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Big Change Can Come in Small Packages

Cynthia Germanotta / August 5, 2015

This post first appeared on the Huff Post Impact blog.

Co-authored by Susan Benedetto, Co-Founder of Exploring the Arts

As the co-founders of two organizations dedicated to helping young people, we have had the pleasure of working with like-minded partners throughout the country. This has allowed us a view into the tremendous efforts of nonprofits of all types and shown us that good work truly comes in all sizes. While national, big-name groups can have a tremendous reach, organizations that provide programming and resources on the ground – no matter how small – are a vital component of the nonprofit ecosystem.

Born This Way Foundation and Exploring the Arts understand the importance of meeting youth where they are. Born This Way Foundation has engaged with thousands of young people around the country through initiatives such as the Born Brave Bus Tour, which connected teens with resources and services in their areas. Exploring the Arts addresses the staggering reductions in arts education in our nation’s schools by working collaboratively with high need public high schools to restore and create rigorous and sustainable arts programs that impact over 16,000 students annually.

This shared commitment to interacting directly with young people inspired us to use the Cheek to Cheek tour – headlined by our co-founders, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga – as a way to shine a light on like-minded groups throughout the country. We felt it was important to acknowledge these nonprofits who work tirelessly and with such heart to uplift our young people.

In cities throughout the country, we featured organizations who demonstrated excellence in empowering youth to become compassionate, creative, and bold. And although the tour has come to a close, the local organizations highlighted along the way continue to invest in the young people they are dedicated to supporting.

Take, for example, the Los Angeles-based groups Venice Arts – which offers high-impact arts education for low-income youth – and TEEN LINE which provides a confidential teen-to-teen hotline that receives more than 10,000 calls, texts and emails each year. In the Bay Area, the Community Youth Center offers sports programs that coach more than 1,800 youth and academic tutoring centers that help over 200 kids daily, from all over the community and every walk of life.

Green Star Movement, a nonprofit in Chicago, has worked with more than 5,000 youth to transform over 50 public spaces, including schools, parks, and community centers, with beautiful murals. Houston’s Kids in a New Groove provides private music lessons and instruments to children in the Texas foster care system, seeking to change the grim statistics on youth aging out of foster care, while Workshop Houstonhas provided hands-on creative learning resources for under-served youth for over a decade. CHRIS Kids, an organization in Atlanta, offers behavioral health services and support systems for children, youth, and families to help them overcome trauma and increase self-sufficiency.

Finally, in New York, we partnered with four organizations that do great work throughout the five boroughs. Eye to Eye – which also has chapters throughout the U.S. – is the only national mentoring movement that pairs kids labeled as “learning disabled” or with ADHD diagnoses with similarly labeled college students as mentors with an art-based curriculum. Little Kids Rock partners with school districts to train educators to teach popular music and provides new instruments to students in public schools. Girl Be Heard provides a safe space for girls to write, direct, and perform theater productions under the guidance of professional directors, playwrights, actors, activists and intellectuals. Scenarios USA sponsors a youth writing contest where winning stories are translated into powerful short films.

We believe in the power of bravery, creativity, and self-expression to empower young people and are honored to have worked with groups that are promoting these values locally. During the past four months, we have been inspired by the power of local organizations to fulfill this mission. Each Cheek to Cheek tour date was an opportunity to highlight a group that is doing excellent work in neighborhoods around the country.

While large national and international organizations often dominate press coverage, it is important to remember the work that smaller organizations are uniquely equipped to accomplish – tackling the distinct issues that affect local geographies. It is such groups that are able to reach specific audiences that require special attention in order to achieve real change. Working together, we can help ensure these organizations – and in turn the young people they serve – receive the recognition and resources needed to keep going.

Cynthia Germanotta is the co-founder and president of Born This Way Foundation, which she founded with her daughter, Lady Gaga, to “empower youth” and “inspire bravery.”

Susan Benedetto is the co-founder and Board President of Exploring the Arts, an organization she founded with her husband Tony Bennett. A certified and licensed New York state teacher, she began her Social Studies teaching career at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts, a prestigious public high school in Manhattan. Susan next worked as a Social Studies Teacher and then as Assistant Principal at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a public high school in Astoria, Queens that she co-founded with her husband. Before entering the field of education, Susan was the owner of Creative Artists Management in New York, where she advised artists in the management of their careers, along with coordinating publicity, bookings and recording projects.