Since 1988, one local organization has been utilizing art as a tool to transform young lives. Today, YAYA, or Young Aspirations/Young Artists, reaches over 4,000 students annually with a mission of molding creative young talent into successful and productive adults.

Recently the nonprofit organization presented its annual fundraising event, “Just Say YAYA,” at the group’s Mid-City Art Studio. Over 400 patrons turned out in force to support the effort, which generated funds for YAYA’s brand new Arts Center slated to open in summer. The state-of-the art facility will be located in Central City and is under construction.

“At YAYA, art is a tool that helps to build confidence within the children we touch. Our mission is as much about personal development as it is about identifying young talent and incubating that talent,” explained YAYA’s Director Baty Landis.

In fact, much of YAYA’s student body was on hand for the organization’s annual gala fundraiser. I met the Brightman family, who were all brimming with pride at the accomplishments of their Amaya. The 13-year-old had just sold her very first piece of art at the event, and while we chatted, young Amaya was whisked away by a fellow classmate because another admirer was interested in an additional piece of her glass art that was up for sale. At every turn, YAYA students filled the room with a joyful presence.

By design, a significant number of YAYA faculty members also are graduates of the program. There’s something magical about a teacher who not only talks the talk but has walked the same walk as the kids they are mentoring. There’s a sense of family and community that seems to touch everyone associated with this organization. That sense of community also extends to professional artists, many of whom volunteer their time to work with kids enrolled in YAYA’s programming.

In an academic environment that is increasingly more and more challenged by limited resources for funding art programs, YAYA steps up and delivers opportunity for the artistic children of our area. If you missed “Just Say YAYA” this past weekend, stay tuned for the group’s next big opportunity to support one of our city’s most promising and successful arts education programs. For more information on YAYA, visit www.yayainc.com.

La Vie de Ville captures city life New Orleans style every Thursday in The New Orleans Advocate’s Crescent City news section. For coverage of your community event in Vie, please submit coverage request with details in advance to robertagrove@hotmail.com.