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On Thursday evening, Hollywood executives and philanthropists gathered at The Maybourne in Beverly Hills to honor Bob Iger and Willow Bay in celebration of the 20th anniversary of YES, Eric Eisner’s Young Eisner Scholars program. Cocktails flowed as the gala’s attendees — the likes of which included Iger and Bay, gala co-chairs David Geffen and Mellody Hobson, Chuck Lorre, Ashley Olsen, musical guest Christina Aguilera and actress Carey Lowell — made generous contributions to YES throughout the night, culminating in more than $5 million in donations.
Since its inception in Lennox, California over 20 years ago, YES has provided resources and opportunity to high-achieving students in underserved, low-income communities in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and rural Appalachian North Carolina. Being a YES Scholar doesn’t end once a student graduates college, as the program provides long-term and holistic support to catapult the next generation to a successful future.
And why honor Bob Iger and Willow Bay?
“Because they’re special,” Eisner said to The Hollywood Reporter. “They’re not only special because they’re so accomplished. They’re just incredibly beautiful, special people who bring goodness to the town.”
After years of serving as the CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Iger recently stepped down to take on the role of executive chairman and chairman of the board. His wife Bay is a renowned journalist and editor, who now serves as the dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Bay first discovered the YES program when her children attended the same elementary school as a group of YES Scholars. From there, the Iger family sought to know more about the organization and their mission to bring high quality education to the young minds of the next generation.
“The next thing I knew, Bob said, ‘Why not have Disney involved in this?’” Eisner explained. “You’ll find as you listen back to this tape how little I had to do with this. Really, I was just the luckiest guy in the world on the right ride in the right town.”
But since the pandemic, Eisner recognizes the effects that COVID-19 has had on the education landscape for young students.
“Yesterday, there were kids that were back at school for the first time in a year-and-a-half with masks on. It caught me by surprise, but it was beautiful to see,” Eisner said. “But the impact of the pandemic on learning is dramatic. The seventh and eighth graders that we’re working with now, they’re dramatically behind where their contemporaries were pre-pandemic. We’re gonna have to deal with it.”
Bay commended the YES Scholars — many of whom were in attendance at the gala — and the future they represent for the next generation. “They are creative, innovative, courageous, they are willing to do the work,” Bay said in her speech. “They expect a seat at the table and they’re prepared to use it not just for themselves but for others, as well.”
“With all the uncertainty and all the anxiety and all the turmoil that exists in our world today, it really is wonderful to come together and to be able to focus on something positive,” Iger added when addressing the audience. “What could be better than giving young people opportunities that they would not otherwise have?”
“I look at them for so much help, but just remember, they need our help, too,” Bay said in urging attendees to continue in their support of YES.
Gala co-chairs Geffen and Hobson were quick to respond, each donating $1 million to the organization.
“It brings me to tears, Eric,” Geffen said when speaking of Eisner’s accomplishments with YES. “And I just have to say, I’m not hands-on, I don’t do shit, I just give Eric money. And I am genuinely so moved by these young people that I’m gonna give you another million dollars.”
After witnessing the mogul pledge one million, Hobson, president and CEO of Ariel Investments as well as the chairwoman of Starbucks, said she was “inspired” to do the same. Following in their footsteps, Iger and Bay offered up a million of their own, as well.
The evening concluded with a performance by Aguilera.
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