A version of this story first appeared in the 2015 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On the evening of Nov. 10, a poised 18-year-old stood up to address more than 50 powerhouse women in film and TV, huddled over an elegant dinner at Spago in Beverly Hills — and blew them away. Her name was Vandalena Mahoney, and Mahoney, who’s now in her freshman year at Loyola Marymount University, was one of the guests of honor at the second annual Mentors Dinner, hosted by THR and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Mahoney is one of the great success stories of THR and BBBS’ Women in Entertainment Mentoring Program, now entering its seventh year. Just three years ago, when she applied for the program — in which underserved L.A. high school juniors are paired for a year with top-level Hollywood executives — she was only 15 and was crestfallen to learn she was too young to be accepted. When she came back a year later, she was partnered with publicist Cara Tripicchio, with whom she has formed a strong and enduring bond.
“Coming from a single-parent, low-income household, I would not have been able to experience nor gain the knowledge that the program provided,” she told the crowd that evening. “I am beyond grateful to have fortunately found my superhero, the yin to my yang, my support system and, finally, my big sister.”
Mahoney, who grew up in Inglewood, Calif., was lucky enough to receive a $25,000 scholarship from Net-a-Porter — part of a total $2.4 million that now has been raised in scholarships for the WIE mentees.
Entertainment Industry Foundation’s Lisa Paulsen, along with Lifetime’s Danielle Carrig and Michael Feeney, have maintained their commitment to give each mentee $10,000 toward a college degree.
BET co-founder Sheila Johnson and her chief of staff, Giardy Ritz, also have lent considerable financial support to another girl about to enter her second year at LMU.
And the Mentoring Program’s partnership continues with LMU, whose new president, Timothy Law Snyder, and film school dean Stephen G. Ujlaki this year promised to match any money THR raises for the girls’ education at LMU, with up to $100,000 a year. That’s in addition to LMU’s ongoing commitment to provide a full-ride scholarship for at least one girl each year, worth more than $200,000. Six mentees now are enrolled at LMU, part of an exclusive sorority.
This year’s ICM Partners’ scholarship recipient, high school senior Larissa Ramirez, said during her acceptance of the award from presenter Meghan Trainor at the THR Women in Entertainment Breakfast at Milk Studios in Los Angeles on Dec. 9, “I would like to thank The Hollywood Reporter and Big Brothers Big Sisters … thank you for taking a chance on me because I know there were some issues and difficulties in the beginning.”
“This has been a very important collaboration for LMU, as we are dedicated to providing deserving students with the opportunity to attend our university, regardless of their financial circumstances,” says Ujlaki. “The previous scholarship recipients have blossomed and are thriving.”
Following a long association with the Mentoring Program (agents Lorrie Bartlett, Hildy Gottlieb and Joanne Wiles all have been exceptional mentors), ICM Partners founding partner Chris Silbermann on Dec. 9 announced that the ICM Community Partners Foundation will match LMU’s grant with a $100,000 gift, providing a second full scholarship for one of the mentees as she enters college next year. These scholarships mean that two more girls from some of the toughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles will embark on four years of study, without the incessant worry of paying for board and tuition.
Chaired by New York-based publishing agent Esther Newberg, ICM’s foundation has concentrated on funding arts and social services for young people in underserved communities, partnering with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Inner-City Arts and Young Women’s Leadership Network, among others.
Two of the agency’s staffers — Kathleen Remington and Caroline Yim — will keep up ICM’s links to the WIE program and serve as mentors in 2016. “The foundation is building on the commitment to mentoring that our stalwarts like Esther and Toni [Howard] and Lorrie [Bartlett] and others have made for decades,” says Silbermann. “As the father of a smart, independent and compassionate young daughter, I’m appreciative of their efforts on a personal level as well.”
As for Mahoney, she got an extra boost following the dinner, when Fox’s Nicole Bernard (a 2016 mentor) said her company would give the young woman an additional $25,000 scholarship — and, adds Bernard, she expects many of the women at that dinner to be vying for Mahoney’s future services.