A version of this story first appeared in the April 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Since City Year -- a national organization aimed at reducing the dropout rates in urban schools -- started its Los Angeles chapter in 2006, the entertainment industry has rallied to support it. Last year, $1.2 million was raised for the group's local efforts at a fundraiser/festival called Spring Break: Destination Education on the Sony Studios backlot. DreamWorks SKG CEO Stacey Snider and Columbia Pictures production chief Hannah Minghella – two of the event's co-chairs -- talk to THR about the plans for this year’s gathering and the crucial ways in which City Year Los Angeles helps at-risk youth in Los Angeles.
The group's unique annual philanthropic event – happening April 20 this year -- brings together celebrities, students, corporate sponsors and members of the community to raise money for City Year, which sends 275 full-time AmeriCorps members into the public schools to tutor and mentor some 4,000 students at risk of dropping out.
As Minghella puts it: "To capture the essence of what City Year is: it's a community effort. It's about putting mentors into schools where they can work in supportive ways. But it goes much deeper. The mentors become friends and points of inspiration."
Many of the students, says Snider, have "parents who are working two jobs, who don't speak English. Their kids are at a real disadvantage. That breaks my heart."
City Year mentors, working along side public school teachers, keep students on track to graduation, adds Snider. "That makes their lives better. That makes all of our lives better."
In addition to Snider and Minghella, this year's co-chairs include Mandalay Sports Media CEO Rich Battista, Andell Inc co-chairs Andrew and Ellen Hauptman, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, Laura Fox, Wasserman Media Group vice chairman Arn Tellem, J.P. Morgan managing director and entertainment group head David Shaheen, and Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara. Celebrity hosts include Anne Hathaway, Vince Vaughn, Liam Hemsworth, Julie Bowen and Rashida Jones.
One corps member making a difference is Marissa Jackson. One of the students she’s been working with is a seventh-grader named Jason. "He was at an important crossroads in his life. The local gang was starting to influence him. He said it was the only chance he had to do something with his life. I set rules and expectations and held him accountable for his work and I made sure to tell him what achieving an education got me. Over time, I noticed his attitude starting to change. He started coming to school and turning in all his assignments. He’s even started helping other students understand the lessons. More importantly, he now sees college, not the gang, as a real way of getting what he wants in life."
Spring Break: Destination Education – tickets from $375 and available at cityyearspringbreak.org -- will feature performances by Skylar Grey and DJ Skyblu of LMFAO.
The foundation and corporate sponsors include a who's who of Hollywood philanthropists, including The Hauptman Family Foundation, Katzenberg, Spielberg and Geffen foundations, the education-minded Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and high-profile couples like Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow, Willow Bay and Bob Iger and Megan and Peter Chernin. CAA and UTA are among the agencies on board.