Bret Lieberman used to be a special education teacher at Golden Valley High School. One day his students confided in him that they were getting bullied and being excluded. In hopes of breaking free from the bullying, they asked him if they could do something that Lieberman had told them he had done a couple times – throw a concert.
“They kind of said, ‘Hey, maybe if we did that we would be accepted and considered the cool kids,’” said Lieberman, the executive director of Yes I Can.
However, they doubted their capabilities.
“At first I said, ‘Well, there’s a lot of moving parts,’ and they said, ‘So are you saying we can’t do that?’” said Lieberman. “And obviously, that challenge was accepted.”
Their first concert at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex brought in 100 people and the students were thrilled to see their fellow schoolmates attend. This concert boosted their self-esteem and gave them the confidence to keep going.
On Nov. 14, Yes I Can Unity Through Music and Education took to a City Council meeting to spread awareness of their program.
Their mission is as follows, according to their website: “YIC believes individuals with disabilities should have the same right as non-disabled individuals to have access to a full range of available employment opportunities and to earn a living wage in a job of their choosing based on their talents, skills, and interests. This includes access to quality training and employment services to aid individuals with disabilities in obtaining gainful employment in a field of their interest and choosing.”
The aforementioned group of high schoolers in 2009 were the catalyst of the nonprofit organization.
After throwing their very first concert and having it deemed a success, the social skills program became year-round and hosted an annual concert. It began by being funded by the William S. Hart Union High School District until the program needed a shift.
“It just got to the point where it was just too big for the school district, we had thousands of people showing up,” said Lieberman, “and it was just there are job opportunities being offered and the kids were like, ‘Well, I’m still in school.’”
YIC had to climb up the education ladder and adapt what the students would get out of the program – opportunities for career jobs and internships. It is now funded by the California Regional Centers.
Through YIC programs, students are provided, “with comprehensive training and employment services, including functional vocational and situational assessments, a person-centered plan with individualized goals, employment-based community integration training, career exploration/job shadowing, industry guest speaker sessions, 21st Century career skills training, paid internship opportunities within the entertainment industry and one-on-one counseling services throughout the life of the program,” according to their website.
The basis of the modern job market is heavily reliant on experience. Through these programs, the students are receiving just that and having their doors opened to even more possibilities.
“Internships now require that you have some practical experience in the field in addition to what education that you have, and that’s an obstacle for most young people anyway, but for our individuals, you add on the fact that they have other deficits there that make it difficult for them to even get in the door to get an interview, now they’re lacking also that that experience,” said Kirsten Fitzpatrick, deputy director of Yes I Can. “This program is designed to bridge that gap to give them that that experience they need to present in addition to the schooling that they have so that they’re a stronger candidate when they apply for these internship and job opportunities.”
The annual Good Karma Music & Arts Festival on Nov. 4 brought in a crowd of 3,000 people. Another number that came from the festival was the hiring, at industry jobs and internships, of 10 out of the 12 members from the program responsible for putting together the festival.
“I think that’s kind of the most rewarding part,” said Lieberman about his students’ successes. “Helping an individual find exactly, through self-awareness, what they’re passionate about, and helping guide them in the proper way to turn that passion into a paycheck.”
Students from the program have gone on to work for companies such as Netflix, HBO and Live Nation.