How Hollywood Reporter's Women Mentorship Program Changes Lives

The initiative, created in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, pairs student leaders with a Hollywood mentor; here, one participant shares her application essay on her challenges, dreams and hopes.

On Dec. 5 at The Hollywood Reporter's 26th annual Women in Entertainment breakfast, 18 L.A. teens (17 of them pictured above) will see their time in the WIE Mentorship Program — created by THR in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles — come to its official end. But their relationships with the mentors who guided them through 2018, and the lessons of the program, will carry them forward.

And right behind this graduating class comes the next group of 22 outstanding student leaders (who'll be matched with the dynamo Hollywood mentors on page 32) — like Katherine, whose program application essay (below) reveals the challenges along her path so far, the dreams that drive her forward and her hopes for an empowered future.

Imagine being 5 years old and having your dad hand you a garbage bag and tell you and your sister to pack your clothes and your favorite toys. Being a typical, curious kid, I asked where we were going. The response was, "McDonald's." But that was not where we were heading.

Filled with confusion, I noticed we passed by McDonald's, but I had no further doubts until we arrived at the Department of Child Protective Services, where a tall lady took us from our dad and into a playroom. In that moment, I realized something wasn't right, but I wasn't prepared for what was to come.

My sister and I waited ages until a lady wearing a pink shirt escorted us to her car. She bluntly told us we were going to our new home, and I was filled with a rush of panic. So much worry flitted through my mind, I was unable to control my crying.

Our trip to our foster home in Pasadena was disastrous. We stopped to get some food, and the movement of the car and my uncontrollable crying resulted in me throwing up all over the back seat.

Our stay in a foster home wasn't the best, but my parents worked hard to get us out, spending a large sum of their life savings on lawyers before they succeeded. My parents are the hardest-working individuals I know; they immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico to provide more opportunities for my siblings and me. They have dedicated their entire adult lives to supporting and guiding us to reach our goals. But my family was never the same after that experience. The joyous vibe that had filled our household was no longer there.

Growing up in this environment shaped me to be self-reliant and independent. I don't seek much help from others, and I like to solve problems on my own. At school, I am the vice president of Leadership, which has put my social and problem-solving skills to the test. I've learned to make quick and effective decisions and to be prepared for the worst. I also take part in a club sponsored by Girls Build LA to advocate for gender-equality awareness on our campus.

What separates me from everyone else is my commitment and determination to reach my desired goals. But I struggle when it comes to appreciating my accomplishments. I'm never satisfied with my work and always expect more than is in the realm of my abilities.

Even as a child, I dreamed of going to college. I have done everything in my power to make that happen, though none of my siblings is a college graduate and some don't even have their GEDs. In middle school, I earned a 4.0 GPA and had perfect attendance. Watching my older siblings struggle with school — and evidently life — opened my eyes to the fact that a good education is of the utmost importance. My dream is to study business at Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, UCLA or Pepperdine.

As a young woman, it may seem difficult to effect change, because it feels as if you aren't being heard. But when women unite and bring about positive change, they are defying the labels that society has placed on them.

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4 WIE Alums Who’ve Gone Hollywood

PAOLA FRANCO, whose mentor was Jennifer Salke, now Amazon Studios head, is a creative assistant at Netflix. "I consider it a life obligation to provide the same kind of support to the next generation," she says of her WIE experience, "whom I advise to say yes to every opportunity."

RAVYNNE STAINE is a producer assistant on syndicated talk show The Real; her mentor was producer Hilary Estey McLoughlin, now senior exec producer on ABC's The View. Her advice for current and future mentees: "Shoot for the stars and don't be afraid to ask for help."

VANDALINA MAHONEY, mentored by Shelter PR's Cara Tripicchio, will graduate from Loyola Marymount and start as a floater at ICM Partners in June. Her WIE takeaway: "How vital it is to 'lift as you climb': Lift up someone every step you take on the ladder to success."

AISHA HAUSER works at Warner Bros. Technology. Her mentor was Suzanne Kolb, then president of E! Entertainment. Her two WIE lessons: "Alone, we are tiny drops in a huge ocean, but together we can create powerful waves," she says. "And even the most powerful women make mistakes."

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New Year, New Group of Mentors 

Cindy Ballard
Chief human resources officer, ICM Partners

Melissa Blake
Writer/producer; co-executive producer, October Faction 

Brooke Blumberg
VP, Sunshine Sachs 

Chika Chukudebelu
VP programming and diversity, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group 

Kathy Connell
Executive producer, SAG Awards & national programming, SAG-AFTRA

Wendy Heller
Lawyer, Law Offices of Wendy Heller

Melissa Beth Hirschenson
Senior talent agent, Innovative Artists Agency 

Stacey Hoppe
VP corporate responsibility, Warner Bros. Entertainment

Julia Johnson
Executive vp business and legal affairs, APA

Melissa Kates
Partner, Viewpoint Public Relations

Jessica Lacy
Partner, Head of international & independent film, ICM Partners

Hannah Linkenhoker
Senior political strategist, ICM Partners  

Lauri Metrose
Senior vp Comms., CBS Television Studios 

Dee Dee Myers
Executive vp worldwide corporate comms. and public affairs, Warner Bros. Entertainment

Angie Pagano
Senior vp, Artist Partner Group, GM, Artist Publishing Group 

Donna Rosenstein
Head of casting, Amazon Studios

Jessica Rovins
Executive vp corporate comms., Paramount Television  

Elyse Scherz
Partner, WME

Nicole Sexton
President & CEO, Entertainment Industry Foundation

Cristen Carr Strubbe
VP physical production, Universal Pictures

Teri Weinberg
President, Yellow Brick Road 

Spring Aspers
Head of music, creative affairs worldwide, Sony Pictures Entertainment  

This story first appeared in the 2018 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.