Underserved youth in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) are getting the unique opportunity to produce receptions, concerts and galas.
Sophomores, juniors and seniors at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast and Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest can take part in EnventU, a work-based initiative led by event planning professional Latoya Lewis.
“With EnventU we are an organization that works with underserved teens to teach them the different career paths that are available in the event industry,” Lewis said. “Through classroom time, field trips and in-field learning experiences we work to produce real live client events.”
Lewis said the one thing that sets her initiative apart from other work-based learning programs is that they are directly connected to the industry.
“As it related to the students, DCPS already had the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism (AOHT) program with four of their schools in the District under the National Academy Foundation, so it just made sense to partner with those existing schools that offer the program, because they see the importance of the hospitality industry,” she said.
In fall 2015, EnventU rolled out its pilot program at Ballou, where students produced their first soiree, a holiday reception in partnership with an established event production company in the city.
“Because of AOHT they have had some exposure to the industry, but this is just more expansive,” Lewis said. “They are able to meet other adults who are caterers, florist, designers, audio and visual and all of the other areas in the industry that we cater to.
“They are able to see what it really takes to take that career path,” she said. “We have had some students who say they love it and this is what they want to do and others who say this is not what they want, and that’s fine too.”
Lewis contends that in a way EnventU pulls back the veil on an industry that many think is just glitz and glam.
“Some of the students say I didn’t know it was this hard and that has its purpose too. That means we will be more respected as career professionals.”
The program consists of 25 to 30 students running through the fall and spring semester with internships in the summer.
“We’ve done small reception events for the school for 100, 3,500-seated concert and a 300-person reception,” Lewis said. “Event size doesn’t matter, because they get mentored through the process. We walk them through everything and hold their hand.
“I feel most rewarded when I can see them introduced to an industry for the first time,” she said. “It’s like I am now experiencing the industry through their eyes.”
Lewis, a Los Angeles native, moved to the District in 2010, seeking a career change. After completing her masters at George Washington University she worked for premier event planning company Events by Andre Wells.
In 2014, she began drawing up a blueprint that would tie her two passions together — working with children and produce events.
“These kids really need someone to pour into them,” Lewis said. “Working with high school kids that are juniors and seniors is a time where they really need someone to believe in them.
“This is a unique opportunity for them,” she said. “Events are happening all the time, this is a city huge on events, meetings and conferences. Why not do good together? Why not have your event produced, and have it produced by kids and give them a learning opportunity?”