The Daily Southerner
John H. Walker
Erik Estrada has made a lot of stops in his career — Hollywood, New York, Tarboro.
Estrada, best known for his portrayal of California Highway Patrol motorcycle patrolman Francis "Ponch" Poncherello in the series “ChiPS,” takes to the road these days as a celebrity spokesperson for the Safe Surfin’ Foundation (SSF).
That’s why he was at Tarboro’s Sunset Church of God Wednesday night.
While “ChiPS” had its share of beach and surfing scenes, the Safe Surfin’ Foundation deals with an entirely different subject — to raise awareness for the need of Internet safety because of the prevalence of sexual predators online.
To help get the message across, Safe Surfin’ funded the production of Finding Faith, a powerful dram based on the real-life story of a girl who was abducted after falling prey to a skillful online predator.
Actor Jonathan Phillips plays predator Edwin Doss . In the movie, Doss creates Internet persona Eddie Blue as a guise to contact young girls. Faith, a 14-year old girl, is on the Internet when she ends up getting a friend request from a boy who says he's 16. They chat. She decides to meet him and things go terribly wrong.
Phillips, who was also in town along with Estrada, talked to the standing room audience of more than 400 people before the movie started.
“How many of you have an iPad, iPod, iPhone or some sort of smart phone?” he asked the audience. “If you have one of those, stand up.”
Easily, more than 90 percent of the audience stood.
“Now, if you are teen or younger, keep standing … the rest of you, sit down.”
Phillips then delivered one of the more sobering lines of the night … “There is a 100 percent chance, not 99 and not 98, but a 100 percent chance that you will be approached by an online predator.”
It was a pre-teen from Tarboro, Autumn Bearden, who helped get Estrada and Phillips and Finding Faith to come to town.
Bearden’s face is one used on a missing children poster used in the movie and she was also an extra in the movie, which was largely filmed on and around the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
“I wanted my classmates to be able to see it,” she said, “so I asked them to come.”
Both Estrada and Phillips said they and other members of the cast were making one-night stands to show the movie across the country because they want people to see it and talk about it.
“We could release it to theatres and it would show for two weeks and wind up on the shelf, or we can take it to churches across the country and get face-to-face with people in delivering the message.” Phillips noted.
As a result, the group has made stops in Conover, High Point and Tarboro this week.
“We’ll leave here and drive eight hours to Georgia and then on to Florida,” Estrada said. “We’ve got to get this movie in front of people and into the classrooms.
“We made the movie for the children,” he said. “We made it for them because there’s a very nasty thing going on out there that is surfacing and it’s here. The bad guy is on your phone, he’s in your living room, he’s in your computer and he’s just a click away from wanting to steal your child’s innocence.”
Estrada got involved with Safe Surfin’ when he heard about Bedford County, Va. Sheriff Mike Brown’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Estrada decided to get involved in Brown’s effort to bring Internet safety education to schools. He has used his celebrity to raise money to educate parents and children about Internet predators, and he stars as a character based on Brown in “Finding Faith.”
The Safe Surfin’ Foundation conducts programs in schools to educate students about safe Internet practices, offers free software to help children stay safe online, and works with agencies across the country on an identification program that provides parents with a disc containing fingerprints and photographs of their children.
Trailer of movie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VvNBAyDacQ