I won't lie. I loved my career as a publicist in the movie business. Every single minute of it. I worked for two decades doing something I had always dreamed of, unable to imagine any other way of life. Sometimes my day at the office was George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino battling vampires in From Dusk Till Dawn and some days it was Bob Dylan and a stunning ensemble cast creating the alternate universe of Masked and Anonymous.
In one particularly eventful year, I spent the spring with Richard Gere and Kim Basinger in the Louisiana swamps for No Mercy, the summer with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura in the jungles of Puerto Vallarta for Predator and ended up in the desert outside L.A. with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover for the first Lethal Weapon. I feel privileged to have traveled widely and been a part of films that became cultural phenomena like Pretty Woman, or tackled divisive social issues like Dead Man Walking.
I had an exhilarating stint as a studio VP when the great producers David Puttnam and David Picker ran Columbia Pictures and finished things up as National Director of Communications for the Screen Actors Guild, blending the two things I truly love most -- Hollywood and politics.
As national spokesperson for SAG, I got to advocate for the moral and economic rights of performers; to address First Amendment protections vs. personal privacy with Michael J. Fox and Paul Reiser before the House Judiciary Committee in DC in the advent of the tabloid media explosion; to coordinate with the Directors Guild of America on the first major study of the economic impact of runaway production; to sit on a committee with blacklisted writer Paul Jericho creating an industry-wide event recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist; to work backstage at the SAG Awards.
But life changes. A difficult divorce and a small child left me needing a more stable and predictable work life with regular hours and a chance to make all of my son's Little League games. I answered a job posting at a nonprofit called JVS Los Angeles with half-hearted enthusiasm and accepted their offer to become head of communications with trepidation, figuring it would be a minor pit stop before I got back to the world where I belonged.
Ten years later I'm still here.
The rewards of nonprofit work can be elusive. For much of the time, the hours have turned out to be just as long, the demands as grueling and the pace as exhausting. Yet there is something transcendent about doing work that directly impacts the life of another human being -- work that actually changes the trajectory of a person's experience from despair to hope.
And there is something else that struck me recently at a graduation ceremony for a remarkable job training program JVS created called BankWork$™. We offer primarily low-income, inner-city adults the chance to participate in a free eight-week course that prepares them for entry level jobs in the banking industry. This is only possible because generous donors, including the City and County of L.A. and the major banks that support the program, underwrite all the costs.
So a young man named Terrence, who has been working two minimum wage jobs to support his family and still needs food stamps to make ends meet, can graduate in a suit and tie in front of an auditorium full of corporate executives and bank recruiters waiting to interview him and just maybe open the door to a new life.
But here's the bit that hit me so hard. I was watching our two inspiring BankWork$™ instructors -- Lisa Meadows and Maria Zuniga -- introduce each of their students as they stepped up one at a time to receive their certificates.
"This is Margarita," says Lisa, with her arm around a shy, beaming graduate.
"She grew up in the foster care system in 12 different group homes. She has worked as a cashier at McDonald's since high school. To pay her bills, she took a second job working nights at a cleaning service. She has excellent cash handling and customer service skills. She speaks Spanish fluently, is a single mother and dreams of a professional career so she can make a better life for her daughter. She had perfect attendance in our class and always stayed afterwards to talk to us about what she could do to improve. We know she will make an excellent bank teller."
And all of a sudden, someone who is invisible to most of us every day becomes the center of attention, possibly for the first time in her life.
How many times have I been served at McDonald's and not seen someone like Margarita? How many times have I passed a young woman just like her coming into the building at night pushing a cart of cleaning supplies while I headed out the door for home?
This is the magical gift of BankWork$™ and all of JVS's programs that offer people a lifeline out of a dead end job or long term unemployment or over some other seemingly insurmountable barrier into a future full of possibility.
When I look back at my career, I am grateful to have had my moment in the world of art and entertainment. To have contributed to an industry that can impact and uplift millions of people was a powerful and profound gift.
But I have gained something else by working for a nonprofit and laboring side by side with the unsung heroes of our workforce development industry. I have been moved and humbled by the passion and commitment of the job coaches, case managers, social workers, rehabilitation counselors and countless others who come to work every day in the hope that their efforts will give someone like Margarita the resources to navigate the path to a better future for her family. To change the direction of her life.
In the end, maybe that is just as powerful and profound. Maybe even more.
Katherine Moore is the VP Communications for nonprofit JVS Los Angeles. She is a former film publicist, was a Vice President at Columbia Pictures and served as National Director of Communications for the Screen Actors Guild.