Even though City Year Los Angeles, an educational non-profit, was founded in 2007, they just held their first fundraising dinner last Saturday. For the over one thousand people that came to party at Sony Studios in Culver City, it was worth the wait.
The evening resembled a glittering Hollywood hobnob more than a non-profit fundraiser, which is exactly what City Year Los Angeles founder Andrew Hauptman was aiming for. "We wanted to do something a little unique, something that wasn't the same old rubber chicken dinner," Hauptman said with a laugh. Hauptman had planned the event with fellow board member and DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider. She added, "We're all a little tired of dinners where people are honored. It felt like there was a new form we could take advantage of -- just throw a good party!"
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Corporate sponsor stations lined the boundaries of the commissary lawn with high-tech games and activities for kids and adults. The XBox Kinect booth held contests to give away free Guitar Hero bundles. An O.P.I. station offered free manicures in the season's newest nail polish colors. And tucked away in the corner, E! News offered people the chance to tape their own news segments.
Tickets started at $375, and the party was sponsored by Hollywood power couples like director Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, and Imagine Entertainment producer Karen Kehela Sherwood and ABC News president Ben Sherwood. Celebrities at the party included Jon Hamm, Bryce Dallas Howard, Tim Olyphant, and Aimee Teegarden.
But Saturday night's real stars were the City Year corps members, young high school and college graduates who had given a year of their life to work in some of the lowest-performing schools in the Los Angeles school district. A small group took the stage that night to represent 200 corps members who work across Los Angeles. The members shared about the tutoring, mentoring, and after-school programs they put on for students at risk of dropping out. A twelve-hour day is typical for most corps members, and at $11,000 a year for ten months of service, they aren't doing it for the money.
The one-on-one attention from a "near peer" like a City Year corps member can make a huge different in a student's life. The organization is young, but they're already seeing dramatic statistics that affirm their program of intensive tutoring and personal mentoring. 76% of students John Liechty Middle school passed math in 2010, up from 30% the year before. 70% of students at Breed Street Elementary School can now read at grade level, up from just 46% when City Year first started working at that school.
Andrew Hauptman admitted that City Year does get more requests than they can fulfill from administrations who want teams of corps members in their schools. Of the night's fundraiser, he said, "this night is about scale. We know what the data is, and it feels like we have a moral obligation to scale as widely as possible." Later on Hauptman would learn that the event raised $1 million, a good harbinger of more "Spring Break" parties to come.
But data and numbers weren't the focus last Saturday night. Instead, it was about recognizing and celebrating some of the city's 200 hardest-working young people. Grammy-nominated musicians LMFAO and Keri Hilson gave surprise performances, and LMFAO invited corps members up on the stage for their performance of the 2009 song "Every Day I See My Dream." For one night, it was just as it should be: Hollywood stars and entertainment executives gave a long, standing ovation to to the people making Los Angeles a better place.