Texas Bar Foundation Grant to Fund Creative Solutions

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

We thank the generosity of the Texas Bar Foundation. Big Thought has received a $10,000 grant from the Austin-based Texas Bar Foundation to fund Creative Solutions, a 20-year program that utilizes professional teaching artist mentors and a research-based curriculum to enhance empathy, critical thinking, teamwork skills and grit in teen probates.

“We are so grateful to the Texas Bar Foundation for their generous gift to Creative Solutions,” says Lisa Schmidt, Creative Solutions Founder. “Creative Solutions has made a huge difference in the lives of so many young people. This gift insures that we continue to keep this program strong and viable.”

Creative Solutions is a 20-year partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department that benefits from the generous support of the DCJD Juror’s Fund/Youth Services Advisory Board; Grant Thornton, LLP; the M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation; Neiman Marcus; Texas Commission on the Arts – Arts Respond; the W.P. & Bulah Luse Foundation, Bank of America, N.A.; and the Elizabeth Toon Charities.

The program has revealed the potential of more than 10,000 students in the last two decades. According to the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS) analysis over the past two summers: 41 percent of youth increased their social skills score by more than 5 percent; and 40 percent of youth decreased their problem behaviors score by more than 5 percent. Both figures are considered statistically significant.

The Texas Bar Foundation grant to fund Creative Solutions marks the beginning of a new relationship between the foundation and Big Thought.

Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $16 million in grants to law-related programs. Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitable-funded bar foundation.

Big ThoughtTexas Bar Foundation Grant to Fund Creative Solutions

Appreciating Our Donors on National Philanthropy Day

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

We thank you for your generosity – officially.

National Philanthropy Day, as first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan back in 1986, is November 15. This special occasion is not only an official day; it’s also a grassroots movement. Communities across the globe celebrate by hosting events to recognize and appreciate the efforts of donors, volunteers, foundations, leaders, corporations, and others engaged in philanthropy, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Here at Big Thought we would like to express sincere gratitude to all our donors. We thank our giving corporations. We appreciate our generous foundations. We recognize our caring individual donors.

We thank you all for your generosity on National Philanthropy Day and every day.

Big ThoughtAppreciating Our Donors on National Philanthropy Day

Dallas City of Learning, LRNG Platform Debuts Spring 2016

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Dallas City of Learning, managed by Big Thought in partnership with the Dallas Mayor’s office, along with three other Cities of Learning, national education, technology and corporate leaders, merged under the new LRNG initiative. LRNG is a bold new endeavor to close the nation’s opportunity gap – the growing divide between young people who have access to 21st century opportunities and those who don’t. The new platform takes effect in Dallas in Spring 2016.

LRNG has joined forces with Gap Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Electronic Arts, the Schultz Family Foundation and Grammy Award-winning musical artist John Legend, along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to launch a movement that combines in-school, out-of-school, employer-based and online learning experiences into a seamless network open to all youth.

Locally, Big Thought thanks the current support of Bank of America, Best Buy, City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, DART, Fossil Foundation, Microsoft, NBC Universal, and other generous sponsors.

“With the support of Cities of LRNG, we’re now part of a national network that channels resources towards local cities, broadening our program offerings for students,” said Gigi Antoni, President and CEO of Big Thought. “Young people will be able to explore even more options, and earn digital badges credentialing their out-of-school learning from across the country.”

LRNG is powered by Collective Shift, a new nonprofit funded in part by the MacArthur Foundation and dedicated to redesigning social systems for the connected age. Collective Shift will scale the work of vanguard cities, including Dallas, and grow the program to 70 cities in three years.

Since 2014, Dallas City of Learning has served 34,743 students via 1,753 programs encompassing 285,140 hours of student learning while earning digital badges for exemplary work in science, art, computer literacy, design and many more. Since the DCoL launch, 37,727 digital badges were earned.

“Dallas City of Learning, now Dallas LRNG, will continue to give youth the opportunity to learn in potent, pertinent and stimulating ways,” says Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. “By tapping into a variety of strong resources throughout the city – parents, schools, cultural institutions and corporations – we can broaden the reach of top-notch education programming allowing every young person to keep learning.”

Cities of LRNG will build on the success of a three-year demonstration project in Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. that served more than 100,000 youth during recent summer programming.

Cities of LRNG will network the rich learning opportunities available at schools, creative camps and classes, science museums, and workplace internships and link them to the larger LRNG ecosystem. LRNG will fulfill the promise of learning in the connected age, making in-person and online experiences visible, available and inviting to all youth.

