Name: Donna Thomas
Day Job: Vice President of Sales within the Creative Services Division at Technicolor (Media Services within North America)
Organization of choice: The Thomas Angel Foundation, which gives scholarships to deserving young women in various fields. Her current funding project is a scholarship for aspiring female comedians at the Upright Citizen Brigade to complete the UCB improv program.
How would you describe the mission of the Thomas Angel Foundation?
The Thomas Angel Foundation was established in 2001 with the mission to provide scholarships to deserving young women from my hometown of Warner Robins, GA. As a woman in media and entertainment, I wanted to create a scholarship program specifically for giving financial support to further the education of women in the performing arts program of Northside High School. To date, over $100,000 in funds has been awarded and there have been 35 recipients of the Thomas Angel Foundation scholarship. I am proud to say that these young women have gone on to become doctors, teachers, actors, and corporate financiers; one just joined the Peace Corps.
How did you connect with Upright Citizens Brigade?
In 2013 I had a desire to refine the Thomas Angel Foundation’s mission and find a partner within the entertainment industry that supported women looking to further their education in the arts. After studying at UCB for the past 18 months and getting to know more about the organization, I reached out to discuss partnering to create a scholarship program within UCB for women. The guiding principal of the scholarship is to select a handful of women each year and deeply invest in their education by giving them enough funds to complete their training at UCB.
The support from UCB in the last few months has completely been overwhelming, and the excitement around the mission is exactly what I always envisioned and more!
Why did you choose aspiring female comedians for your scholarship?
The mission has always been to support women in the performing arts. As a woman in the entertainment industry I have been lucky to have some great mentors and supporters. However, sometimes the culture in our industry is not for women to support each other. It’s as if there is a belief that there is a finite amount of positions at the top. I wanted to help even in some small way to create a community of women that receive mentorship and financial support. As these women grew in their careers it was my hope that they reached back and pulled up other women along the way.
I have always been in the performing arts in some way. I was a stand up comic in New York in addition to my “day job.” When I moved to L.A. 18 months ago I began studying at UCB and immediately fell in love with improv and the people in the UCB community. One of my coaches mentioned to me that UCB is an accredited organization and the idea was born to move the foundation to L.A. I reached out to Joe Wengert and Johnny Meeks and they both enthusiastically jumped at the chance to be able to partner with us and support the careers of new women comedians starting their careers.
How do you determine the amount of funds you give and the number of recipients?
The faculty at UCB nominates the students that they feel have potential. From that list of nominees there is an application process. Our Thomas Angel Foundation Board (me, Johnny Meeks, Tricia McAlpin and Echo Kellum) selects ten finalists for an in-person interview and we then select three recipients to receive $2,500 for their education at UCB.
This was our first year and there were so many deserving candidates we decided to give four scholarships instead of three. Each of the women received $2,000. This was made possibly by the $7,500 of funding from the foundation and a generous donation from Echo Kellum of $500.
What would your advice be to someone like you, who wants to give back to her community?
It’s not different than my advice on how I live my life: Just take action, make that first step, and believe that you can achieve whatever it is you want to do. You don’t have to have a great deal of money, power, or influence to help improve the world (whatever that means to you). You just have to find something that you are passionate about and act in whatever way you can. You can volunteer your time, donate money, mentor someone or even start your own foundation. If you can make a difference in one person’s life, it matters. Many small acts of service can create meaningful change in the world.