APRIL 29TH, 2019



Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Broadway Musical Director and Founder/Co-Executive Director of Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), hosts the 2nd annual benefit concert and dinner – a one night only event! Mary-Mitchell and ASTEP will celebrate this year’s honoree, Laura Benanti, for her leadership and advocacy in the creation of the benefit album SINGING YOU HOME: Children’s Songs for Family Reunification.

Intimate, engaging, and sure to tug at your heartstrings, come celebrate ASTEP and the art that it brings to deeply underserved communities around the world and right here in NYC. All proceeds benefit ASTEP, in training volunteer teaching artists to deliver arts programming for all children, regardless of their backgrounds.

Dr. Keith Bell (Chair)
Steven Farkas
Sheryl FitzGerald
Jaimie Mayer
Stephen Oremus
Cynthia Princi
Susan Vargo
Georgia Stitt (2018 ASTEP Artist/Activist Honoree)

For more information, or to learn about sponsorship opportunities, contact Katherine Nolan Brown at katherine@asteponline.org or 212-921-1227.

Purchase tickets: 54BELOW.COM

*Ticket price includes dinner, drinks, and an exciting show.
**VIP tickets include premium seat location, as well as an exclusive cocktail hour prior to the performance.
***Performers are subject to change.

Gabby Serrano’s blog

Gabby Serrano, a Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing blog posts about her experiences teaching with ASTEP. These programs give children access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.

Five years ago, I was 25, an undergrad student, and working full time at a NYC Emergency Department. You’d think that that was exciting enough, however I still felt like something was missing. I needed to have a spiritual awakening, a revelation, something! I was having a mid-20’s-life-crisis. Okay, maybe not, but I did come to the conclusion that I needed to do something that felt more fulfilling and meaningful to me.

I have a feeling my inner 10-year-old self was sparking this thought process, saying something like, “Yo, didn’t you love art? What happened with that?” As a young person living in the city, surviving took time and effort. Like many others, responsibilities for survival were prioritized at the time. Before I knew it, I had altogether put aside my hobby, my outlet, my passion. It was what I’d later find out had been missing.

After learning more about myself and how vital art actually felt towards my overall well-being, I began to push myself to create a little something every day. A friend of mine had seen my work, and reached out to me regarding an amazing experience she had teaching music to youth in Florida. She said it was with an organization known as ASTEP. Acronyms, oy, however, this one was easy to remember with a seriously deep and unforgettable mission, Artists Striving To End Poverty, I mean Yas! Here for it. Poverty in America translates to oppression, and as ASTEP defines it, “as having a lack of choice”. It is something I believe we all should be working to combat. Okay, I digress. So, my friend offered to connect me with staff to learn more about the work that they do and to see if I may be interested. Was this one of those moments when the universe presents just the right opportunities!? Sure felt like it. Naturally, I said yes. I mean the timing was impeccable. Anyway, I had an interview with folks at ASTEP and a few months after that initial conversation, I was flying out to Bangalore, India.

Talk about life changing. I had such an amazing time facilitating art groups, collaborating with other artists and educators, and participating in activities such as The Arts Olympics. This was the first of several volunteer opportunities I’ve had with ASTEP. Each population that I’ve worked with, I’ve learned from. I’ve been able to interact with youth that are experiencing hardships because they are experiencing situations that they have little to no control over. It can be particularly helpful for this population to access the arts as a resource to help express their feelings in a holistic and restorative way. Even providing a safe space to play art games has given youth the opportunity to freely
express themselves, which is empowering.

I literally worked with a student last week that was quite introverted, and didn’t feel comfortable introducing themselves or even sharing their name. As we began to design our personalized t-shirts, this young person began to engage with me, asking me questions and sharing stories. They ultimately created a beautiful T-shirt, which they didn’t believe they could do at first. Once the activity was completed this young person was so proud of themselves and their work. In fact, they didn’t want to leave it at the site to dry, so they carried it home in a “safe way” as to not smear the paint, so that they could share their work with their mom. It was their first time getting the chance to partake in this sort of activity.

I am grateful to be a part of a community of artists that share such strong beliefs in the transformational power of the arts. These beautiful moments are able to take place thanks to ASTEP connecting artists with youth and communities in need. As I said, life changing.

It is the beginning of 2019 and as always, I’m looking forward to the upcoming opportunities and experiences ahead.

Peace & solitude,


Volunteer Spotlight: Devin Lloyd

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Devin Lloyd!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
I believe in the limitless possibilities of the arts to connect us and to inspire creativity, confidence and joy in young people.

How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP?
2 years!

