Teresa Sperger did not want to share her story or life with a reality TV show.
As a single mother who had lost her youngest child to cancer in 2007, after a hard five year long battle filled with heartache and deprivation, she had put herself in a cocoon. Raw emotions had been numbed, the pain was buried deep inside alongside the sealed boxes of Christopher’s toys and belongings.
So when her 16-year-old son, Kyle, first signed on the family as participants in the Million Dollar Neighbourhood TV series, Teresa’s first reaction was an emphatic “no.”
For Kyle it was the promise of an adventure.
“It was something fun and new,” said Kyle. “I wanted to be on TV and I wanted to show off Aldergrove.”
So Kyle filled out forms and sent emails to the producers of the series, ForceFour Entertainment in Vancouver.
However, “We said no a few times,” said Teresa.
“I’m a pretty private person and it seemed embarrassing. This was a social experiment and reality TV has a bad reputation. I was afraid they’d make Aldergrove look like a bunch of redneck deadbeats.”
On the other hand, Teresa said since the series was planned for the Oprah Winfrey Network, she said she believed that anything connected with Oprah would be uplifting and life-affirming, and that “Aldergrove would be put in the right light.”
She also discussed the proposition with family members and friends, such as the support team at the Cops for Cancer organization that had played an important role with Christopher’s cancer battle, and they all told Teresa to go for it.
“My family said yes, the story should be told. We’re not out for publicity and money — we have a story and I needed to get out of my cave and get to know my neighbours.
“I had probably sheltered myself and did not see what was going on around me. Some of the stories you will hear on the series are heartbreaking… no one prepares for tragedy.”
Despite her initial misgivings, and the stress of fitting the show shootings into her work schedule, Teresa says she’s glad she changed her mind.
Teresa has been a bank teller for more than 20 years, so she did not feel she needed help with her financial planning. On the other hand, the five years she took off work to care for Christopher had depleted all her savings.
But more importantly, Teresa says she learned about true community and having a “balanced life. I was so afraid, I had not balanced my life properly.
“Yes, we learned different ideas to increase our net worth and income, but for a lot of people, who cares about the emotional side? The experience showed me that it does matter if we use what people give.
“I miss seeing these people every week now that it’s over, but I’ve learned how to go from a challenge and going ‘wow’, feeling good about yourself.”
There have been lasting connections made among the hundred families who participated in the series. Some of it is through social networking sites such as Facebook, and some strong friendships have also come out of it. And some initiatives sparked by the participants, such as a community swimming pool and a community trolley bus service, are being actively pursued.
“We all have different backgrounds and personalities, but at the end of the day we saw the hundred families come together. We learned to respect other opinions and that it needs more than just one voice to make things happen.
“I really believe Aldergrove will change after this, it will get us motivated to fight for Aldergrove and get on to good and better things.
“And if we need help we know where to go. We care about the people in our neighbourhood,” said Teresa.
The Million Dollar Neighbourhood series airs Sundays on OWN Canada, and the first two segments can also be viewed on-line at http://ownca.oprah.com/Shows/Million-Dollar-Neighbourhood.aspx