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Frankie Zuniga: Creative Solutions Success Story

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The journey begins with trepidation. It’s a trip fueled by empowering pit stops that foster motivation. Each turning point provides strength and speed, and a clearer vision of the finish line.

Frankie Zuniga is on his way.

In the three years since Frankie joined Big Thought’s Creative Solutions program, the 20-year-old Dallas native graduated from high school, started attending college, connected with local arts and business leaders, and found his true passion for acting and dancing while developing a genuine interest in nursing and criminal justice.

His days of being a 12-year-old troublemaker hanging out with the wrong crowd are long gone. He learned from his mistakes, Frankie will quickly tell you. He’s here because he was there.

“Creative Solutions gave me a future,” Frankie says. “It taught me to look at the positive, and turn a negative into a positive. They never gave up on us. They never labeled us as criminals even though we were on probation. Nobody is a bad person; you just make bad choices.”

Big Thought’s Creative Solutions program utilizes professional teaching artist mentors and a research-based curriculum to enhance empathy, critical thinking, teamwork skills and grit in teen probates. The 20-year partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department 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 Texas Bar Foundation.

Frankie, who lives in Dallas with his father, was on the cusp of his senior year at Lancaster High School when he finally accepted the Creative Solutions invitation. He had been asked to join twice before but turned it down each time. The leap was a huge one for him. By then Frankie had better control of his depression and his self-esteem began its slow ascent. By then Frankie had also commenced the process of coming out as bisexual – first to his sister, then to his mother and siblings, and finally to his father.

Frankie is the youngest of seven children. He has one sister and five brothers. One of those brothers is transitioning into a woman. Frankie’s parents, both from Mexico, are separated.

When Frankie made that walk across the stage at his high school graduation in 2013, his surname ensuring he’d be the final graduate to shake hands for his diploma, he had already emerged from his shell. Thanks to Creative Solutions his senior year was filled with drama class activities, plays, technical theater, Project Discovery, Dallas Theater Center’s signature education program, and University Interscholastic League. Alejandro Pérez, Jr., Creative Solutions teaching artist, introduced Frankie to dancing.

“He was like, ‘Just try it.’ I wasn’t really into dancing, but it’s awesome. I love it. I can’t put choreography together, but give me one and I’m a great dancer. I found a way to express myself. It’s something I love to do.”

So naturally Frankie’s major at El Centro Community College is performing arts with a concentration in acting and dancing. His minor is nursing and criminal justice. He plans to pursue nursing and criminal justice as a career while he works on his acting and dancing crafts.

Frankie’s college livelihood circles right back to Creative Solutions. At the Creative Solutions 20th anniversary luncheon last May, Frankie spoke about acting and dancing as his saviors, as the fortifying elixirs that helped him overcome many obstacles. It was at that luncheon that Frankie met Jorge Baldor, the local businessman and Havana, Cuba native who is an ardent benefactor of Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School program La Rondalla. Baldor is sponsoring Frankie’s college education.

But there’s more: Frankie has forged a nice relationship with the folks at Telemundo 39 in Dallas. He shadowed directors, designers and many others for one day last March at the NBC Universal-owned station. He’ll be back for another shadowing day Nov. 4. Through his Telemundo connections he was invited to the Hispanic Business Salute 2015 at AT&T Stadium, where he met a slew of industry movers and shakers. Frankie also has plans to apply for a Telemundo scholarship to be awarded in 2016.

And then there’s AmeriCorps, the national non-profit that works in local communities to promote change through service. Frankie is an AmeriCorps volunteer, another extension of his Creative Solutions involvement, and he serves as an assistant choreographer teaching kids dance steps.

It’s all part of the journey for Frankie Zuniga. His journey from depression, low self-esteem and probation to fulfillment, self-awareness and college began with Creative Solutions.

“I got out of my shell; it helped me express myself,” he says. “Thanks to Creative Solutions I met Jorge Baldor, who is paying for my college. Whenever Creative Solutions invites me somewhere, and they take me there, something good happens. Creative Solutions is like my second family. Creative Solutions helped me get myself out there. They opened all these doors for me. They are here to listen to you. It’s like home.”

Big ThoughtFrankie Zuniga: Creative Solutions Success Story