What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP?
Arts-in-Action with enFamilia, Win NYC, Passages Academy, and CHOICES

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
It is a tradition that campers cry on the final day of camp at En Familia. But on the last day in our musical theater class, our campers tearfully told each other how thankful they were for the family they had made and praised each of their friends for their work in the performance the night before. It was such a reminder of the strength of the family that is created when we make art together.

Thank you, Devin, for volunteering with us at ASTEP! You share your heart with every community you are in, and we cannot do our work without you!

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP and Arts-in-Action, click here!

For all Volunteer Inquiries, email ASTEP’S Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi, at sami@asteponline.org


Volunteer Spotlight: Midori Samson

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Midori Samson!
Get to know Midori, and learn about her experiences with ASTEP below.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon and that’s where I continue to call home. I went to Juilliard for my undergraduate degree in bassoon, which is where I got involved with ASTEP in 2010. Amid my college stress and burnout, I needed to get back in touch with my inner child-Midori and get back to why I started music in the first place. Meeting ASTEP and the children we work with was the perfect remedy. I’m so thankful that ASTEP is so connected to the Juilliard community.

Upon graduation, I moved to Austin where I got my master’s degree in bassoon at the University of Texas. During my brief 2 years in Austin, I organized an ASTEP chapter with some friends and we hosted a camp with a local youth shelter for two weeks! At that point, it was probably the proudest thing I’d ever done. 

For two years after going to grad school, I lived in Chicago, and performed in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the Chicago Symphony’s training orchestra) and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I thrived in my position in Civic and that was completely because of the work I had previously done with ASTEP! The position involved simultaneously performing in the orchestra and curating musical community engagement projects around the city. I helped organized residencies at schools, shelters, a prison, and at a refugee center. I was living my best teaching-artist life, and constantly fell back on the training I got as an ASTEP teaching artist and facilitator. 

My ASTEP experiences continue to influence all parts of my career, musicianship, and life. I co-founded my own organization, Trade Winds Ensemble and our music curriculum is very much inspired by ASTEP teaching philosophies. In addition, I just travelled to China to perform and teach with Yo-Yo Ma, where he asked us to always use our child-like imaginations to perform music (a skill I feel I’m an expert at thanks to ASTEP!) Currently, I’m working on a doctorate degree in bassoon, and I’m minoring in social work, to help me improve even more what I can contribute in an ASTEP classroom. 

Through moving all over the country and changing situations so frequently, ASTEP has been one of the few constants in my life. Because of ASTEP, I have internalized the value that my music has in the world. I love myself for what I can offer with my art form!

Thank you, Midori for volunteering with ASTEP!
We could not do our work without incredible people like you.

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP,
email our Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi, at sami@asteponline.org 



2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellows — ANNOUNCED!

ASTEP is thrilled to announce that Tiffany Ramos and Gabby Serrano have been selected as recipients of the 2019 Winter/Spring Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for their work with ASTEP on STAGE!

ASTEP on STAGE! introduces youth from underserved communities in NYC to the power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. Because ASTEP believes that all young people should have access to the arts, regardless of their backgrounds, ASTEP on STAGE! partners with NYC organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS.

The Fellowship is a unique opportunity for individuals who closely model Jennifer’s values to introduce our students to new art forms and new artists. These Fellows will provide students with the chance to not only try new things, but to discover role models from all walks of life and to dream about a future full of opportunities.

“Thank you so much, it is a great honor to receive this fellowship award! Volunteering with ASTEP for the past four years has been a deeply inspiring and educational experience. Facilitating in the classroom has gifted me with numerous irreplaceable opportunities to act as a guide through inquiry, exploration, and growth. I look forward to continuing to share the power of the performing and visual arts with unique and thriving minds.”
“I’m currently in school for social work and have a passion for visual arts. ASTEP is largely accredited for encouraging me to continue to pursue the arts and integrate it into my future career. I’ve learned that I can combine my two passions and that it is totally possible to create whatever it is you envision.”

Gabby and Tiffany are inspiring examples of how the arts give our students the skills to learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty. We’re excited to share their journey through monthly blog posts so stay tuned!

Get to know our Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi!


Read the interview below to find out more about our rockstar Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi!


Where did you grow up? 

Fresno, California.

Where did you work before joining the ASTEP team? 

Before joining the ASTEP team, I had the honor of working for a few different arts organizations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. I was Artistic Director for The Audacity Performing Arts Project, Inc., Program Manager for the Arts for Social Justice Program at Santa Clara University, and I taught dance classes at a High School and a Dance Studio in San Jose, CA! 

Have you been onsite with any ASTEP programs? Which ones? 

