A highly respected children's program is marking 25 years of service this year helping some of the most impoverished children in the Bay Area achieve their full potential. It's called Performing Stars of Marin.
Young dancers learned self-confidence at an early age from an enrichment program in Marin City in one of the most economically deprived communities in wealthy Marin County. They are among hundreds of children who grew up to go on to success in different fields thanks to Performing Stars of Marin and its founder, Felecia Gaston. She started it as a volunteer when she was in college 25 years ago. "Starting with a zero budget, a dream, a vision, an idea, hard work, lots of supportive people. This organization would not have existed at all if it wasn't for the many organizations that provide the scholarships, the funding sources that provide all of the dollars that make it happen," Gaston said.
The video being prepared for the 25th anniversary gala is being produced by a former Performing Stars dancer named Jeanette Eganlauf. "I remember ballet and I also remember Felecia kept a camera around too and music," she said.
Eganlauf's sister and brother were also part of Performing Stars. "I work as a video producer, my sister coaches at Marin Catholic High School as a basketball coach and my brother is a truck driver for UPS," she said.
Eganlauf is now directing a scripted T.V. series pilot project that she'll pitch to executives.
"Of course our John Lam who is at the Boston Ballet and Linda Steele who went on and graduated from Marin Ballet," Gaston said.
Performing Stars is based in a public housing unit right in the heart of Marin City with a beautifully maintained garden to welcome the children.
Eganlauf motto is "make it happen." And that takes money and people who care, like Tom Peters who is the executive director of the Marin Community Foundation. "A number of the families who make up the Marin Community Foundation have joined together over a lot of years, more than two decades to support Felicia, support the performing stars with money, but also encouragement and appreciation," Peters said.
"It's just the crown jewel of southern Marin," Marin County Chief Probation Officer Mike Daly said.
Daly sees the young people who get into trouble.
Eganlauf, Daly and community partners created the Phoenix Project to get young people out of the criminal justice system. "Because we believe in prevention, simply put," Daly said. "It's simply helping somebody obtain an ID card, or driver's license or helping them enroll in college, Felecia has been there for those children," Daly said.
Eganlauf created the Enlighten Event to match young Marin City girls with mentors in the professional world.
Performing Stars' goal is working to break the cycle of poverty. "There's so much history here with the families who came to work here during the shipyard days and so you have generations of families. Of course, we have new families who have moved here, but the general is that there are at least six generations of families from World War II. These are the people who came to say we came to stay and it was hard for them to move out because who would want to rent or sell to the black families," Gaston said.
Eganlauf compiled a book of Performing Stars graduates with success stories from humble beginnings.
Performing Stars is so beloved that world famous musicians and rock-and-roll stars donated items for the gala's auction. "So this is the guitar and it's signed by the Doobie Brothers," donor Diane Johnston said.
The organization has 25 years of success with big plans to "make it happen" in the future. "When I see all these success stories, then I know that this journey, why it's been important and all worthwhile," Gaston said.
The gala is sold out, but the program is looking for mentors and scholarships.
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Marin's Performing Stars celebrates 25th anniversary