Music could be heard nearly a mile away, as the Santa Clarita Skate Park hosted the annual Good Karma Music & Arts Festival on Saturday, attended by over 3,000 guests.
Put together for nearly a year by The Yes I Can Unity Through Music & Education, a Santa Clarita nonprofit, the festival was run primarily by creatives with disabilities who benefit from mentorship and hands-on experience to work in the entertainment industry.
Yes I Can is a 12-month program consisting of two on-site 21st-century career skill courses, two days per week for two hours per day, community-based training and career exploration three days per week for up to six hours per day through a variety of industry corporate partners, according to the organization’s website.
To qualify for the year-long program, individuals had to be found eligible through the North Los Angeles County Regional Center, as well as completing high school. A new cohort is formed every July, adding to existing members — the program is just shy of 100 people, 12 of whom oversaw the production of Good Karma.
Concert goers enjoyed a hip hop setlist, with Berner as a headliner, as well as food trucks, a beer garden, local vendors and skateboarding exhibitions.
Deputy Director Kirsten Fitzpatrick said the program helps many of the college students and older who may attempt to land a job in the entertainment industry without prior experience.
“I’ve found that individuals with disabilities, who have done their schooling, have gotten everything they needed, but they didn’t have any work experience yet, and were having trouble getting internships because of that,” Fitzpatrick said. “So it’s like a Catch-22.”
In addition to the challenges any new graduate would face, young adults who are disabled have the added pressure of defying stereotypes to employers.
“A lot of employers think people with disabilities can’t work in these types of jobs, but that’s absolutely not true,” Fitzpatrick said. “The whole point of this program is so that those individuals can use their skills and everything they’ve learned in their schooling program, but also they get a year of experience working on the production, so that also goes on to their resume.”
Joshua Cajulis, who was a part of Yes I Can while transferring to a four-year university in 2019, reflected on his experience as an aspiring voice actor.
“I’ve been involved with Yes I Can since 2019. It’s a really great program. It does teach you a lot of good skills. When I first came in, they taught classes on basic job skills and they had you go through a whole curriculum. Once you graduate, they primarily focus on getting you through internships,” Cajulis said.
Bret Lieberman, founder and executive director of Yes I Can, began this program in 2009, when “a group of [his] students [at Golden Valley High School] asked if they could produce a music event for the school to bring neurodiverse students and typical students together for a social event,” according to the Yes I Can website.
“In 2009, the nonprofit was created and at the time, we were really working with high school students. We shifted to working with young adults once they graduate high school,” Lieberman said. “That’s really been the mission for the last five years — focusing on students who, once given the opportunity and exposure, would be able to find jobs.”
The main mission of Yes I Can is to ensure that individuals with disabilities can self-sustain a career and live independently.
“Our main mission is to help individuals with disabilities free at cost to them and their families, to provide them with the career training and 21st-century career skills that are needed to find jobs in the entertainment industry,” Lieberman said. “The reason why we focus on the entertainment industry is because they are such lucrative jobs that pay extremely well. We want our individuals to be able to, at some point, live their own lives, not be dependent on their parents, be able to purchase a house and provide for their own families.”
In addition to learning the proper techniques to adjust in the real world, Yes I Can offers a paid internship with one of its industry partners.
“What’s really unique with Yes I Can is we have a paid internship program and we fine tune and try to match the individual with the right job so that they’ll flourish,” Lieberman said. “They get hired when they are done with their internship, sometimes even before the internship is set to expire. We found that the companies hire our students because they do not want to lose them.”
Since its inception, Lieberman has cultivated a program with an active waitlist, and has worked closely with Fitzpatrick to teach and bring ample opportunities to the people who are a part of Yes I Can. Due to their efforts, alumni have found jobs in the industry.
“We have students that are running lights and sound, traveling with bands and artists. We have students that are working with Ten Fifty Entertainment that are handling all the accessibility for events like Coachella and Stagecoach. We have students that are composers and provide music to video games, movies and TV and film,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman’s advice for anyone interested in the heavily sought-out program, particularly for those still in high school, is to start early.
“Eleventh and 12th graders should start the process by making sure they’re with the Regional Center, and let them know that they want to be part of the program. As soon as they graduate in June, it’s a seamless transition to start with us in July, and that helps with a smooth transition to college and career,” Lieberman said.