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Philanthropist introduces live theater to inner city youth


When her brother was killed in a car crash, Cynthia Stafford made it a point to do whatever she could to do to help keep his family together. That help ended up meaning fighting for custody of her brother’s five children (ages 3-10) to prevent them from being split up into foster homes. At the time, she didn’t have the means to care for the children, but even still, opted to quit her job to become a full-time parent and raise them. Stafford always had faith that she would find a way to care for the children.

In 2007, her faith paid off when she dreamed of winning a lump sum of money. She did. From a two-dollar, lottery ticket, Stafford won $112 million in the California lottery and took the $67 million payout, which she split with family members.

Since the lottery win, Stafford has continued to dedicate her life to giving back not only to the new children in her life but to other charitable organizations in the community. “I wanted to help the same charities I’d already been donating to,” said Stafford “I picked each charity, because I believe deeply in their missions, goals and forward-thinking initiatives, and all have causes which are near and dear to my heart.”

Stafford remembers at 5 years old her mother instilled in her the importance of giving. That was the age she started donating her allowance to UNICEF. Now, she continues to help them as well as Kids in Tte Spotlight, an organization that teaches foster children and at-risk youth how to tell stories on film, and The Natural Resources Defense Council, which works to protect wildlife and to ensure a healthy environment for all life on earth.

Stafford also dedicated $1 million to the Geffen Playhouse, a Los Angeles theater, to support an arts program for inner city kids. For some of the teens who that have been touched by the program, their experience at Geffen was their first time getting to see live theater.

On Wednesday June 15 Stafford will host the first-ever Cynthia Stafford’s “Gifted Day at the Geffen” where she is teaming up with the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to bring 250 middle school students from Hollenbeck, Carver, Markham, Stevenson, and Gompers middle schools in Los Angeles, to Westwood for a full day of theatre education.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the theater, and I wanted to introduce students to a world they may not know much about,” said Stafford. “This day will honor L.A. students for their hard work in school and hopefully add to their already existing drive.”

Prior to the event, students will be led through a workshop which will help them to write a one-page autobiographical story following the theme, “I was…now I am.” Their story will focus on a significant event in their lives that changed the way they see the world, themselves or their community. Stafford and the Geffen Playhouse’s education department will read and write responses to all submitted stories, some of which may be read from the stage as part of the day’s program. Students will also have the opportunity to speak to cast members and director Randall Arney of Superior Donuts, the play they will watch-during a post-show discussion.

“If you want to do good for others, start now,” she says. “Don’t wait for the perfect time, because it doesn’t exist. Don’t wait until you have a certain amount of money in the bank, because giving back is not all about money. You can always give of yourself, your time, your services, your energy, and your talents. Whatever you have that you have been blessed with, use it to be a blessing to someone else. Don’t hold back, because it will return to you. As you give so shall you receive tenfold.”

Stafford, in recent years also formed the Cynthia P. Stafford Foundation through which she conducts her philanthropy, and Queen Nefertari Productions, a film company which has been very successful with its release of “The Inheritance” (visit Stafford can be reached via Facebook (Cynthia Strafford) and Twitter @visualizewithme.