So, Kids!

Miracle of Mentoring

Now and Then

One-on-One Program

Bits and Pieces – One-on-One Program

Short Scenes from Short Plays

Faces of the Virginia Avenue Project

 I founded the Virginia Avenue Project in 1992 because I wanted to bring opportunities to young people that would inspire them to think creatively, critically and courageously about their life goals and choices.  In addition to raising social awareness, grades and self esteem, I wanted Project participants to feel they had a second home – a place that was run with integrity; that reflected a healthy balance of joy and discipline, and that was safe.

I grew up on the campus of a boys’ school.  My father, a teacher, died when I was ten and, at the time, my mother, an actress and substitute teacher, was my worst enemy.  I had many adult role models who pulled me through.  I knew, first hand, the power of long term, one-on-one adult mentoring.  As a grown up, I could see where education was going.  I decided to stop waiting for someone else to fix the educational system and become involved.

In the late eighties, I was living and working in New York City as an actress and playwright and while I as enjoying some success in these areas my life was pretty focused on my fame, my fortune, my this, my that.  As luck would have it, I became restless and this lead to a fair amount of introspection about why I was really here on earth.  In due time, I was invited to write a play for a kid from the 52nd Street Project.  I’d never had kids of my own and while I was around them here and there, I wasn’t so sure I liked them all that much and, for all I knew, they probably didn’t like me, either.  But the experience I had writing for and subsequently performing with a seven-year-old-boy from Hell’s Kitchen changed the course of my life.

During my years with the 52nd Street Project I wrote, performed, directed, mentored kids, helped behind the scenes and was invited on a special weekend retreat to learn how to teach playwriting to young people.  The method, called Playmaking was conceived by Daniel Judah Sklar.  It was full of imagination, creative challenges and it didn’t exploit young people – it let them talk about their lives through metaphor.  I was blown away by the process.  I wanted to teach Playmaking to kids.  This was a stunning revelation for an ex-faculty brat.  When you grow up in a boarding school you are in school when you’re not in school.  I had sworn, at the age of nine, when I was an adult I would never teach anyone anything.  But there I was looking the possibility in the face – and then my mind exploded – not only did I want to teach kids to write but I’d produce their plays, as well.  I would duplicate the work I’d been doing at the 52nd Street Project in Los Angeles.

When I began teaching our first group of children in 1992, I wasn’t so sure I was connecting with them effectively.  In the ensuing months I learned if I was myself – warts and all – I gave the kids permission to be themselves too, and so we met each other half way.  I was the Project’s Artistic Director from 1992-2013 when I retired from everything but the Board of Directors.  Sadly, due to a series of unfortunate events, the Virginia Avenue Project closed its doors at the end of December, 2015.

In my 21 years at the helm, I also learned how vital it is for the atmosphere in the office to be constructive and open.  I have been extremely fortunate to work with two fabulous Executive Directors: Kendis Heffley and Meryl Friedman who believe as I do, that we must demonstrate the values we teach our children.  As Project kids have gotten older – gone onto college and into the work force – I see them bringing their values to the important decisions they are making about their futures.  I saw this quality emerging in our younger participants, too.  We never segregated our classes by age.  As children got older they assumed more responsibility.  The younger people saw what was possible if they worked hard, arrived on time, practiced awareness, shared, showed respect – and in this way the Virginia Avenue Project family raised itself.

A long time ago my father told me a good teacher is a good student … and to that I add an overwhelming sense of gratitude and relief to have gotten back in the family business.

Addendum:  Sadly, after a largely successful 24-year run the Virginia Avenue Project closed its doors at the end of December, 2015 – but the spirit of the Project is very much alive in the lives of the young people who participated and are now making their marks as adults – particularly in the giving back professions.