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While both female and male mentors were feted at the Spring Scholarship Luncheon hosted by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, it was the women who stole the spotlight. The Sunday afternoon fundraiser presented by Citi National Bank and TLC at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel inspired celebrity presenters and honorees alike to reflect on the importance of mentorship in their own lives — and even the men in attendance cited female role models who have defined their career paths.
“Rachel Zoe was a great mentor for me,” said Jeremiah Brent from Nate and Jeremiah by Design. He and his husband/co-star, Nate Berkus, were on hand to present their boss, TLC president Nancy Daniels, with the Excellence in Mentoring Award. “Rachel was the first person to look at me and say: ‘You should be doing something that is fueled by passion,’” Brent recalled. “It’s a simple sentence, but it was very powerful and it changed my life.” As for his partner, Berkus was assisted by an even bigger personality. “I had access to Oprah [Winfrey] and her thought process — what Oprah did for me was invaluable,” he said.
As it turns out, Winfrey also was part of the inspiration behind The Hollywood Reporter’s mentorship program partnership with BBBSLA. “It was the beginning of the Obama era,” recalled The Hollywood Reporter’s executive features editor Stephen Galloway, who received the organization’s Innovator Award for spearheading THR’s WIE Mentorship Program. “We had Oprah as the guest of honor at our annual Women in Entertainment breakfast, and the thought was: How can we top this? Well, you can’t top Oprah, but maybe you could do something just as valuable,” Galloway added. “It began as an experiment with 12 mentors and 12 girls — teenagers from the inner city.” Since 2009, the program has assisted more than 120 underprivileged high school juniors not only with making priceless connections, but also with paying their college tuition, thanks to over $4 million in scholarship money.
On a personal note, Galloway cited Sherry Lansing as his mentor — she also happens to be the subject of his new biography. “The extraordinary thing about Sherry is — well, there are so many things — but the lesson is really to emphasize the positive,” said Galloway. “That’s a great gift to see the positive — and make others see it in themselves.”
Presenter Mindy Kaling, meanwhile, saw herself reflected in the faces of the program’s proteges. “I can’t help but put myself exactly in their shoes 20 years ago, when I was trying to find a way into the business and didn’t have connections,” she said. The writer and actress was selected by a group of women to participate in NBC’s diversity writing program — and to work on The Office — when she was only 24. “This is one of the few times where I completely identify with both sides of this organization — the young, diverse women who are given an opportunity to work with successful Hollywood people, which I [also] sort of identify with now at 37,” said Kaling.
Supermodel Amber Valetta, who has hosted this benefit for the past five years, even managed to find mentors in the notoriously cutthroat fashion industry. “I looked up to Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista and would ask them for advice. We were all like sisters,” she remembered. That said, don’t count on Valetta to take any of today’s popular Instagram models under her wing. “I’m not personally someone who enjoys it,” she admitted of the industry’s selfie-inspired shift toward social media. “I think it’s a lot of narcissism and perpetuates a lot of baloney.”
The luncheon, which included a fashion show featuring mentors along with their little “siblings” modeling cheap-chic steals from Goodwill, raised more than $250,000 for the organization.
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