YIC adapts to the virtual world with guest speaker sessions

Brian Vasquez, a music producer and sound designer, was one of the guest speakers for Yes I Can. Courtesy
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Jessika Grewe Glover’s career as a writer started with scribbling ideas on napkins, and through persistence and perseverance, she’s becoming a published author who’s ready to share the lessons of her experience with others who have similar aspirations.

The Santa Clarita author is an upcoming guest speaker for Yes I Can Unity Through Music & Education, a nonprofit that works with young adults with disabilities to prepare them to enter the workforce — and perseverance is a common thread for the organization, which, like many others, has had to adapt through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the pandemic hit, with its students at high risk, the organization quickly worked to revamp its model to fit the new virtual world.

“We teach adaptability within our curriculum under the 21st century business skills — and we had to practice what we preach,” said Bret Lieberman, executive director of YIC.

What Lieberman and Kirsten Fitzpatrick, deputy director at YIC, didn’t expect was that these changes would be so successful, they said, as guest speakers from all realms of the entertainment industry began agreeing to participate in their virtual sessions.

Cameron Pieratt, lighting director and programmer, discusses being head of lighting at The Ford with Yes I Can students during a Zoom speaker session. Courtesy

Going virtual

To deliver their services safely, YIC converted to a completely online model, holding classes online, but also implementing guest speaker sessions in place of in-person visits.

Speakers now join students for weekly Zooms, discussing their jobs and the education required, but also the life lessons they learned getting there, and ending with a question-and-answer session for students. 

“We try to make it as interactive as possible, so guest speakers will come on and they’ll share their screens and you can actually see them creating music or animation,” Fitzpatrick said. “We want the students to feel immersed and like they’re part of whatever that guest speaker is doing.”

Guests range across all aspects of the industry, from Emmy Award-winning producers and light or sound designers to animators, virtual reality creators and comic book writers, along with caterers, merchandise managers and much more. 

“We teach 21st century skills, and all of those skills that we teach, the students are getting to see them come to life,” Lieberman said. “It’s the closest thing to real life other than actually stepping in and doing the job. … The best part is I’m learning so much stuff, along with the students.” 

Ruthie Wyatt, head of production and live events at Team Coco (Conan O’Brien), shows off her Emmy Award to Yes I Can students during a Zoom speaker session. Courtesy

Many of these speakers are providing real-time insights into the industry, as it, too, changes with the pandemic.

“I don’t think you could get that type of experience outside of this, as far as getting real life career exploration where you’re really getting an inside look at it,” Fitzpatrick said. 

Students also have the opportunity to form mentorships, with some even getting the chance to do voiceover auditions for upcoming roles.

“The access that the students have been able to receive is just amazing,” Lieberman added.

YIC is now putting together a podcast so they can share these industry insights with others.

“This podcast is our way of allowing others outside of our program to be able to learn because it really is gold as far as the information, especially if you’re trying to get into this industry if you’re a young person and you’re looking for some of that guidance … or learn a little bit more about what your career is going to look like,” Fitzpatrick said.

Paul McGrath, Disney TVA- ADR and original dialogue mixer, talks to Yes I Can students during a Zoom speaker session. Courtesy

SCV author an upcoming guest at YIC

Next week, the local author Glover is set to make a guest appearance to discuss “Another Beast’s Skin,” the first book in her adult contemporary fantasy trilogy set to be released in November.

“I’ve always always been a writer,” Glover said. “My whole life, I’ve scribbled on napkins.” 

Glover has a degree in creative writing, but it wasn’t until recently that she put it to use, finding inspiration for the book while in England at her mother-in-law’s 16th century cottage.

“I just started thinking that it would be a great place to start a story,” Glover added. “It came to me and I started scribbling the first couple chapters … on the flight home, and it just went from there.”

Soon, Glover said she found herself “jumping into a new world” both in the story and in industry, as she learned to navigate the publishing world.

“It’s not for the faint of heart because you’re dealing with a lot of rejection,” she said, adding that she sent 76 queries before hearing back from Gen Z Publishing, which would end up agreeing to not only publish her first book, but also the entire trilogy. “All it takes is one — you just have to persevere with it.” 

Though it took her under a year to write the first draft, it will be nearly four years of drafts, querying for publication, heartbreak and edits before it hits the shelves.

As Glover is looking forward to sharing her story and advice, it’s exactly these types of stories of perseverance Lieberman and Fitzpatrick have been excited to share with students, so they too can be inspired to continue embracing their own dreams. 

“I’d love to encourage or give any kind of direction I can just in my experience with this whole process,” Glover said. “If I can encourage just one person, I think that it would be a good day.” 

“We are proud of the work that we do in YIC, our students’ constant growth and that we have continued to flourish in such hard difficult times by delivering innovative services, staying resilient,” Lieberman added. 

Anyone interested in being a guest speaker for Yes I Can students can contact Lieberman at [email protected]. For more information, visit yicunity.org or follow @yic_unity_org on social media.

Benjamin Johnson, CEO of Profound Entertainment and a technical director at Combate Americas, was one of the guest speakers for Yes I Can. Courtesy

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