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Hilton Sparks the Arts with Youth Service America

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Leadership & Transparency
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The challenge for many companies who say they want to "do good" is to harness both the talent and passion of employees in a way that maximizes their skills for the benefit of local communities.

One of Hilton's newest brands believes it has found such a path by working with local organizations to unleash the latent "spark" in youth who happen to live in local communities' underserved neighborhoods. Billed as "Spark the Arts," this program aims to unleash the artistic talents of children and teenagers into projects that can have a positive impact on their neighborhoods.

To that end, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, a line of hotels both moderately-priced and designed to offer a unique experience for guests, is now partnering with Washington, D.C.-based Youth Service America (YSA). One of the first programs launched under this initiative is in Syracuse, New York, where a hotel that recently joined this brand works with local community organizations to benefit at-risk kids by bolstering their after school programs.

TriplePundit recently joined Hilton employees who work out of the company's headquarters in suburban D.C. With us were staff from the Hotel Skyler, a LEED Platinum-certified hotel that runs almost entirely on geothermal tower and is largely designed with fixtures made and sourced locally across western New York.

On a brisk fall afternoon, this group hopped into a bus and ventured a few miles to the Westcott Community Center, located in what was once a local firehouse. Nestled in the middle of century-old clapboard houses under fall trees that are starting to boast their autumn colors, the center provides a safe space for kids and mentors to work on a variety of education programs, most of which center on the arts.

For these kids who come to this center after school, the interests, desires and dreams exist - many of them are simply too preoccupied to harness those talents into energy that can help drive their future career and life paths. So last week, Hilton, Hotel Skyler and YSA employees, along with some representatives of the media, spent an afternoon chatting and working with kids, who ranged in age from primary to high school.

Last Wednesday's project was to create "dream boards," a way for kids to channel their interests by affixing pictures and words to a poster board. For about an hour before the approximately 20 students arrived, this group of volunteers set up tables and furiously cut out photos and words from magazines and newspapers. The goal was to get kids to talk about their interests, whether they may have centered in the arts, sports or science. And therein lies the strength of having a group of people from the hospitality industry - after all, at the risk of generalizing, this is a demographic of people who tend to be friendly, outgoing and adventurous.

Just as any project with teenagers, there was plenty of ice that needed to be broken; many of these kids were quiet at first. And who could blame them, as they were sitting with a group of adults they've never seen before in their lives. But as time went on, you could see how these pictures grabbed these kids' attention - as in the case of a middle school student sitting at our table. She was interested in the culinary arts, and rather quickly, the visuals of the pictures helped break down the barriers. That shy student just an hour later an hour was bursting with enthusiasm as the minions from Hilton and the media sitting with her could not snip out pictures fast enough.

At the end of the afternoon, the students were each asked to share their dream boards and talk about their long-term dreams and goals.

In addition to these afternoon programs, the hotel brand and YSA earlier this year launched a grant program for kids and students aged 12 to 25. Youth who believed they had ideas that they thought could help their communities had the opportunity to apply for $500 grants to work on projects during this fall.

This initiative alone is part of Hilton's wider plan to have an impact on the lives of one million kids by 2019; according to the company, that number so far stands at 550,000.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

Travel and accommodations were provided by Hilton; neither the author nor TriplePundit were required to write about this experience.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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