A Vision for Arts, Culture, & Vocations: Interview with Emma Dellopoulos, Fall 2016 Fellow

Q. Tell us about your vision for a youth-focused arts, cultural, and vocational nonprofit. 

My dream is to spark creativity in youth where it often lacks. I want to take what I’ve learned so far at YSS, how mentoring can change people, with what I experienced at my first nonprofit job at the Iowa Youth Writing Project, and combine them. The project would also combine two fields that have often been seen as separate endeavors; local artists would be supported while also fostering creative youth development. These are also two things I happen to be hugely passionate about.

The kids would then have an opportunity to learn from people who are passionate and feel as though there is an adult in their life who cares about them and wants them to succeed.

Ideally, the project would be to pair at-risk youth in the Midwest (Iowa, probably) with local artists, writers, and craftspeople (e.g. carpentry, metalworking).

A stretch goal I have for the program is to get those kids college credit for the work they do, in the same way they would an internship.

Q. What attracted you to this idea? Who inspired you along the way?

When I was a kid, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t feel like I was good at anything, and I didn’t have a community of peers who supported me. This was the case throughout most of my education and even into high school. But, I did feel like I had community when I was creating. The schools I attended were also constantly cutting their programs for creative education, and my opportunities to be involved in arts waned as I got older. In addition to that, finding other ways to be creative was difficult. I felt excluded from vocational education as both a young woman and as a traditionally good student, and was discouraged from being involved.

I was able to find these opportunities again in college. Then, I was encouraged to join a movement that was bringing creative opportunities and a creative community to schools and community centers in Eastern Iowa. I saw first-hand the impact of a creative community in young people. I don’t think that my ideas/this cause is anything novel, but

as classes, clubs, and after-school activities continue to be cut, so does the self-confidence in students who may already feel left out or discriminated against.

Q. Why tell stories? How does storytelling and creative writing empower youth?

I think that the most important outcome from storytelling from a perspective of a non-profit is bringing to youth the idea that they are not the only ones suffering. A huge amount of empowerment comes from finding out that someone else has been through the same struggle; I think most people know the feeling of relief that comes from finding out that someone they look up to has gone through difficult times such as poverty, abuse, or mental illness. Seeing those success stories give kids and young adults a sense of hope, a sense of “it gets better”.