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Travel host Colleen Kelly: Passionate about family, fun and faith

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There is a ritual that Colleen Kelly follows, well, religiously before filming each episode of her PBS television series, “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly.”

It’s called prayer.

“Before we begin filming,” said the Chicago-born-and-based host and born-and-raised Catholic, “my sister Catie [Keogh, her co-executive producer] and I pray together that all will go well, and that we will connect with people who have the right attitude for what we are trying to present. And in the years we’ve been doing this series, we’ve been blessed to achieve exactly that.”

“Family Travel,” airing locally on KVCR (through PBS’ Create Channel), features Kelly, daughters Dunavan and Shea (ages 14 and 11) and husband Greg, as they explore family-related fun and educational activities in locations known and not-as-well-known in the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean.

Recently, the “Family Travel” crew was in Oxnard, filming an episode scheduled to air in midsummer, extolling the variety of possibilities that the beachside community presents to families looking for “off the beaten path” experiences — from paddle-boarding and “foot golf” (think soccer on a golf course) to gondola-riding, wine-tasting and all things strawberry.

It was, in fact, “one of our best shoots ever,” declared Kelly, whose enthusiasm for travel is exceeded only by her love of family and faith — a faith she practices in an industry that can be less than receptive to anything (or anyone) relating to God.

“My whole philosophy,” she told Angelus News, “is tied up in, ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,’ including those who don’t always treat you well. My job as a Catholic is to pray for them. Stresses get to us all, and I pray constantly that we not only take our show to a good location but that, each day we’re on location, I handle everything the right way.”

That her daughters are on the set with her only strengthens her resolve to handle unexpected calamities (from bad weather to uncooperative equipment) as calmly and as good-naturedly as she can.

“I’m not a yeller or a screamer,” Kelly said with a smile. “We’re there to have fun, and, again, it’s about treating others as I’d like to be treated. I don’t have a star complex. The show is about vacation and education; it’s G-rated and family-friendly, a wholesome show for everyone from 6-year-olds to great-grandparents to enjoy.”

Her Catholic faith is important to Kelly, who growing up attending St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix, then moved with her family back to Chicago where she attended Mary, Seat of Wisdom School in Park Ridge, Illinois. Her father (who worked for Hertz) and her mother (a schoolteacher) took them on annual trips (often in the family station wagon) that were educational and formative as well as enjoyable. 

“My parents taught us what was right, and how decisions we make are connected to what our faith teaches,” Kelly said. “My mom, who has a strong devotion to Mary, taught us to pray the rosary, and to this day makes sure we stay close to Mary and Jesus.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in communications and marketing, Kelly joined forces with sister Catie to produce a local Emmy Award-winning TV series, “24/7 City Secrets,” that highlighted Chicago’s nightlife and cultural attractions. Building on their passion for travel, the “Trip Sisters” (as they are known on Facebook) approached several television stations with their idea for a family-based travel series. None would go for it.

“One station wanted a reality series where you take a family from Alabama, stick them in the middle of New York, and half of them get lost,” Kelly recalled, rolling her eyes. “Well, TV has plenty of those shows. We wanted to do a positive series that the whole family could watch together, enjoy and learn from.”

PBS and its Create Channel proved to be the perfect match. “They told us they couldn’t believe this kind of show hadn’t been done,” said Kelly, laughing. “We got the sponsors we needed [led by State Farm], and here we are, four years later, seen on 467 stations in 95 percent of the country, thanks be to God.”

On “Family Travel,” Kelly and her family participate in a variety of activities and make it a point to talk to other families to gain their perspectives.

“We’re blessed to present all kinds of families — single-parent families, those affected by disabilities, all of whom just want to enjoy their vacations,” said Kelly.

When she and her family are home, they attend Mass at St. Raymond de Panafort Church in suburban Mount Prospect, northwest of downtown Chicago. Husband Greg, a regional marketing manager for Panera Bread, is Lutheran, “but he goes to church with us,” said Kelly. “He supports raising our girls in the faith, and I pray that when he is ready, he will take that step to become Catholic.”

Busy as she is, she tries to make time for spiritual reading to stay grounded in her Catholic faith.

“You know,” she observed, “life sometimes can go one way, away from God, and a lot of times in my life things have tempted me away from God’s path. Well, we have choices to make and I pray to God that I can always make the right choices.”

 

Consult your cable provider for air times and dates for “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly.” The Oxnard segment is scheduled to air in late July on KVCR.

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