The Peace Corps has three main goals: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained volunteers, to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and to promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
For two years, my husband Paul and I served together as Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador. We were placed in a site so perfect that it sounded like it was named after us: Palmar, a small fishing village on the coast of Santa Elena Province. Words could not do justice to our experience but the video I created, “two years, four minutes,” provides a glimpse into our lives as business advising and education volunteers.
At our site, we worked with Neo Juventud, the local youth foundation, to advise four micro-enterprises providing jobs and essential services to the community. These included a pizzeria, an internet café, an oyster business, and an eco-tourism initiative. To aid in this work, we helped to secure grants from Starbucks, Disney, and Youth Service America. In addition, we taught entrepreneurship, art, and leadership classes to elementary through college-aged students at the art and design center we helped to start.
In a nearby village, we worked with Mujeres: Cambia, a women’s artisan cooperative making jewelry by hand from recycled materials. We taught the group best business practices, leading to over $35,000 in sales at international boutiques, hotels, cruise ships, a Hewlett Packard corporate event, and the U.S. Embassy. During our tenure, the group increased from five to eighteen active members able to support their low-income families.
Inspired by the creative and entrepreneurial projects I undertook as a teenager, I founded the 501(c)3 nonprofit arts organization, Starting Artists, Inc. in 2006 in Brooklyn, NY. For five years, Starting Artists benefited hundreds of under-served and under-represented New York City middle and high school youth through hands-on classes in the media arts and business. Students learned directly from professional artists, designers, photographers, filmmakers, and performers during the free after-school program, vacation arts intensives, and through field trips to the New Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MTV, Channel 13, Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance, and Signature Theatre Company, among others.
Together with Starting Artists students, I created the “Art is…” video as an entry into the Americans for the Arts Why Arts Matter video contest. The video won the grand prize, the opportunity to be shown on MTV‘s HD 44 1/2 video billboard in Times Square. “Art is…” played four times an hour for a week in Times Square.
As Executive Director, I was responsible for hiring, fundraising, marketing, programs, special events, and liaising with the Board of Directors. In my capacity as the public face of Starting Artists, I represented the organization at numerous conferences, panel discussions, and workshops including the American Express Nonprofit Leadership Institute, Lucca Leadership South Africa, the British Council’s TN2020, the Arts & Business Council of NY, the International Youth Foundation’s YouthActionNet fellowship, and as a panelist for the Emerging Leaders of New York Arts at WNYC.
Supported by local government, private foundations, corporations, and individual donors, the organization was a semi-finalist for the Echoing Green Fellowship two years in a row. Programs and workshops helped its participants to achieve their goals from winning awards and scholarships to preparing portfolios for college and for admission to New York City’s select arts-based high schools including LaGuardia, Frank Sinatra, and Gramercy Arts.