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Clapsaddle’s caring hands mold METV’s image

Charles Clapsaddle was standing outside the door, almost dancing as he ushered us in for a grand tour.

Manatee Educational Television has moved into its new digs — and Charles is one proud papa. With Education Reporter Natalie Alund and me in tow, he spent more than an hour Friday morning explaining how he plans to use practically every inch of the 18,000 square feet.

The walls are still bare, and unpacked boxes are stacked in every room. But Charles’ excitement was contagious. As we walked into the main studio — yes, he now has two studios — the contrast to METV’s former facility was striking. This commitment to community programming speaks volumes about Manatee County.

And it speaks volumes about Charles. Since he moved here in 2000 from Washington, D.C., he has immersed himself in METV and in all things Manatee County. And he loves this community, even with all its warts and challenges.

His belief in the human spirit may be his key to survival. METV has persevered through even the thinnest of budgets – in large part because, in his own words, Charles can’t say “no” to anyone.

If you’ve met Charles, you know he’s not exaggerating. If there’s a community event, or a county meeting, or a local fund-raiser, Charles Clapsaddle is there, behind the camera.

The projects he’s juggling right now are indicative of how much he and his small staff of three full-time program editors tackle. At least 30 different segments are broadcast every day (check out Bright House channel 614, Verizon channel 31 or Comcast channel 19). He’s producing about 25 original programs every month, and he has expanded that to include several Spanish segments.

He showed us the outlines of an upcoming series with University of South Florida’s David Klement, tentatively headlined “Desperate Times.” Together they’re exploring the huge demand placed on the area’s non-profit shelters and food banks, putting a human face on dismal economic reports.

Next, Charles gave us a heartwarming glimpse of “Through the Tunnel,” a special he’s producing for a grand reunion next month of all graduates of the former Palmetto Lincoln High School.

Part of the all-black school’s lore is “the tunnel” that ran under the highway, from the school to the football field. Before each game, players would emerge from the tunnel, singing the school song, ready to take on the opposing team.

When Charles asked the organizers to help him contact former football players from the school for his documentary, he thought he’d attract a dozen, tops. But more than 50 proud alumni showed up to go through the tunnel with their Coach Shannon; they wanted to be forever linked with METV’s chronicle.

As Charles showed us the footage, tears welled in his eyes, even though he has seen the clip a thousand times. He cares deeply about people. And he stands firm that he has never met anyone who doesn’t have potential.

He jokes that he’s the Cal Ripken of community television — “We’re always working” — and I’m willing to bet he has already surpassed the equivalent of Ripken’s record-breaking 2,632 consecutive games.

“We will continue to produce programs that are focused on education, enrichment, cultural information and community interest,” METV promises in its mission statement.

That’s a natural fit with the Bradenton Herald’s commitment to this community, and we’re looking for ways online and in print to partner more with Charles and his team.

He heaps praise on Superintendent Tim McGonegal and the school board for seeing the vision of METV and opening new doors of opportunity.

But without Charles Clapsaddle, that vision would be far less brilliant.

Joan Krauter, the Herald’s executive editor, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 2000.

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