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Staff member will appear on '60 Minutes' with Oprah

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  • two women in kitchen
  • two women in kitchen

Posted on September 21, 2017

When Grand Valley staff member Jennifer Allard agreed to participate in a national political focus group, she never dreamed it would turn into the celebrity connection of a lifetime.

Allard, associate director for student recruitment marketing for Institutional Marketing, was among the Grand Rapids area residents selected in August to participate in a 14-member focus group moderated by Oprah Winfrey. The group was organized by Frank Luntz, consultant and well-known national pollster.

Interviews with focus group participants will be a key component of an upcoming special one-hour episode of "60 Minutes" called "Divided America," set to air on Sunday, September 24, beginning at 7 p.m. Winfrey is a special contributor for the news program.

The participants didn't know Winfrey would moderate their sessions, but Allard said she began to put the pieces together quickly. An earlier email mentioned a "special VIP guest" and the event was held a day after Winfrey was photographed in Grand Rapids with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash in front of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

"We were led to another room where there was a long table and told not to sit in a certain chair because, 'She's going to sit there,'" Allard said. "And pretty soon, Oprah walked in and said, 'Hi, y'all!'"

For nearly three hours, Winfrey led a discussion about political beliefs, the Trump administration and the 2016 presidential election. Participants were carefully selected to represent both sides of the political aisle; Allard said her story resonated with producers because she voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election except last November. 

It was nearly 10 p.m. when the event ended, at which time Winfrey announced she wanted to take the group out for drinks. They went at Cygnus 27 in the Amway Grand Plaza, where Winfrey was staying.

"She went to her room to change and came back to Cygnus in her sweatpants," Allard said.

As she left the restaurant, Allard thought the experience was over; however, she was contacted the next day by producers who asked to shoot b-roll at her home in Rockford. "I thought sure, the camera crew will come for a while," she said. They did, but later Winfrey arrived, too.

"We had an hour to get our house ready for the crew and Oprah," she said, adding that Winfrey also visited the home of a Republican participant.

Allard plans to watch the "60 Minutes" episode at her house with her family and a few friends. 

"It was such an amazing experience and a very special thing that happened, I want to share it with the people who mean the most to me," she said.