Today, we’re talking to Hannah Hughes from The David’s Harp Foundation, Inc., which both hold a special place in my heart. We were office neighbors in the East Village Moniker Warehouse, and while I was there for a year, I really got to experience all that is special about their program; witnessing how this foundation has changed the live’s of at-risk homeless youth by inspiring, empowering, and educating them through music, sound engineering, and multi-media production from their state-of-the-art facility here in San Diego.
I couldn’t think of a better person than Hannah Hughes, Director of Communications, to be our #WCW! Read more about this life-saving and inspiring program, and get to know Hannah’s heart of gold and her strive to be a part of something bigger. Plus, her tips on how to overcome fears and a new outlook on defining success.
Tell us the founding purpose and goal of David’s Harp Foundation; when did it begin? How did it begin? Have you been here from the beginning?
The David’s Harp Foundation, Inc. started unofficially in a garage in Southeast San Diego in 2006. Our founder, Brandon Steppe, was doing music in a garage turned music recording studio when local neighborhood kids started finding interest in recording music. Brandon then came up with the idea of trading grades in school for studio time. He created a system that every “A” for one hour, every “B” 30 minutes and no time for a “C.” The students responded and the vision for The David’s Harp Foundation was born. Brandon’s wife saw that this was what he was called to do and lovingly encouraged him quit his job and step out on faith to build out the studio.
Three years later, The David’s Harp Foundation, Inc. was officially a 501c3 nonprofit. The founding purpose and mission statement that still stands is to inspire, educate and empower “at-risk” and homeless youth to achieve academic success through music education, sound engineering and multimedia production. The term “at-risk” often times has a negative connotation, but our team has redefined it to mean at-risk of not reaching their full potential because of a lack of mentorship in their life. We fulfill this mission by partnering with local high schools and community organizations to give students access to our state-of-the-art facility where we provide a curriculum packed with project based learned, academic accountability, practical life skills and consistent mentorship.
I joined the team in July of 2015, but it feels like I have been there forever. Not only do I genuinely love what I do and the students that come through our doors but the team is really my family (a very funny, messy, crazy and genuine family).
How did you get started with David’s Harp Foundation? Why or how did you choose non-profit work?
About 3 years ago I learned about DHF and knew it was something I wanted to be a part of (even though I had no idea what that would look like). I volunteered to help with administrative needs, as I so clearly saw the void with a staff of all dudes, but Brandon said no. At the time it made no sense to me! But much later I found out that he talked to some of my close friends and people in our mutual circle and saw all I was involved in and how thinly I was stretched and made the call to not add one more thing to my plate. At the time, it was frustrating, but looking back I am so grateful that he cared enough to let me go even though DHF needed the help. About a year later, after DHF became a lost idea, I got a call out of the blue from Brandon asking if I wanted to meet for coffee. I am a sucker for good conversation and tasty coffee, so I agreed with no hesitation.
As we started to talk he shared with me about his vision for the organization and the history of how far it had come. I felt something deep inside me light up and my passion being sparked for the first time in a while. Towards the end of our conversation, he told me he had an offer. He had created a position just for me and he felt like DHF is where I needed to be. He explained what the job entailed and told me to think about it. It didn’t take me long to know this is exactly what I wanted to do, so I called him back and agreed to start part time as the Director of Communications.
Before I started working at DHF I was working full time at a nonprofit called The San Diego Kids Expo and Fair as well as part time for two other nonprofits. I had been involved (whether working or volunteering) with some nonprofit since I was in high school. There was something in me that loved working for a mission and purpose and not just clocking in for a paycheck. I firmly believe that I am wired to serve people, and the nonprofit sphere yielded itself to that well.
What does working for DH mean to you?
I could write a novel to answer this question, but I will try to keep it brief. Working at DHF means more to me than I will ever be able to express in words. From the time I was in high school, I have always had a deep passion for underserved and “at-risk” teens. My dad passed away when I was 13 and my eyes opened to a whole new level of hurt. I started to see signs of breaking hearts and deep rooted hurts come out in behavior outbursts, drug use, alcohol consumption, unhealthy relationships, poor school performance and lack of engagement.
But then I noticed that this was the group that schools and society liked to call “at-risk.” When I found myself in that very category towards the end of middle school and throughout high school I saw that the real problem came from broken homes, absent parents, tough life circumstance and many things out of the control of a teen. My heart broke for the other kids around me and a deep empathy was born. I believe that my broken story has led me to a place of being able to reach and understand this demographic in a unique way. So having the ability to work for an organization that tirelessly serves this group and has dedicated their life to making a difference one teen at a time, I was thrilled.
Beyond the nature of the job and my passion for this generation, DHF was the first crazy step of faith I took in my young adult life. I worked jobs that I knew I could be replaced in and jobs that were easy for me instead of pursuing something that made my heart beat.
Joining the DHF team full time was me believing in myself and the way I was designed for the first time. As a result, I gained a huge family. Not only the other staff member that have become my protective big brothers but also all the students we serve. And that is priceless, there are no words to be able to describe what it is like to intentionally walk in your calling every day.
Describe/outline your typical day.
I’m not sure I have a “typical day” but I attend many meetings, send a lot of emails, talk to students, cultivate stories, communicate with our community of support and develop community relationships.
When you first started with DH, what was your greatest fear, and how did you manage this fear? Does this fear still exist today?
