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Anne Sweeney is exiting as co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, but is adding the title National Champion for Children, an honor the Alliance for Children’s Rights will bestow April 7 during its annual dinner.
White Collar‘s Willie Garson, who adopted his son, Nathen, though the alliance, also will be honored for his advocacy of foster children.
The organization, which provides legal services and training to protect abused and impoverished kids, works closely with The Help Group, of which Sweeney’s son, who has autism, is a member.
A long-time supporter of adoption reform, Sweeney in February officiated the adoption of Desiree Cornejo, 4, by her grandparents at Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park, Calif. Cornejo was among the many 81 children who filled the courthouse on adoption day. “It’s very emotional to be here when a family becomes a forever family,” Sweeney told The Hollywood Reporter.
Sweeney teared up as she watched Desiree, who was diagnosed with spina bifida as an infant, run around with braces on her legs as she played with her family. Desiree’s condition stemmed from her mother’s drug and alcohol addiction during pregnancy. Her mother later died in a car accident, and for the past 3½ years Desiree’s grandparents have been committed to providing her with a permanent home.
“Our daughter was a veteran who had a horrible experience in the army and came back and didn’t want to be alive anymore so she medicated herself,” said Desiree’s grandfather Zackery Cornejo. “It cost this child her health, but we got to see her life explode like a miracle, and now the world gets to see just how wonderful she is.”
Sweeney’s participation during adoption day is truly in sync with her personal philanthropy of focusing on kids and families. “The statistics are terrible,” said Sweeney. “The number of kids who end up in detention centers, the cost to their own personal education is severe. I think that’s where the Alliance really deserves our admiration.”
Sweeney’s ABC Family show The Fosters sheds light on the issues faced by children who grow up in foster care, but also the beauty that can evolve from having a stable guardian. The show provides “a very optimistic picture of how good it can be and what a loving family can do to make a child feel loved and successful and a part of something,” Sweeney says.
Says the Alliance’s CEO Janis Spire, “Anne is a role model for youth, particularly young women, and yet she’s such a leader in her industry, in the field, for women, for executives, for business. Seeing her at that adoption day she just connects with children. You can tell it’s really part of her essence, being so genuine and to care.”
As Sweeney looked down at Desiree dressed in a purple fluffy dress clutching a Mickey Mouse doll, she dubbed her “the newest Disney princess.”
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