Hometown: Marin City
Profession: Project director of the Phoenix Project of Marin; founder and executive director of the Performing Stars of Marin
"My name is Felecia Gaston, and I help young people connect with their dreams and face their challenges."
Growing up in the segregated south, Felecia Gaston, 55, remembers how painful it was to want something and not be able to get it. For more than two decades, she's been working hard in Marin City to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else.
Spurred by her own inability to take ballet lessons as a child, Gaston launched Performing Stars of Marin in 1990, a nonprofit organization that provides approximately 100 low-income children with access to the visual, literary, and performing arts each year. With an office located in the Marin Housing Authority, a 2,000-person housing project, Performing Stars acts like stage parents, connecting youngsters with opportunities in dance and theatre, making sure paperwork gets filed, and young people are able to afford and get to classes. Field trips to the ballet or to see a play also teach grooming and etiquette.
Gaston has seen one of her former students find success as a dancer in the Boston Ballet.
But Gaston's community efforts haven't stopped there.
Two years ago, troubled by a rise in crime and "what was happening with young black males in the community," Gaston spearheaded a joint effort with law enforcement, the Marin Housing Authority and others to start the Phoenix Project of Marin. Located in the same 200-block section of the housing project as Performing Stars of Marin, the Phoenix Project connects approximately 40 13-30 year-old young men with the mental health, employment and other services they need to steer themselves toward success.
"Black males have been stereotyped and overlooked," she said. "We're giving them guidance, nurturing, and support."
In just two years, Gaston has seen her efforts pay off.
"I have seen the change in the crime rate," she said. "It has gone down tremendously."