Inspiring local communities through TEDx

ASTEP was invited to present at the TEDxYouthDay event on November 19, 2011 at The School at Columbia University. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, the well-known TED conference created TEDx so local communities could spark deep discussions and share a TED-like experience. The theme for TEDxYouthDay 2011 was Play, Learn, Build & Share,  and ASTEP’s Mauricio Salgado presented A Call to Action to highlight creative ways to inspire curiosity and empower young leaders. Read below for his account of the day’s events:

Twelve presenters, including Charles Wilson (author of Chew On This) and Dickson Despommier (author of The Vertical Farm), shared innovative ideas and projects to encourage aspiring middle school students to make positive change in their lives and communities.

For my presentation, I adapted stories shared by ASTEP students and alum during the A Story per Step Campaign to relate the power of story-telling and what it can embody. After the presentation, I received help from a group of ASTEP volunteers–Will Clark, Laura Mead, John Egan, Dion Mucciacito, and Slaveya Starkov–to facilitate a story-telling workshop for students and parents. Both ASTEP presentations were received very positively by the community and a handful of people expressed interest in connecting with ASTEP in the future. Most importantly, I was honored to have 9 ASTEP members and supporters present, including Joe Norton (the Director of Educational Outreach for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS).

The piece I performed was co-created by Alejandro Rodriguez, Slaveya Starkov, Cindy Salgado and myself. At the core of the piece is the following story:

Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her, she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again; clothed in story. Truth knocked again at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the people’s houses. They invited her to eat at their table and warm herself by their fire.

Thank you to Karen Blumberg and The School at Columbia University for including ASTEP in this rewarding community building experience.

Celebrating New York City kids

ASTEP recently completed the Celebration Program, a year-long training partnership led by Youth INC, an organization that  supports youth serving nonprofits in NYC.  The program culminated in a fundraising benefit on November 14, 2011 held at The Waldorf=Astoria. For the event, ASTEP launched a $25,000 fundraising target, and we are thrilled to announce that we surpassed our goal!

Thank you to all of the donors who supported us that evening! It was indeed a celebratory evening, and we were able to enjoy the festivities with several students and staff from our New York City partner organizations, Incarnation Children’s Center and IRC Refugee Youth Program.


A Million Billion Thunders — live from the Kennedy Center

From August 31-September 5th, Mauricio Salgado and Marco Ramirez were granted a residency at the Kennedy Center in order to complete a new work and present it at the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival (September 3-5).

“A Million Billion Thunders” is Nico’s telling of the literal and metaphoric storms he faces and fights. The piece is for an actor and a musician. Although the piece is still in development, it has already generated interest in Washington DC, and Mauricio and Marco have already committed to producing the show in the near future.

During the residency, they also collaborated with Alejandro Rodriguez (dramaturgy) and Steve McWilliams (Guitar). The project was made possible by Gregg Henry’s generosity, the Director of the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival.

A special volunteer. A special THANK YOU

At the end of June, Seth Numrich and I hosted a 2-day event at the Incarnation Children’s Center in order to re-energize and commit students to the summer ASTEP program. This summer marked the third year ASTEP worked with  the ICC, a pediatric facility for adolescents living with HIV/AIDS , and the first time under Seth’s leadership. Although Seth led the South Florida volunteer team in 2009 as an ASTEP On-Site Administrator, this summer has proved particularly challenging for him. Not only will he be recruiting volunteers, teaching classes, and overseeing curriculum development for the ICC program, but he will be doing all of this while starring in the critically acclaimed “Warhorse” currently running at Lincoln Center.

Seth first volunteered with ASTEP in the summer of 2006 as a visual artist for our Art-In-Action program in South Florida. Seth doesn’t have a background in visual art—in fact, he claims to struggle with drawing stick figures. But his belief in the power of art and his passion for social justice lifted him above his insecurities. After an overwhelming summer, he returned in 2007 to try his hand at teaching theatre and raise his level of output and creativity. Even upon graduating from Juilliard in 2008 and beginning his career as an actor, he continued to commit to ASTEP’s programming by participating in two more Art-in-Action summer programs.  In 2009 Seth led the volunteer team.

Given his investment in our work, it would not surprise you that I lean on him quite often, which is why I called him quite confidently one evening in April after a challenging staff meeting. We had come to a decision that unless we found a volunteer to carry the ICC program in August, we would have to cancel it.

“Brother, I’m sorry for calling so late.”

“No worries, whats up?”

“Things are extra busy this season in the office and it doesn’t seem like Abby and I are going to be able to do the necessary prep for the ICC program this summer. Would you be game to recruit and prep your own team?”

“Sure. I can take that on. I’ve already got some ideas…”

Several weeks later, we found ourselves wearing eccentric costumes and exuberantly hosting an Arts Olympics Event with the ICC community. Although he was running in from Warhorse matinees and leaving early to prepare for his night shows, he was a joy to watch and collaborate with. It is his ability in the classroom that makes him such a valuable volunteer. The students and fellow volunteers appreciate everything he brings to the classroom.

I recently had a conversation with Charles Numrich, Seth’s dad, about his experience with one of our programs this past summer—Seth has recruited both of his parents to volunteer for us along with many other friends. As we wrapped up, the discussion turned to Seth.

“Have you seen him recently? How is his work going at the ICC?”

“He’s doing great as usual, and we are very thankful to have him in charge of that, although we don’t understand how he juggles both his show and this work.”

“Yeah, I worry about that as well. But you know what, he’s young and he can handle it. Tell him to call his Dad when he gets a chance?”


It’s his youthful energy and so much more that make him special. From all of us in the ASTEP community, we thank him for being an example for what it means to serve others. And as his friend, I hope I can find ways to serve him as well.

– Mauricio Salgado, ASTEP Director of Domestic Programs


“In order to create art, community, a classroom, or anything else, you need a situation that is saturated with love and support beyond question. That is what ASTEP has to offer.”

– Seth Numrich; ASTEP Volunteer

ASTEP delivers art programs designed to demonstrate the power of the arts to inspire youth and strengthen communities


It was about fifteen minutes before our final performance, and all of the teachers were standing in front of 57 excited, nervous teenagers, trying to give them some last minute words of wisdom and express to them, if we could, just how proud of them we were. As the last teacher to talk, I had each of the students give themselves a hug and take a deep breath, explaining to them that being nervous before a show is a good thing. As soon as I finished talking, one of the students caught my eye.

This boy was the kind of teenager you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find at an arts summer camp. During the first half of camp, he had been very “cool”, and we had a hard time getting him to participate fully. Only during the last few days had he begun to open up a fraction. This young man caught my eye and held up his hands, clasped in a yoga mudra (hand gesture) that I had taught a week or so earlier during a relaxation elective. It was in that moment that it hit me: these students were taking everything in. The moments of silly dance parties in the hallways, the songs, rhymes, dances, drama exercises; the students weren’t missing a beat. Even those that seemed distant were absorbing everything like sponges. Though I loved just about every second of my volunteer experience, this was the instant when I realized how important the work was, and how much these students were teaching me about taking risks, opening up, and having courage.

– Elisabeth Rainer, AIA 2011 Volunteer

Visual storytelling, courtesy of Refugee Youth Summer Academy

Created by Alejandro Rodriquez, ASTEP’s On-Site Administrator at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy, this video captures the many moments of joy and empowerment experienced by volunteers and children this summer at RYSA. Enjoy!