Angel City Inspires Young Leaders as Part of the SOAR Internship08.03.22
The eight high schoolers who proudly presented their capstone projects for the second annual SOAR Internship to a live and virtual audience at Angel City’s office several weeks ago are a diverse group. One of them, Ty Dooley, is a rugby player and skater who built a game console for fun. Another, Myshay Causey, is an avid chess and lacrosse player, while a third, Tania Watson, is a budding screenwriter. Now all of them can add another title to their growing resumes: young leader.
The interns, all students at ICEF View Park Preparatory High School, came dressed sharply and presented their capstone projects with the poise and confidence of seasoned professionals. You'd never guess that many of them named public speaking as an area they wanted to improve in.
Now in its second year, the SOAR internship is part of Angel City’s purpose-led sponsorship model, where 10% of all money from corporate partners goes to community organizations. Birdies is the corporate partner for the internship, which was a collaboration between ACFC and ICEF (short for Inner City Education Foundation)—a consortium of seven independent charter schools, serving grades K–12, in South Los Angeles. It was one of the first charter school management organizations in Los Angeles and is a leader in California in raising Black and Latinx students’ academic achievement to competitive levels.
ICEF’s mission is to prepare all students, many of whom come from underserved areas, to attend the top 100 colleges and universities in the country. The SOAR Internship itself is “an opportunity for these students to get better prepared for college and life,” said Lisa Finegan, co-director of the ICEF Student Leadership Academy. “The experience inspires young leaders to be critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, and effective team members, while having the ability to adapt to ever-changing environments and be lifelong learners.”
College—and life after college—is something the SOAR interns are already thinking about, and they’ve got big dreams. Two students, Madison Floyd and Kloey Bacchus, are considering Spelman University; another, Cierra Babb, has already been admitted into Texas Southern University, while Causey plans to study economics and political science at Harvard. Watson, who along with Causey is a rising sophomore, hopes to attend the New York Film Academy to study screenwriting. Aryn Robinson, also a sophomore, wants to go to Stanford to study biomechanical engineering.
A key lesson the students learned was that with their wide range of interests and personalities, they can all make an impact in their own way. “This internship,” said Bacchus, “has helped us understand that we are all leaders in our own way, shape and form. We've done many group projects and many individual projects to help us really build on that and understand who we are when it comes to being leaders.”
Last summer, the program served just three students, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, took place entirely online. Because of last year’s success, this year the program was expanded to eight young leaders, and offered a blended learning experience at ICEF and the Angel City office in Santa Monica.The shift to in-person learning made the collaborative work more enjoyable and also allowed the young leaders to practice critical social, emotional, and interpersonal skills with both their peers and adult mentors.
“The curriculum is student-centered and focuses on three pillars: communication, leadership, and research and action,” said Finegan. “It's student-centered and supports the development of interpersonal skills like active listening, debate and compromise, communication, and decision-making.”
Each week involved a different group project, which students presented at the end of the week. Projects ranged from identifying potential sponsors who might align well with Angel City to designing a sneaker based on brand guidelines from Birdies (one group’s green-and-brown design drew inspiration from a bird’s natural environment, while the other jumped off from a pun on their school’s mascot, the Knights, and modeled their shoe off the bluethroat nightingale).
While the group projects introduced the students to real-world job skills like design and branding, more important were the soft skills they required participants to practice: communicating, staying organized, and working through disagreements. At the end of each week, the young leaders also had the chance to work on something many adults still struggle with: public speaking.
“[This internship] really helped me grow as a person, especially with my communication skills, my confidence, and how I interact with other people,” said Watson. “Like everyone who saw me on day one knows, I was not the best at communicating. I would never volunteer to speak. I would also like to thank my teammates and their support for pushing me out of my comfort zone every five seconds.”
Bacchus agreed, also adding that the experience bolstered her interpersonal skills. “It has also helped me learn to interact with people who are different than me, as in people who have different perspectives,” she said. “It has helped me be more aware of not only myself and what I think, but what others think as well.”
Another major component of the program was a guest speaker series, which featured a diverse selection of professionals attached to Birdies and Angel City. Each speaker—most of whom were women—talked about their unique and often winding career journeys, as well as imparting lessons in less tangible areas like leadership, resourcefulness, perseverance, and gratitude.
One speaker who stood out to several students was Renata Simril, president of the LA84 Foundation and the Play Equity Fund, a nonprofit focusing on equity in access to sports which has collaborated with ICEF for many years. Simril advised the interns “to be resourceful, take initiative, be creative, and always bring positive energy when no one else can,” said Ty Dooley. “We learned that we can't always let our circumstances reflect in the way that we present, and to always push forward toward the dream or a goal that you always set—and to set a new goal as you're [working toward] those as well.”
The interns also got to meet a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Angela Hucles Mangano, who works for Angel City as vice president of player development and operations. Hucles Mangano brought along a duffel bag full of keepsakes from important moments in her life—including her gold medal from the 2004 Athens Olympics—to remind the students to take note of their successes and appreciate the “little joys” that come with those successes.
Another opportunity the program presented was a look inside the Angel City organization. Many students were struck by how many different roles are involved in operating the club, and saw firsthand how important the skills they’d been practicing are.
“Communication is literally what holds everything together,” said Causey. “With all the different jobs at Angel City, you wouldn't be able to get them all to manage the company without them communicating—one team talking to another team about what they're doing with a third team… you really need that communication to drive anything forward.”
The speakers also demonstrated how success comes in many forms. “There was never a straight path for basically anybody that we heard from,” said Carsyn Rogers. “I really admire that, because I always think it has to be A, B, C, D, but what I heard was more like, A, B, Z, L, F. It helped me broaden my ideas [about careers]. There's many different obstacles you face and many different careers.”
It was not lost on the interns—the program is open to girls and gender-expansive youth—that Angel City is a women-led organization. “Angel City is opening doors for a lot of women,” said Floyd. “It lets us know that there's going to be a change and more and more places are going to accept women as being the same and being able to do the same things.”
The SOAR interns aren’t just driven to be successful themselves; they’re also a deeply community-minded group.
“I really care about social justice issues, things like homophobia and racism,” said Robinson. “I want to inspire people who look like me, who are like me, to know that they are worth it and they can be successful and important people, no matter their setbacks.”
Other students cited their interest in causes like improving the foster care system, supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and addressing homelessness. The skills, confidence, and connections they gained during the six weeks of this program won’t only benefit them, but will have a ripple effect through the whole community.