach to her career. "I suck it up, put a smile on my face and carry on," she says. "This is nothing compared to what others face."
"I'm troubled when I hear things like, 'the recession is over.' I know it's not for a lot of the people we met."
Check out some of Andrea's favorite stories and destinations below, and click here to learn more about Project Bounceback.