Monday, May 05, 2003

Good Experience Live VII

Pam Lewis: Grassroots (Show) Business

Pam Lewis is the director of youth programs for the All Stars Project Inc., a nonprofit focusing on anti-violence activism. Lewis also co-directs the Joseph A. Forgione Development School for Youth, a leadership training program. Here is a rough transcript of her talk at Good Experience Live:

I find it very moving about people coming together. That's what we do at the All Stars Project, bring different people together to see what they can do. The All Stars has been around for a little more than 20 years. I came to New York from Kansas City with $50 in my pocket to volunteer for the All Stars.

We didn't want to take any money from the government, so we hit the streets asked people for money. We now have a donor base of 20,000 donors. We're a $4.5 million (?) nonprofit, and we haven't taken any money from the federal government. We work with 20,000, and we'd like to change the world.

We talk a lot about possibilities, experiences, and environment. The All Stars is about play, creativity, and performance. Our flagship program is the All Stars Talent Show Network. 350 kids show up for an audition, and everyone makes the show. It's a radically inclusive environment where the kids are welcome. The kids have to come back for a workshop. The groups are led by graduates of the program, and they have to come up with a show with people that they don't know. We're building community.

There are a lot of communities we don't go to. That's where the All Stars is. But we're not the kind of crazy where we're liberal. We go in slowly. We ask parents to volunteer. The community is producing it. That's the success.

Two weeks after the workshop we put on a show. Sometimes we have to turn 400 people away. Now we stay in a community as long as we need to and put on as many shows as we need to so everyone can see the show. This is grassroots showbiz.

Now we're moving into business itself. We've got the Development School for Youth. We're looking for kids who want to grow. When we interview people, we ask them the standard interview questions, and at the end, we say, OK, we'll cal you in two weeks to let you know if you got in. Guess what, everyone gets in, They go through a 12-week program. It's not important to learn facts, it's important to have experiences. Kids in failing skills don't need more remediation. They need development.

Look at Take A Child to Work Day. Poor kids don't have those kinds of experiences. So we take them to Wall Street. We don't tell kids that the way they talk is wrong. We tell them that they need to expand their repertoire and develop some new performances.

We don't look for the top 10%. We look for the bottom 90. Having more experiences is motivating. We need to think about how we're growing our kids and not giving up on the children in failing schools. We're developing new models that work. They're performance based, not acquisitional based. Our program is a growth program for everyone.

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