Annette Toro is GHCC-Sponsored VISTA member at Unchained Talent , which provides performing arts mentoring program for at-risk youth in Northeast Baltimore City. Here, Annette explains how service and the performing arts can improve lives – including her own.
I come from salty hair and sandy beaches. I grew up in Melbourne, FL and spent my summers on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I can scarcely remember a time when I didn’t spend my days sporting rosy cheeks and a wet bathing suit. But despite my incredibly privileged childhood, my memories are colored with sadness and loneliness. Struggling with depression and anxiety most of my life has been the impetus for my choice to serve.
Indigenous Australian artist and activist Lilla Watson once said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” This quote has been central to my experience as a volunteer and as a person. I firmly believe that our liberation as human beings is inextricably tied to each other, and in my experience, our best shot at happiness and fulfillment is to invest in one another.
A major force in my life that has grounded me from a young age has been music and theater performances. Through these mediums, I unearthed qualities within me that are authentic to how I believe we should exist among one another as we face life’s joys and obstacles—with confidence, passion, and malleability. Performing arts have the capability to inexplicably benefit lives by opening up the mind to see something new and colorful within the day to day grayness. My position as the Arts and Mentorship Coordinator VISTA for Unchained Talent has only served to solidify this view.
As a second year full-time volunteer, I chose to stay in Baltimore because it has a way of charming you. Baltimore is a place with many issues but it also is a place of triumph and pride. The spirit of the city captured me and I had no choice but to stay. My favorite part of my work has come from creating a college access mentoring program for our participating students. Not only will they have access to a creative outlet to find their voice but they will also have access to a program that gives them the practical skills they need to set and achieve any goal they may have. While it may be difficult to get students and mentors to buy into this long term partnership, I hope to get them both excited about what is possible when we invest in one another.