Hollywood Arts grew fast in the next year. By year two we had connected with over 300 young adults, homeless or at-risk of homelessness. Our teaching pool had grown and more staff was hired. At the same time, we developed new programs to meet the needs of our young students.
We created career-based mentorships where students worked with professionals on projects in which they were interested while getting the one-on-one emotional support mentors can provide. We partnered with the local city college to help some of our students transition to formal higher education. We launched an internship program and to this day stand behind Comcast for being the first major entertainment company to embrace us and our students. Comcast branded this program by taking an intern from Hollywood Arts who months later became a full-time employee with the agency.
We created new classes on topics such as Entrepreneurialism, Business Practices, Marketing and we invited guest lecturers from different pockets of the creative sectors: film, fashion, video games, animation, makeup. The school became something the students were proud of, something they respected and defended. To this day, many of our alum still cite Hollywood Arts on their Facebook pages as their educational experience. We built a family which for many of our students is as important as the vocational skills they learned.
Hollywood Arts remains one of, if not the only, educational facility in the nation to offer classes in the arts, performance and music at no cost to over 18 homeless young people. Pushed into the adult welfare system at 18, these kids are lost in worlds ill-equipped to meet their unique 18-year old developmental needs. Not adults but treated as such, emotionally behind the curve raised by the streets or the foster care system, these young adults run.
Hollywood Arts stopped them. The facility became a model and Ashoka flew from DC to meet me for their international leadership program recognizing innovative non-governmental organizations. We figured out a way to stop these kids from running long enough to get them to score a few successes, see themselves differently and begin the process of changing their own lives. We used the arts to do this, not to make them professional artists, but to give them the chance to master vocational and critical life skills skills cloaked behind art-based activities, activities which motivated them.
Nothing could have made me more proud. The idea I had–the idea met day after day with: “Why are you giving homeless kids a paintbrush?”–worked. Young people moved into jobs, learned skills, and their lives, while maybe not changed entirely, were dented by something positive. A seed was planted. Four years later, I resigned. Hollywood Arts was about bringing a new solution to a challenging problem. And I did it. I was ready to see what was next.
I left Hollywood Arts but not the students. I, too, was given an incredible family though this experience–both literally and metaphorically. I met my foster son through Hollywood Arts and am now a “grandmother” to his 3-year old boy. And forever Hollywood Arts will remain in my heart. The school is an inspiration made that way by its inspiring students.