For more information about LRNG, visit

Big ThoughtDallas City of Learning, LRNG Platform Debuts Spring 2016

La Rondalla Unites Students and Community Through Music

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Tuesday afternoon, rush hour traffic is roaring, and there’s a neighborly din outside the Bishop Arts Theater in Oak Cliff. But inside guitars are strumming. If you walk up to the theater’s second floor, you’ll hear the whip-bang-boom of a drum kit.

La Rondalla workshops fill the Tyler Street venue with music. In the auditorium teacher Michael King has the largest class, 15 children learning the rudiments of beginners’ acoustic guitar. The tween-aged kids, about evenly divided between male and female, finger the fret, strum, then repeat. King counts down the rhythm as he gingerly surveys his students.

“They are very tender so we want them to learn the finger patterns, the rhythms, the chords,” says King, who also teaches 6th grade language arts at Alex W. Spence Talented/Gifted Academy. “They are learning motor skills, show and do, cooperative learning. They communicate in their own way. When I instruct them, that exposure gives them trust and confidence. It establishes relationships.”

La Rondalla, now in its sixth year, has never been just about learning to play guitar, bass and drums. Conceptualized by Big Thought and multi-instrumentalist Dennis Gonzalez, himself a veteran of recording, performing and teaching, La Rondalla aims to nurture social, emotional and psychological growth in children through the power of music.

“These kids realize what a mystery music is,” says Gonzalez. “It helps them emotionally, psychologically. They communicate with each other without speaking.

The free program, which is under Big Thought’s Thriving Minds umbrella, has been immensely successful from its 2010 onset. It was housed at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center through June 2015, when it was obvious Rondalla was in desperate need of more space. About 81 students are enrolled through the end of 2015, 96 percent of which are Hispanic.

“That was not by design,” says Gonzalez about the high Hispanic involvement, “but we are in this neighborhood.”

At the core of La Rondalla is the faculty. In addition to patient talent such as King, Rondalla benefits from two of Gonzalez’s sons, Aaron teaching acoustic bass and Stefan leading the drum kit instruction, as well as Kenny Withrow, a founding member of Oak Cliff’s own Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, on advanced and intermediate guitar, and Gregg Prickett on intermediate guitar.

“I set the direction with Aaron’s help, and then we moved and grew and tried this and that, always succeeding at every turn,” says Gonzalez. “The choice of faculty was key.”

It also helps to have passionate support. Local businessman and Havana, Cuba native Jorge Baldor, who founded the Latino Center for Leadership Development, is an ardent benefactor of La Rondalla.

“La Rondalla changes lives,” says Baldor, a graduate of Dallas’ Southern Methodist University. “It goes well beyond being a great after school music program. They bring students together from a number of schools to form a close bond with them and among them. Their lessons are life lessons, not just musical. Each student’s individual confidence is bolstered as they learn life skills and social skills among each other and while performing for the community.”

Kids come in from more than just Oak Cliff. Rondalla students make the trek from as far as Balch Springs, DeSoto and Mesquite. Community performances are plentiful, most recently La Rondalla opened the Oak Cliff Coalition for the Arts festivities at Oak Cliff’s Cedar Crest House. Past performances include the 2012 Conference for Community Arts Education at the Fairmont Dallas, TEDxSMU 2012 at the City Performance Hall, the 2013 Linz Award at the Hilton Anatole, and the 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors, to name a few.

Professional showcases cap the communal spirit of playing together during the daily two-hour workshops. Karina Fuentes, 16, keeps soaking up that positive energy. Fuentes, who attends Mesquite’s Poteet High School and is a four-year La Rondalla student, studies drums and guitar. She also plays piano and marvels as the musical diversity that defines her Rondalla experience.

“The teachers put a lot of effort into trying to teach kids music and build up their creativity,” says Fuentes, who plans to be a nurse practitioner. “I like the teaching style because they are like jazz players and there are a lot of musical styles in it. To be able to play a song you have to practice, so it’s like staying in school.”

Jose Christopher Torres, 18 and a student at Oak Cliff Faith Family Academy, also studies drums and guitar at Rondalla. In his spare time he composes classical pieces on the piano. Torres feels the connection that music creates; he revels in the communal learning atmosphere he shares with his Rondalla classmates.

“It’s helpful for me and for others because I learn something that they didn’t pick up and I can teach it to them later instead of interrupting the class,” says Torres, who is interested in entomology and astrophysics. “It is a community so we all learn together as one. It’s a feeling of one. Our feelings are united toward music.”

Big ThoughtLa Rondalla Unites Students and Community Through Music