My greatest fear when I started DHF was feeling inadequate and not being everything I needed to be. I was so scared that what Brandon saw in me was really not there and I wasn’t qualified enough for the positon. Insecurity is real and on tough days this fear very much exists. But I am surrounded by an amazing group of people that remind of my purpose and calling all the time. I found that the best way to overcome this is to stop being so consumed with myself and wondering if I am good enough and instead focus on what I am there for. When I started thinking about the students and actually doing what I was there to do, it became a lot easier! But for me, having a community around me that speaks truth into my life and encourages me when it is tough and celebrates with me when it is easy is incredible!
How do you define success?
What a great question! I think recently I have redefined this in my personal life, after learning from our students. Success, for me, is showing up and putting everything you are into whatever you are doing. Whether that is having a conversation, sending an email, giving a presentation or just being at work- show up! When it is hard, keep pushing. Don’t do it alone and allow others into your broken mess. Transparency is the biggest weapon we have! When you fail, try again. When you excel, stay humble and encourage others around you. Life is hard and I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for just showing up.
My dad used to always tell me to do everything with excellence and set a standard not for others, but for yourself. The older I get, the truer this becomes. Success for me is not a big paycheck or statistics I can show off. Success in my book is hard to measure. How do you measure the depth of relationships, the grace that was extended when it wasn’t easy, the smile that was shown when the day was hard, the courage exerted to let people into a struggle, the unconditional love shown in tough circumstances, and the courage it takes to share your personal story? All of these things can’t really be quantitated, but they are what I work for every day. My goal is that my life has an abundance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in every situation.
What sacrifices have you made in order to help David’s Harp thrive, if any?
I firmly believe that some of the best things come when we are willing to sacrifice.
When I started working at DHF part-time, I had three other paying jobs. My lifestyle, though not abundant, was very comfortable. I worked all the time, but the pay was nice. I could have maintained that and stayed working part-time for DHF. But within the first week of being there I knew that the 15 hours a week that I was at DHF I was more fulfilled and on fire than all the other jobs combined. I saw the potential of what could be and took a bold step of faith to quit all of my other jobs and commit to DHF fulltime, even though I was only able to be paid for part-time work.
David’s Harp is a small nonprofit and was in a pivotal position for growth. Much like how Brandon saw something in me that not even I could see, I knew that I was willing to invest my time and talent into this without the promise of a pay increase. But that is a testament to how much I believed in what that place is. If I had to cut back my Starbucks consumption and shopping habits, I would do so without hesitation or regret. I am still making only about 60% of what I was making before I quit my other jobs, but there has not been one day I would wish to go back!
What have been some of your or the organization’s failures what have you learned from them?
I have way too many failures to count, I guess that is the beauty of being an imperfect person! One of the more recent failures came from a presentation I gave to a room full of business people. Every time we are given the opportunity to speak, it is such a privilege to share what we do and gain exposure for the impact the nonprofit is making. I came into this event distracted and not focused and was not present at all. I know my speech well enough to be able to do it with my eyes closed. So when I took the stage, I was less than inspiring. I shared the information but I didn’t share from my heart and as a result we missed some valuable connections and I didn’t represent the organization well.
I learned that more than any presentation or opportunity, it is so important to be invested in people and to be present. It is easy to coast through life, but amazing things happen when we put our phones down and are really aware of everything that is happening around us. It was a great chance to open my eyes.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to run a successful non-profit organization?
Tell us about any programs that David’s Harp offers.
David’s Harp offers 9 unique curriculums for our students to experience. We offer everything from song writing, production, videography and podcasting to name a few. We believe that by teaching teens how to create the media they consume on a daily basis, we are empowering them to use their voice and make an impact in society.
What has been the greatest accomplishment for David’s Harp? How did this accomplishment come about?
Our greatest accomplishment, in my opinion, is growth. Over the last two years we have expanded to reach over 200 youth in the inner-city of San Diego with 10 partnerships in the community. That is 200 students that have access to a safe place of expression where they can come and be heard with no judgments or expectations. That is 200 youth that are off the streets engaging in something to better their future and inspire their present circumstances.
This all happened with being faithful with what we had and taking bold steps to continue to push the vision forward. It happened by being focused on every student that walks through our doors and not looking at them as a problem or opportunity to turn into a statistic, but meeting them where they are at and starting a conversation- human to human.
Are volunteer spots open throughout the year? What type of help does DH need? Does DH have donation programs and sponsorships?
Volunteering is difficult because it takes a special skillset to be able to teach music and production and have a passion for youth. There are opportunities to help with certain projects or events throughout the year. If someone is interested, I would love to sit down and see what we can come up with! They can contact me at Hannah@davidsharpfoundation.org
Growing our community of support is our biggest focus right now! We are one the brink of a huge expansion (to be able to server 50% more youth in the community since we are at capacity now) and financial support is huge! You can donate on the website (http://davidsharpfoundation.org/donate-3/) or reach out to me about how to mail in a donation. The coolest campaign we have going right now is our $25 monthly sponsorship. This will help support one student to go through our program! For details and more options- feel free to email!
Are there any upcoming events for DH?
Make sure to like our social media pages to find out about upcoming events (@davidsharpfound on facebook, Instagram and twitter). In January we will have our 2nd Open Mic Night, benefit concerts and other events and then in April we have our Annual Open House!
Be a part of our community! Join us at The Common Good holiday party, this Thursday, December 1st to help support David’s Harp Foundation, Inc. There will be food trucks, wine, cocktails, and your ticket gets you all you can drink craft beer! And you can even do some holiday shopping at their pop-up market, get your groove on, and get a dose of art therapy! Be sure to click here for your tickets.