The stories are sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes funny, always touching. One girl describes how her parents separated and then: “My mother took all of us, and we just started moving from place to place. One week we’d be crammed up in a motel, the next week we’d be sleeping in someone’s living room. This went on for three years. The struggle was very real.”
Another writes of battling debilitating illness and so badly wanting to make her mother proud: “My mother has been both a mother and father to me. She is my motivation. I strive to be the best I can be at everything. I don’t give up because I want to create a better life for the both of us.”
A third recalls dealing with a parent’s death. “It’s what pushes me,” she says. “One should never settle for less than the best.”
These are just three of the 150 girls from inner-city schools who applied for 15 places in the Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program (another two mentees come from New York), a unique endeavor that is about to enter its fifth year and that was created jointly by The Hollywood Reporter and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles.
Each year, THR and BBBS pair up 15 to 17 exceptional high school juniors with some of the most powerful women in entertainment. One day every two weeks, for a year, the girls are brought to their mentors’ offices, where they’re taught about the professional world and given guidance for life.
“Every time I visit her, I have a smile on my face,” one girl writes about her mentor, Cyndi McClellan, E! Entertainment’s president of network strategy and E! News. “She is supportive, caring, intelligent and a great mom. When I’m with her, I feel safe.”
Another describes how nervous she felt upon first meeting her mentor, Bela Bajaria, executive vp at Universal TV. “It seemed surreal that a girl like me would soon be mentored by such an innovative and prosperous woman. I hope I can be successful in this industry so I can give back and mentor a girl like myself.” Says a third of her mentor, Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of creative affairs at CBS TV Distribution, “Mrs. Hilary is my hero.”
Mentors like these have helped their mentees reach a new level — and others are coming onboard to take them even further. In 2012, Lisa Paulsen of Entertainment Industry Foundation and Abbe Raven, Danielle Carrig and Michael Feeney of Lifetime announced that they were creating a scholarship fund of $200,000 to help the girls go to college. (Mentorship graduates have attended such schools as UCLA, UC Berkeley and Occidental College.) And this year, one of the girls also will have her life transformed thanks to the generosity of L.A.’s Loyola Marymount University, which is giving one of the mentees a full-ride scholarship, covering all her tuition and living expenses, worth more than $200,000.
“It was incredibly inspiring to meet the mentees who visited the LMU campus in September,” says Stephen G. Ujlaki, dean of LMU’s School of Film and Television. “I was struck by how articulate and motivated they were. We are so proud to offer these young women four-year, full-ride scholarships that will enable them to pursue these dreams.”