Variety of New York

Odley Jean, a high school senior in New York City, had her world rocked by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. “My sister and my nephews lost their home in Haiti and they had nowhere to live, so my mom had to buy tickets for all of them to come and live over here,” says Odley. “We were living in a one-bedroom apartment and it was 13 of us.” Her grades suffered as she couldn’t do homework or get enough sleep to focus in class. “There were times I had to sleep in front of my front door,” she says, tearing up at the memory.

At the time, Odley was attending a high school, like many in NYC, with limited supports for students experiencing trauma. At a school with 80% of the population experiencing poverty, 30% of students dropping out and teachers working with 38 children in a classroom, it is easy for a student like Odley to fall through the cracks.

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However, thanks to Variety New York’s grants to the organization Opening Act, Odley found the supports, confidence and strength she needed to overcome the difficulties she was experiencing. Variety New York has been supporting Opening Act for four years because of its ability to fill the gaps left by schools through innovative theater programs. Odley found a second home and herself thanks to Variety New York’s investments and Opening Act’s programs. As a result, her grades are up, her confidence has skyrocketed and she is on her way to be the first in her family to go to college!

When asked what her favorite thing is about Variety New York and Opening Act, she answers without hesitation: “How much they provide for us. I don’t think there’s any other program that would give you this much experience for free. I love it.” Her voice catches. She presses her hands against her mouth, eyes watering. When she speaks again, her voice is low and serious. “Where I come from, my mom can’t afford a class like this. So this is my opportunity to have the experience. I am so grateful to the people who donate to this program, to make people be a star, do you understand?”

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