Inaugural award celebrates and encourages a future entrepreneur.Glamour was high on the agenda on Friday, June 5, at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, which hosted Step Up’s 12th annual Inspiration Awards. Around 900 attendees—celebrities, entrepreneurs, mentors, mentees and media members—came to support the nonprofit and to hear words of wisdom and encouragement from presenters and honorees alike.
Famous faces spotted arriving on the red carpet included actors and directors Elizabeth Banks, Connie Britton, Lea Michele, Mena Suvari, Rhea Seehorn, Lesley Ann Warren and Kathleen Robertson. The action soon moved to the hotel’s International Ballroom, where a luncheon was served as the ceremony got under way.
Actress Cristela Alonzo welcomed the crowd before ceding the stage to Jenni Luke, Step Up’s CEO. Luke asked the rapt audience, “Did you have an adult to turn to in high school?”, and discussed the country’s current high-school dropout epidemic. She cited the fact that Step Up has mentored 2,300 girls so far (with a goal of 8,000 by 2020), and that for five straight years a full 100% of the organization’s mentees have graduated from high school.
Next, Step Up alumni took the stage to discuss their lives and experiences. Demores spoke about how society portrays women as weak and vulnerable and that Step Up has taught her that these images are false. Rocio talked about her strong bonds with her Step Up sisters, and Maria said that when she becomes an attorney she’ll be finishing her education not just for herself but also for her parents, who never had the chance to do so.
Actress Julie Bowen then presented an award to teen honoree Maria Soto, who said she considers Step Up her extended family, and who offered up such memorable mantras as, “Confidence is not ‘Will they like me?’ but ‘I’m fine if they don’t.’”
Next, Jane Wurwand, founder and CEO of Dermalogica and founder of FITE (Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship), spoke about how Step Up mentees are getting a hand up not a hand out. She discussed the fact that her own mother was widowed at age 38 but had her nurse’s education to rely on. Wurwand also stated that “financial independence for women is a game changer globally,” citing the fact that women typically reinvest more than 90% of their income into their families and communities.
Wurwand went on to present the first FITE Future Entrepreneur Scholarship award to Christina Coombs, adding, “This is the first in what we hope is a very long line of recipients!”
Actress Lea Michele then welcomed 2015 graduates on stage, where they spoke about their imminent college plans and hopes for the future.
The day’s penultimate award was for Peter Kim, founder and CEO of Hudson Jeans, who revealed that his company will no longer digitally alter images of models in its ad campaigns “because it creates damaging emotional and mental images of women—and men.”
Finally, actor Skylar Astin and singer/songwriter Ester Dean presented honoree actress and director Elizabeth Banks with an award. Banks discussed the fact that in today’s society people are defined by labels and boxes, and that “in an ideal world there would be no labels or boxes, only possibilities.” She encouraged girls to work to break out of those limiting definitions. “Know that you are more, and that you should fight to expand who you are. Surprise yourself!” she implored.
The shindig was also an opportunity to raise the profile of Step Up, which operates in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago and will imminently launch in Dallas. Thanks to Bowen, who wowed the crowd with her comedic prowess, the event’s $75,000 fundraising goal was quickly surpassed.