February 15, 2011
Acting from the heart
USC freshman Shayna Turk, a 2010 graduate and former class president of New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, didn’t expect a nice gesture with a simple purpose to turn into a mitzvah with the power to save and restore young lives. The musical theater summer camp she created seven years ago, Shayna Turk’s Academy of Rising Stars (S.T.A.R.S.), has evolved into a substantial philanthropic enterprise.
Her selfless, charitable pursuit garnered her the title of Young Entrepreneur of The Year in June 2010 and a $10,000 college scholarship from the National Federation of Independent Business Young Entrepreneur Foundation and Visa.
As a child, Turk was an actress, an extrovert and an overachiever. She began to act in plays and musicals at the age of 5 and starred in dozens of productions throughout her youth. When she earned a leading role in the musical “Grease” while her little sister was given a part in the chorus, Turk thought her sister deserved better. This sowed the seeds of her idea for a performing arts camp for kids, where everyone would have a chance to participate, gain confidence and have fun.
At age 11, Turk began holding drama classes for children in her home in Agoura Hills. The idea was to teach them to perform a popular musical and have a public performance at the end of the course. She turned her grandparents’ nearby garage into a theater with a stage.
At the same time, Turk became very close to Delaney Small, a now-8-year-old neighbor who suffered from a congenital heart problem. When Delaney’s mother, Brenda, created Music for Heart, a nonprofit dedicated to helping pay for third-world children to have the same open-heart surgery that saved Delaney’s life, Turk dedicated hours to helping her promote the charity.
S.T.A.R.S. grew in popularity and profitability, presenting multiple live productions per summer and charging a modest sum for tickets. Turk immediately linked her two passions. “I started to donate the proceeds, from the time of my bat mitzvah. I was just so touched and connected to the organization and the family, that I saw an opportunity to help in another way,” she said.
Ticket sales, camp tuition and donations have enabled her to raise $10,000 over the years to help pay for the surgeries of several Salvadoran children. She has also been to El Salvador twice to visit children with heart conditions.
Turk thinks the charitable aspect of her business helped her win the Young Entrepreneur award from among 4,300 applicants nationwide, and she credits her parents, Gregory, a dentist, and Diana, herself an entrepreneur, with instilling in her the value of tzedakah.
When reflecting on her experience with the children she’s taught at her camp, as well as those whose lives she helped save, Turk said she feels humbled and appreciative. “I didn’t know it would have such an effect on me. It changed my character.”