Youth Interactive, an after-school program for at-risk youth in Santa Barbara, is not your typical nonprofit, so it was quite fitting that it have an atypical fundraiser. “Pints, Pizza, and a Little Philanthropy” brought together about 25 male entrepreneurs, business leaders and other professionals for a fun, casual evening to introduce them to this remarkable organization. After enjoying a little beer and listening to short presentations, the men were so impressed that each of them donated between $500 and $5,000, for a total of $35,000.
Board Chair Ryan Muzzy, Sean Hecht, and Chris Bellamy organized the event, which started with a happy hour at Youth Interactive’s (YI) facility in the Funk Zone. Muzzy introduced CEO and founder Nathalie Gensac, who shared how after a career as an entrepreneur and a media professional, she traveled the world for two years, meeting with leaders of exceptional grassroots organizations to learn how to get people out of poverty. The result was the creation of YI, and after establishing centers in India and Jamaica, she landed in Santa Barbara six years ago to create one here.
At this after-school entrepreneurship center, which opened in 2012, students join one of four business teams: art, sewing, jewelry, or T-shirt design. Teams meet twice per week, one session for vocational instruction, the other for instruction in running a business. A fifth program, carpentry, is held at Los Prietos Boys Camp on Saturdays. Gensac explained that she focuses on vocational skills because after listening to students here, she discovered this is what most interests them. She stressed how the businesses are youth-led because when kids are disengaged from school, as YI’s students are when they come into the program, everything is coming at them. So YI reverses that by empowering the students. The results are astounding: Last year, 100 percent of the students graduated from high school and went on to college. YI serves about 80 students per term.
Board Secretary Dan Meisel shared other impressive statistics: about half of the students at YI come in with a criminal background, but for those who have been in the program for a year, the non-recidivism rate is an incredible 98 percent. Students enter the program with very low attendance rates at their schools, but their attendance rates at YI are above 90 percent. Students want to come to YI and want to learn.
Meisel explained YI’s Get It Done Program, which supplements the vocational and entrepreneurial training with wraparound services. Volunteers, many from Meisel’s synagogue, Congregation B’nai B’rith, provide tutoring, assist with practical matters like getting a driver’s license or completing college applications, and take students to cultural events. And of particular importance, according to Meisel, is connecting students with people in occupations of interest to them.
Andrew Firestone passionately described how all the guests there likely had someone who inspired them, and how inspiration is what these kids need and what YI is providing. He led the ask, quickly garnering $35,000, and the men retired to Helena Avenue Bakery for a pizza dinner.
The Funk Zone facility at 209 Anacapa Street includes a storefront where students sell their creations and the proceeds go back to the students and the program. The facility is at capacity, and YI has been turning eager students away, so it is seeking a larger space that will allow it to serve more students and start additional programs in culinary arts and music. YI also wants an expanded retail space where sales of students’ work can help sustain YI’s operations. At this new youth arts and entrepreneurship center, Gensac will partner with other organizations to create a collaborative incubator space offering multidisciplinary programming. The Hutton Parker Foundation has committed to purchasing a space and renting it to YI at below market rate and is currently in the final stages of negotiating the purchase of a building downtown.
Figueroa Mountain Brewery, Lucky Penny, and the three organizers sponsored the event. For more info about Youth Interactive, go to youthinteractive.us.
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By Gail Arnold