Yes! I absolutely love to be on site with ASTEP programs! I am proud to say that I have been on site at all of the current ASTEP programs except one (and hopefully I will get there sometime soon!). I recently got back from teaching at Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project in India, and it was such a beautiful and life changing experience. All of the ASTEP programs continue to inspire me and I learn more about each one of them every day! 

Did you have a background in the arts or teaching, when you started? 

Yes I did! I started in dance classes when I was about 3 years old, and I was hooked ever since! I studied Theatre and Dance in college and am a Musical Theatre performer, and through that I found my vocation to teach and share my joy for the arts with those around me – especially children. 

What is the most challenging part of your work? 

I would say that a challenging part of my work is balancing and coordinating schedules of all our teaching artist teams and volunteers. It is a beautiful challenge to have because we have a vast pool of artists with different backgrounds/jobs/expertise, which allow us to put together the best possible teams for our students – but it does call for extra attention to detail and putting my schedule puzzle solving skills to the test!

What is the most rewarding part of your work? 

The most rewarding part of my work is seeing the smiles on all of the faces of the children we work with. Nothing can beat that pure joy! Everything we do is for the kids, and watching them discover their own greatness through our workshops and programs will always be the icing on the cake!

What do you look forward to, each day, working at ASTEP? 

Everything! From the moment I walk through the ASTEP office door, I am overwhelmed with the love and passion our community has for using arts to make a positive difference in the world. I am continuously inspired by the new volunteers I get to talk to each day, and I am constantly reminded of all the people in this world who are fighting to make a positive difference by sharing their heart/art. 

What song best encapsulates your working personality? 

If I had to describe my work personality in a song, I would choose “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins. Not only does this song put a smile on my face, but I think it describes my work personality and how I approach life in general. “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun!” 




Volunteer Spotlight: Gladys Pasapera

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Gladys Pasapera!


Why do you volunteer with ASTEP? ASTEP is a unique community of artists that feeds my creative + art teacher soul! I love ASTEP because it continues to open my eyes to the power of the arts and the endless possibilities for both teaching artists and students. It helps us teaching artists develop ways to foster safe and encouraging spaces for our young artists to develop confidence and communication skills through play and artmaking. Watching young people step outside the box and let go of their fears is a priceless moment to witness.

How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP?  Since Summer of 2009

What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP?  Art-in-Action (Florida) and RYSA (NYC)

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?  I have so many memories! But I recently came across some old photos from a lost USB with memories from my first RYSA summer of 2012. I didn’t know what to expect and I had little experience with English Language Learners. I taught a few projects that I was taught in high school so we started with sketchbook prompts and then plaster hands representing the students. The high school students were so honest and willing to share their truths and feelings about coming to America, the camaraderie was so beautiful!! They were also very engaged with the entire process of getting messy and playing with plaster. They had to pair up and take turns covering their hands with vaseline and then laying plaster strips to cover their hands so the cast would slide off after it was dry. Only laughter and fun filled the classroom!

Thank you, Gladys, for volunteering with ASTEP! You exude grace in the classroom and we are lucky to join forces with you. We cannot do this work without you!

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy, click here!

For all Volunteer Inquiries, email ASTEP’S Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi, at sami@asteponline.org.



Will Thomason’s blog: A NEW YEAR WITH ASTEP

Will Thomason, a Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing blog posts about his experiences teaching with ASTEP. These programs give children access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.



It is currently 4:00am and I am giddy with excitement. It also helps that I have an open carton of Triple Chocolate ice cream beside me, but I promise, my excitement stems not from sugar, but from the prospect of the coming year. I am signed up to take a cycling class at noon tomorrow, but I think the instructor will understand my tiredness. After all, it is not solely my fault.

I worked on New Year’s Eve. It was intentional – I have seen enough sit-com episodes about the quest for the perfect NYC New Year’s Eve party for me to know that working a tepid Masquerade Ball was a perfect fit for the night. The one asterisk was that I had planned to participate in the “Polar Bear Plunge” the day after. For those who are not familiar with the concept, this tradition consists of a gathering of hundreds of people at various bodies of water – this one was planned for Coney Island beach – and a collective jump into the freezing cold water on New Year’s Day, as a jump-start into the new year. Though I had had a late night, I chose to get up early, pack my bag, and confirm plans with a fellow ASTEP volunteer, Angela, who had agreed to do it with me. But as I grabbed my keys to walk out the door, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, I hate the cold. I hate cold water. I hate cold water even in the summer. I don’t even like to *drink* cold water. Why would I subject myself to this pain *on purpose*? I was potentially willing to suffer through the pain, but my second realization is what prompted me to text Angela and request a back-up plan.

