Philanthropy, RHOC

#RHOC: Emily Simpson Makes Thanksgiving Season About Giving Back

While viewers get to see an ultra-busy, dramatic and reactive side of Emily Simpson on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County, her philanthropic endeavors haven’t been spotlighted.

Each year, in November, prior to Thanksgiving, Emily and her sister-in-law Shireen Burgan host a special Friendsgiving. With activities and a signature cocktail, festive decor and conversational games, participants are not only encouraged to mingle, but to bring their own discussion-eliciting dishes…plus a donation to the charity of focus.

Emily explains that this is her fourth year hosting Friendsgiving with Shireen and adds: “This year, it will take place Wednesday, November 7th, at my house. We decided to make it an annual dinner with our girlfriends and we always incorporate a charity into the event. This year we asked all our guests to bring a side dish and also to donate to Lonestar fostering connections. Lonestar fostering connections provides clothing and suitcases to children in foster care so that they have a sense of having their own personal belongings.”

Emily, who has been through her own fertility struggles that were well documented on RHOC, became passionate about Lonestar’s services and children going through foster care after becoming friendly with Lonestar Social Service’s founder Dr. James Mercer. It was he who helped to organize Brandi Redmond’s adoption and has been featured on Brandi’s show Real Housewives of Dallas.

For a holiday focused on giving thanks, it is always refreshing to hear about those who don’t take their blessings for granted and are devoted to helping the less fortunate. Last year’s Friendsgiving charity was the Illumination Foundation and Emily explains: “We adopted a homeless family and all my guests brought donations for the family. It was a single dad with four boys.”

To get inspired about hosting your own philanthropic Friendsgiving, here’s a video of Emily and Shireen discussing the planning that went into this year’s event. (Click on the hyperlink.)

Other Real Housewives who will be in attendance this Wednesday are fellow Season 13 newbie Gina Kirschenheiter and RHOC alum Lizzie Rovsek.

(Photo: Emily Simpson and Shireen Burgan, Facebook)

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Bravo TV, Moms, Parents, Psychology, Reality TV

#RHOD: Brandi Redmond’s Adoption Was “NOT as Easy as It Looked!”

Dr. James Mercer stands behind RHOD’s Brandi Redmond in this photo. He is the one who made her recent adoption of a baby boy possible.

Sometimes we’ll see something on television and wonder aloud “Why did that person get so worked up over something so silly?” And then we slowly learn the behind-the-scenes details: The conversation, which we saw a minute of, was actually two hours long. There was a topic brought up that a character pleaded with producers not to show. A third party was involved who would not sign release forms. These are all examples of things that interfere with us seeing more of what actually transpired when something is shown on reality television.

On Real Housewives of Dallas, Brandi Redmond’s adoption of a baby boy invariably did a disservice to the adoption process because it wasn’t as easy as producers made it look.

Although we saw the man who made things possible, Dr. James Mercer, for half a second last episode, he (and others he works with) spent a ton of time with the Redmonds ensuring that the family was 100 percent ready and on-board to adopt a child when one became available.

Mercer explains that there were actually months of scheduled home visits in addition to unannounced, surprise visits for the family. There was psychological vetting, drug testing, reference checking and many other evaluations.

Although you might deem Brandi to be socially messy on the show surrounded by the…er, dynamic personalities (cough cough, Leeanne Locken), that doesn’t change the fact that she “completely has her shit together as a parent.” This was how one Dallas acquaintance of hers so eloquently put it to me.

Dr. Mercer, who possesses his own background worthy of a reality show and went through foster care as a kid, confirms that Brandi “has an immense amount of love to give and is an excellent mother.”

“Through Stephanie Hollman, I was introduced to Brandi,” he explains, “As a social worker, Stephanie had become familiar with my work with Lonestar Social Services, a foster and adoption agency serving the state of Texas. Stephanie is the kind of person I could call up and say ‘This child really wants a Batman bed. What can we do?’ and before you know it, she has donated a bed, bedding and her husband is making himself available to play softball with another child. The Hollmans are the most giving people with huge hearts. When Brandi was having her fertility struggles, Stephanie said to me ‘what about Brandi?'”

“This is not an easy process. It can be a year of totally consuming you and testing your patience and commitment. Then there are times things come up unexpectedly and the process can take longer. Or, there are certain highly specialized requests so things don’t happen as fast as you’d like them to.”

“Brandi was incredible throughout this whole journey. She didn’t get special treatment or have it easy – No one gets ‘special treatment’ in something as serious as this. Brandi never wavered and only became more committed as time went on. She has spent so much time with us that…and hopefully you’ll see this ahead on the season..our cause is something she’s become quite passionate about.”

Mercer is bound by certain confidentiality rules, especially since this was a closed and private adoption. What he was able to divulge is that he works closely with hospitals and social workers and was alerted about the baby, born to notably “young parents”, eligible for adoption.

At that point, Brandi had already completed the scrutinizing and selective vetting process. It is important to note here that a “closed adoption” means nothing is revealed, so the birth mother would not know that the adoptive mother appears on a reality show. When I asked how long it took Brandi to adopt the baby from start to finish, he is able to respond: “Minimum of seven months.”

Brandi was able to become an adoptive mother on the merits of her parenting history, cohesive and warm family dynamic, stable home environment and by meeting other benchmarks built into the system.

Mercer, who himself was eventually taken into a loving home as a child following years in foster care, made a mental commitment long ago to place kids in the best possible homes. “This is more of a crisis than people realize or even talk about,” he emphasizes, “There is a high number of kids who still need families.”

After writing his memoir several years ago, Dolores Catania of Real Housewives of New Jersey reached out to Mercer to say she was in awe of his work. The two have become close friends and appear often in photos together — in the event that you were wondering why his face looks so familiar.

He is no stranger to “Real Housewives” in general because of their common interest in philanthropy (a necessary component of taking care of kids without families and trying to place them in homes).

Dr. James Mercer’s book

One of the benevolent people he’s met through the charity circuit is Lisa Vanderpump. That’s right: The queen bee of RHOBH is not just passionate about pets.

Mercer wants viewers to know that Brandi Redmond and her family were subjected to the same rigorous process as the other non-famous clients he works with, but adds that she did get lucky in the end when the baby became available. “There are other people with very specialized requests and it’s been harder to get things in place as quickly. I really think the timing and how everything worked out for Brandi was a miraculous thing and clearly evidence of God’s amazing work! But there was so much involved during the preceding months that I wish people had gotten to see so they would understand it wasn’t as simple as it looked on TV. That said, I’m THRILLED they are showing this on TV at all! More awareness needs to be brought to adoption and the needs of these children.”

“We didn’t in any way ‘make it easy’ for Brandi as some critics have suggested. Also, it doesn’t matter who you are. Oprah would have to go through this whole process and it would require the same amount of vetting for her, as well as the same intense level of commitment. The priority is to ensure we find our kids the ideal, suitable and loving homes.”

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