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Some of the most powerful women in Hollywood came together Tuesday night to celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Hollywood Reporter’s Mentorship Program, a joint venture with Big Brothers Big Sisters that pairs young women from arduous backgrounds with leading entertainment industry figures.
Disney-ABC Television Group’s Anne Sweeney, CBS Television Distribution’s Hilary Estey McLoughlin, Fox Searchlight Pictures’ Nancy Utley, ICM Partners’ Hildy Gottlieb and WME’s Nancy Josephson were among those who gathered at Suzanne Goin‘s A.O.C for the private affair. (See more photos from the event here.)
At the event — hosted by Janice Min, co-president and chief creative officer of Guggenheim Media’s Entertainment Group; THR executive editor, features Stephen Galloway; and Tiffany Siart, president and CEO o f Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles — former mentors, mentees and newly inducted mentors mingled for the first time in the program’s history at the intimate, al fresco dinner presented by luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter.
At Tuesday’s event, Ravynne Staine, a 2013 mentee currently in her first year at Los Angeles’ Loyola Marymount University, received a $25,000 scholarship from Net-a-Porter.
“When we heard about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program with The Hollywood Reporter, we wanted to get involved, and after hearing Ravynne’s story, we were so touched and wanted to do something to help her,” Net-a-Porter’s Heather Kaminetsky told THR. During her tearful speech, Kaminetsky, who presented Staine with the scholarship as mentor McLoughlin looked on, said, “We know it’s incredibly difficult to finance four years of study, and we truly want to encourage all of the mentees to benefit from this experience.” The moment brought the audience — who enjoyed black cod and chopped autumn salad — to tears.
Staine — who was instantly overcome with emotion — said she was speechless but couldn’t wait to go home to tell her parents. “This means everything to me; my parents are probably going to be more excited than I am,” she told THR. Since its inception in 2009, the program has raised $1.7 million in university scholarships and has paired nearly 100 inner-city girls with more than 75 top-level female executives in various positions across the entertainment industry.
During her own remarks, Min admitted to being skeptical about the program when she first arrived at THR. “The cynical part of me could see this program falling apart,” she said. But her reservations quickly vanished as she saw the impact that Hollywood’s most accomplished women were having on their mentees. “For a lot of us, this impacts how we live our day-to-day lives. When I think of every time my kids complain because they can’t find their iPhone or just things that we take for granted — I think it helps all of us in this room, to put our lives and our communities in perspective.”
In 2010, Sweeney was the very first person to take on the challenge of becoming a mentor. Her mentee, Georgina Portillo, is now a senior and psychology major at University of California, Riverside. She described her mentoring experience as both daunting and rewarding. “The same responsibility I felt toward my daughter, I felt for Georgina because they were only a couple years apart, and it made me look at the power that the entertainment industry has, to do something that is going to be important for a lifetime to a kid,” she told THR.
Although the impact may never truly be quantified, student Paola Franco says her life has been changed forever. Last year, while standing next to her mentor, NBC Entertainment’s Jennifer Salke, Franco received a four-year, full-ride scholarship to Loyola Marymount University. She’ll be the first in her family to graduate from college, with a major in communications and business. “I’d like to work in the entertainment industry one day and hopefully l can be the next Jennifer Salke,” she said, laughing.
Added Siart: “This is a very unique partnership. It’s pretty rare that you would have this kind of partnership with a for-profit entity that not only supports you financially but is deeply invested in the evolution of the program.”
Also at the event were Island Def Jam Music Group’s Karen Kwak, Warner Horizon Television’s Brooke Karzen and Fox TV’s Shana Waterman, who sat in A.O.C.’s candle-lit courtyard as dinner was served.
THR was recently honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles for its Mentorship Program at the organization’s annual Big Bash gala alongside Salke and Ahmanson Foundation president William H. Ahmanson.
The celebration will continue at The Hollywood Reporter’s 2014 Women in Entertainment breakfast on Dec. 10 at Milk Studios in Los Angeles. During the breakfast, scholarship awards will be given to 18 ambitious inner-city girls who participate in THR’s Mentorship Program.
Also at the breakfast, which coincides with the publication of The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment: Power 100 list, showrunner Shonda Rhimes will be presented with THR’s Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, which recognizes a woman who is a pioneer and a leader in her industry.
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