See, the point in the Polar Bear Plunge is to shock your body, and in turn, your mind, into a re-set for the coming year. As we all know with the Nintendo 64, the tried-and-true “turn it off, wait 10 seconds, and turn it on again” is the best way to fix a frozen (pun intended) system. But my system was not frozen. It was not broken, it did not need a re-start. I didn’t want to get *in* the water, because I was still on top of it, riding the wave from 2018! 2018 is when I started my relationship with ASTEP. What started with a one-time, low commitment to perform a 3-minute song on the piano, has turned into an integral part of my life. I have been able to meet an entire network of ASTEP employees, supporters, volunteers, and partners who have enriched my personal and professional journey, and I want to take that into the new year. In 2018, I was able to introduce the concept of wordplay to youth, who used their wit to outsmart me. I got to dust off my Spanish skills and hang out with some pretty cool, super cute 5 year-olds. I taught a new friend at a youth home how to strum the ukulele, and in turn learned some out-of-this-world jokes about astronauts. I convinced at least one child that I was Santa Claus (feel free to check out the picture. I’d say my years of acting training have paid off).  And at the very end of 2018, I flew to Miami and back in a day, and toured facilities of a community that ASTEP works with. I had some good, home-made food and good, home-made fun.

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, I just found my list from 2014, which I had decorated and framed. I had planned to take 60 exercise classes a month, spend 10 hours a week practicing a foreign language, master front- and back-flips, and enroll in a year-long acting class. I admit, I had lofty goals, and barely accomplished any of them. But recently, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I have made New Year’s Intentions. New Year’s Aspirations. New Year’s Goals. One is to make a bigger deal out of little successes, and to stop making a big deal out of little inconveniences (lookin’ at you, MTA). Another is to try to get rid of my own insecurity (it’s useless!) And ASTEP is there to support me through all of it. I am already looking at potential summer plans with ASTEP, and I will be attending 3 separate ASTEP events in the next 4 days. I am excited. I am giddy. And I’m ready.

Here’s to another exciting, ASTEP-filled year!


ASTEP’s 10th Annual NYC Christmas: A Concert to Benefit ASTEP

Phantom star Sierra Boggess, Carousel Tony Award winner Lindsay Mendez, and original Anastasia star Derek Klena headlined ASTEP’s 10th annual New York City Christmas: A Concert to Benefit ASTEP on December 10 at Joe’s Pub.

Created and produced by Drama Desk winner Lynne Shankel, the sold-out show also featured Gerard Canonico, Becca Gottlieb, Chester Gregory, David Josefsberg, Melody Madarasz, Lauren Marcus, Eric William Morris, Alyse Alan Louis, Shea Renee, Marissa Rosen, Sally Wilfert, and recording artist Anya Singleton.

The band featured musicians Shankel (piano), Joe Mowatt (rums), Randy Landau (bass), Peter Calo (guitar), Eric Davis (guitar), Summer Boggess (cello), Max Mosten (violin), Colin Brigstocke (trumpet), Harry Hassell (saxophone), and Scott Kreitzer (saxophone).

ASTEP recently released a new single of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” performed by Aladdin’s Telly Leung, which is now available on iTunes and Amazon, as well as all streaming platforms.

Also launched is a CharityBuzz auction that includes experiences from HamiltonMean Girls, My Fair Lady, and Wicked in addition to The Prom, Come From Away, and King Kong.


Volunteer Spotlight: Nate Rothermel


This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Nate Rothermel!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
My impulse to volunteer with ASTEP has a lot to do with the fact that I identify with and champion its mission: to provide opportunity and experiences in the arts to communities and places which are impoverished of such. There is a genuine care and purpose at the core of each ASTEP program, and being a part of that and of service to that is an absolute honor.

How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP?
I have been volunteering with ASTEP for 5 years: I started volunteering with my ASTEP Chapter at Albright College my freshman year, and have continued volunteering to today!

What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP?
I have volunteered with and been the Artistic Director of ASTEP at Albright, taught in ASTEP’s Teach for India program, and am currently the President of ASTEP’s National Chapter Committee.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
Each morning at Teach for India my students and I would walk to the classroom we utilized in their village, and along the walk we would share conversations about our days, about the differences and commonalities between India and the United States, and about our lives–hopes, dreams, stories. There’s something special about these walks and conversations, because they illuminate for me how vital it is to foster meaningfully shared experiences, and hopefully bring us one step closer to breaking the cycle of poverty existing in our world. 

Thank you, Nate, for volunteering with us at ASTEP! The initiative you take to do amazing work does not go unnoticed, and we cannot do our work without you!

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP, email Sami Manfredi at sami@asteponline.org.







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