DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider is putting one-on-one mentors in struggling Los Angeles schools.
Stacey Snider's Blackberry burns for City Year. That's the grade- and middle-school mentoring program that gets her attention between keeping Cowboys & Aliens and a dozen other DreamWorks projects on track. The exec focuses her considerable fundraising talent on the organization because, she says: "Everything begins with education. All arrows point to, the more educated people are, the more likely we're going to solve the world's problems."
Snider, who joined the organization's board two years ago at the urging of investment-banker friends and City Year co-founders Andrew and Ellen Hauptman, is clear about the part she plays: She pulls bucks from West Los Angeles to fund an education program in less-prosperous neighborhoods. "What I have is access," the exec says. "I want people to know this is a good cause." She recently hosted a Wolfgang Puck-catered reception at her Brentwood home for 100 guests — including Jon Favreau, Catherine Keener, Marc Platt and Gary Foster — where the organization made a presentation to build awareness, not solicit donations. The money pitch comes later; invites are going out for an upcoming fundraiser April 23. "I expect them to buy tickets," Snider says. "Not put the letter on the counter and forget it."
What she's helping fund with City Year is education or, more specifically, making sure kids stay in school and get one. The organization's approach is to have mentors, who are about a decade older than the mentees and of similar backgrounds, help students progress through the limping-along L.A. school system. Each makes a commitment of one year, thus the name City Year. The roughly 200 mentors, placed in 14 area schools, provide tutoring, set report-card goals and monitor attendance, which means: If a student doesn't show up for a few days, one of the mentors comes looking. Four days a week, they greet students before school, work with them throughout the day and are usually on campus until 6 p.m. On Fridays, they receive professional training. In return, they receive $275 a week, plus a $5,350 "education award" to apply toward college loans or future education.
"What you learn is that getting an education is a lot more than just going to school," says Willie Smith, a team leader in the program. "The students need to believe they can make it. A big part of our job is instilling confidence."
For Snider, the organization's defining rationale is that its members "are kids who graduated from similarly impoverished, underserved schools," she says. "They have the credibility since they made it through the same tough circumstances."
The City Year event for which Snider's BlackBerry overheats is the Spring Break: Destination Education fundraiser set for April 23 from 7-10 p.m. on the Sony lot. (cityyear.org/losangeles/springbreak)