The Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center (OCCTAC) offers programs that unite the arts with academics and creative therapies for at-risk youth and children with special needs. Founder and CEO, Dr. Ana Jimenez-Hami, recognized as a “Woman Who Makes a Difference” has received both the National Hispanic Business Women Association Award and the National Award for Creativity in Special Education. For nearly 20 years, OCCTAC has provided artistic training in the fields of Music, Visual Arts, Dance, Musical Theatre, Technology Therapeutic Arts, and other support services that promote family wellness and community development.
Dr. Jimenez-Hami opens doors to the arts for families in need. She empowers at-risk youth through education and leadership development and researches educational methods to help her community succeed in academia. Her non-profit’s mission does not provide food or shelter to children in need, but it serves to nourish their souls. OCCTAC's mission is to give the community's children a place to heal. A place to learn. A place to express themselves through art.
Here is my recent interview with Dr. Jimenez-Hami:
What are some of the challenges you face in growing OCCTAC?
Unfortunately, our society doesn’t prioritize the arts. Funding is extremely important and difficult to come by in operating a non-profit in the arts. There is always more support for sports as you even see this at the university level. If you are starting a non-profit arts organization, you have to be trained in writing grants to get funding. Fortunately, people see that we have a history, sponsors and government funding now so they see OCCTAC as a serious organization. But, at the beginning, I had a lot of challenges.
Our mission is not providing shelter or food for the homeless. But, we are nourishing these families in need by utilizing the arts for healing. Our focus is therapeutic. We serve children who are victims of abuse and violence where traditional therapy may not have helped. Our children can work with an art therapist and heal. We need to look at the arts as transformational rather than a privileged enrichment. A child’s heart can heal through artistic expression. It can transform their trauma. The arts can change lives.
What are some key learnings you experienced being a leader in the non-profit sector?
It is crucial to listen to people with whom you work, to really put yourself in their position. Being a role model for your colleagues and employees is important. You can’t just preach, you have to be the example. Collaborating and supporting their vision and passion are vital, too. Our board members give from their heart and they volunteer their time so I must also listen to their voices and perspectives.
I believe you can learn from your professional work. Everything you do has a resulting lesson to learn and it always comes back to you. Whatever you set your mind to do, you can create. When you do good work you always receive good in return. From small lessons to big lessons, our work guides us as to how to become a better human being. When we interview people for a position, I always ask, “What is your passion?” I ask this question because I want to attract employees whose purpose is to be true to their passion, and if it matches ours, then they are a great candidate for our organization.
What motivates you as a leader in the non-profit sector?
I feel so happy when I see children come to the center as their safe haven. All children deserve to learn the arts. When you look at the world, you see poor communities that do not have access to the arts. It brings joy to my heart providing this point of entry. Without OCCTAC, these kids would not have the opportunity to learn piano or play the violin. The first thing that is often cut in schools is arts programming so we fill this important gap. Serving children with special needs is my biggest motivation. Families come to us from all over Orange County because they can’t find music, art or dance for their children. It is rare to find arts organizations that cater to kids who have special needs.
Last night, we had our annual holiday concert. We have kids with autism like, William, who has moderate to severe autism. William played this beautiful classical piano piece, Mozart Allegro, a Sonata in C major. Then there is, Roberto, a child with autism playing Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy on piano. Roberto also plays the viola and violin and he is an accomplished visual artist. These kids have so much potential! I am so incredibly proud!
Thank you, Dr. Jimenez-Hami!
Dr. Ana Jimenez-Hami is not only a music maker in her own right, but also fulfilling her greatest role by giving children in need a spotlight to shine.
If you would like more information or would like to donate to OCCTAC, please click here: https://www.occtac.org