But 2020 is a particularly momentous time for Gaston and her stars, as they celebrate the 30th anniversary of an organization that has gone so far above and beyond a traditional nonprofit arts group. Over the span of three decades, Performing Stars has provided low-income, largely multicultural children professional training in dance, music and theater, but also access to digital literacy, reading, civic education and a variety of after-school activities and summer camps.
"We continue to provide them with costumes, feed them, transport them to classes, teach them social skills and manners and watch them thrive," Gaston says.
To mark the moment, and mindful of the prohibition against in-person events amidst the COVID-19 crisis, Gaston and her team are presenting a 30th Anniversary Virtual Gala on Saturday, Dec. 12 built around the theme of "Le Cirque des Etoiles" (The Circus of the Stars), featuring circus performers, aerialists, magicians, musicians and inspiring speakers.
Virtual attendees can expect heartwarming videos, performances, and the personal stories of alumni who have been supported by Performing Stars throughout the years, Gaston says, noting that there will also be an array of auction items and text-to-give opportunities throughout the event.
"Our goal is to make this virtual event as exciting as a live production," Gaston says. "Staying true to the values and experiences created over the lifetime of Performing Stars, attendees can expect Spontaneous Bursts of Joyous Expression. We are excited about the virtual format of the event as it will allow us to expand the audience and increase awareness of Performing Stars’ mission. For the first time, regardless of your economic means, we will be welcoming the entire Performing Stars community to be part of this celebration."
The event offers an array of sponsorship opportunities, from Virtual VIP experiences to a "ringside seat" with food, drinks and party favors delivered to your door. MORE INFO HERE.
The foundation of Performing Stars dates to Gaston's childhood in Georgia. "I watched little white girls go off to ballet class and I desperately wished I could go too, but it was unthinkable at that time due to segregation," she says. "However, I never let go of that dream, and I wanted to find a way to help other children of color fulfill their own dreams."
In 1989, Gaston shared her dream with some of her mentors and Performing Stars was born, with "zero budget, but lots of faith, passion and hard work," she says.
"Marin County is one of the wealthiest counties in California, where the income of many is well over $100,000," she says. "Yet there are children who live in isolated and segregated communities here where poverty is concentrated and the annual income is less than $18,000. We believe that every child deserves to 'star' in roles that will help build the self-esteem necessary to face the challenges of successful adulthood."
Gaston says that more than 90 percent of Performing Stars' alumni graduate from high school, with at least 50 percent going on to college or trade school and the remainder getting jobs.
"We've moved children from being like me, that little girl in Georgia who was forced to be a spectator on the outside looking in, to becoming engaged participants on the inside looking out," she says.
In 2019, Felecia Gaston appeared on ABC7 to discuss Performing Stars' youth play "Marinship," about the Marin City's integral role in building ships during World War II. Watch it here: