DCFunemployment: Tell the people – Who Are You?
Latoya Lewis, Founder & Executive Director of EnventU. EnventU is a nonprofit hands-on educational program for underserved teens that explores and expands the career interests of youth through the event production industry. Students produce real-life events by collaborating in the classroom and on-site with industry professionals which fosters an environment for career guidance and mentorship.
Here’s the Bio with ALL the info:
Latoya Lewis unknowingly tapped into a passion for event planning and design at a very young age. Initially drawn to the intricacies of the event creation process, Lewis has come full circle in not just perfecting her craft, but rendering it into an art form. Originally from Los Angeles, she graduated from California State University, Northridge with an emphasis in music, media and the arts.
Latoya began her career at Universal Music Group (UMG) in 2005, where she oversaw and purchased over $1M+ in media ad buys and advertising campaigns for a majority of today’s biggest names in entertainment. Her notably creative campaigns ranged from TV, to print, radio, outdoor and digital web presence. After a long and successful tenure with UMG, Lewis returned to event planning, her longtime calling, and dually enrolled in the Accelerated Masters of Tourism Administration program at The George Washington University (GWU). Upon completion in 2010, Lewis’ talents were sought out by the nationally recognized special events firm, Events by Andre Wells (EAW).
Lewis currently excels in all event platforms, with ongoing experience and expertise in large-scale conferences, conventions, corporate, charity and non-profit occasions; to include weddings and social events. Lewis plays an integral role with EAW, overseeing and executing complex and detailed event logistics with ease, while maintaining and managing vendors, budgets, and all bottom-line aspects of event production.
After over five years with EAW; Latoya decided it was time to bring to fruition a personal dream and start nonprofit organization; EnventU. EnventU is a unique educational initiative designed to explore, nurture, and support the career interests of disadvantaged youth through the multiple components of the event industry. Born as a result of a genuine passion for the events industry and a deep desire to make a difference in the community; Latoya vows to make EnventU the premiere nonprofit organization of the event planning industry.
A leader within her community, Latoya has devoted countless hours volunteering within inner city schools in the Washington, DC area, serving on many boards and working in the community.
DCF: What does being funemployed mean to you & what was your path to funemployment?
LL: Being funemployed means you have found that “sweet spot” where your passion and your purpose intersect perfectly. You are doing what you love in life, it makes a positive impact on this world, and you are compensated for it…in many different ways! For me, the root of “funemployment” is entrepreneurship. (DCF: Love this, so well put and definitely in line with our beliefs on funemployment!) My path to funemployment began with the BELIEF that I was meant to “run something”! I believe in many ways we create our own paths in this life. I have always known the path of entrepreneurship was for me. The first concept for EnventU began during my graduate program at George Washington University when I was encouraged to dream without limits. My assignment was to construct a business plan for my “dream business” and right then the seeds for EnventU were planted. I vowed to take that leap by 35…I turned 35 this year!! (DCF: Happy birthday!!). Once this business plan was written, it was all a matter of holding myself accountable and deciding when to “plan my work and work my plan” as my mother always says. After working for and observing an entrepreneur for over five years, I knew my next step was to become one.
DCF: Who was your first cheerleader?
LL: My family, with my parents leading the charge, have ALWAYS been my biggest cheerleaders and support system. I have said, and always will, that I am just the product of Aletheia and Tommy Lewis and that will never change. Everything I do and all that I am is because of the blessing I have been given to be their daughter. My father in particular was the first person I shared the revamped nuts and bolts of EnventU with. I was visiting my parents in Los Angeles when I had that “A-Ha” moment and the name came to me along with a flood of other ideas one night. (DCF: I love those moments of inspiration and clarity). When my father drove me to the airport the next day I shared with him and he said “write it all down on the flight…every last detail.” When I landed in Washington, DC I had the blueprint of EnventU on paper. I sent my father a photo of my papers and have been building off those notes ever since.
DCF: What experiences in your life prepared you for where you are now?
LL: My time working at Events by Andre Wells, and so close to my mentor Andre Wells, has prepared me the most for entrepreneurship on a number of levels (DCF: I believe it, he is awesome and generous and I imagine would make an excellent mentor). First, by working along-side Andre I was able to observe the triumphs and challenges every business owner experiences on this journey. This allowed me to learn first-hand what obstacles I might encounter and anticipate solutions in advance.
Second, by working with one of the most well respected event producers in the city and across the country I have been exposed to the best of what this industry has to offer. The scale and scope of the projects I have been privy to lead honed my skills as an event producer and instilled in me the knowledge and confidence to start this unique program initiative not seen anywhere in our industry.
Lastly, the relationships I have made have naturally carried over to where so many of my most respected industry colleagues have turned into the biggest champions and partners for EnventU which is extremely reaffirming and humbling.
DCF: Where do you get your inspiration and/or motivation?
LL: My motivation for EnventU has always come from a deep need to have my life impact others in a positive way (DCF: Amen to that!). I have often thought about what my eulogy would include and for me producing amazing events wasn’t enough. My father always said “When you “make-it”, reach back and help others the way someone helped you.” EnventU is my father’s words in action…to actually do something worthwhile is motivating. To provide opportunities to those without one inspires me beyond measure. I have a philanthropic heart…I’m a giver by nature. If EnventU was the only thing I did while on this earth it would be enough…and I would be very proud.
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find balance?
LL: It’s so easy to get caught up in a never ending “to-do” list; especially in a city as driven as Washington, DC. Thus, a balanced life is something I consciously strive for on a daily basis. It is always a challenge that is on the forefront of my mind. Balance amounts to a complete person…it’s everything! For me, balance means taking time out for the ones you love and the things you love to do. Whether it be a weekend road-trip, Happy Hour with friends, or taking in some live music or a comedy show; all of these feed my spirit and keep me grounded.
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
LL: Everyone sacrifices and that means something different to each of us. I have no doubt that Washington, DC is the best place to start and grown a nonprofit organization. However, I have sacrificed my core support system of family and friends in Los Angeles to do so. Granted, my initial relocation to DC was not to start EnventU. But the decision to plant roots here was heavily influenced by what was best for EnventU and that comes with a hefty price tag as it relates to my personal life.
Additionally, as the saying goes, “every entrepreneur is their first major investor”. But it goes so much deeper than financial. Every successful business owner and nonprofit founder has sacrificed their time, money, and energy to foster their dream and bring their vision to life. It’s almost a rite of passage and I’m no different.
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
LL: I cannot recall any specific stand-out struggles that I have faced as a woman. However, it is very clear to me that though my industry is female dominated, as you climb the ladder of “success” many of the individuals at the top given the most exposure are male. Thus, on this journey, when the opportunity presents itself; I will do my part to afford women the chance to not only step onto the ladder but also climb past the invisible ceiling that exists in society across far too many industries.
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
LL: My mother is infamous for sharing many sayings and quotes throughout my upbringing. They were all so ingrained in my sisters and me that I think I follow them without even knowing. However, I wish I would have been taught the concept of “true freedom” while in college. True freedom in this life is to own our time. Time is our most precious commodity which once gone, can never be regained. In order to own our time we need to be financially free…not tied to a job or debt that no longer gives us a choice about what we do with our time. When we own our time, we own our life’s journey and experiences while on this earth which is priceless. That is a major goal for every entrepreneur but you can’t get there unless you have the financial freedom to chase your dreams freely and you can’t chase your dreams if you’re burden by debt. I learned this concept in my late 20’s and it has been life changing. I only wish I had known earlier so I could change my mindset sooner!
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
LL: I’ve always been someone that once committed, through unyielding work ethic and focus, I’ve been able to achieve what I set my mind to. I knew no professional limits and recently learned quickly that I too have one! While launching EnventU, I was/am still working a full-time job, as well as consulting on the side. This was in efforts to create an ideal financial transition for myself as a nonprofit Founder. But I was simply doing too much! (DCF: So important to recognize this sometimes). I was worried about money, security, and the unknown as an entrepreneur to the point where I overextended myself and hit a wall….HARD! I spent months stressed, barely sleeping 2-3 hours a night, running on coffee, floating through tasks, and barely recognized myself. My work on all three-fronts suffered severely and I was left completely drained and embarrassed. I was trying so hard to create a perfectly seamless transition with little-to- no risks involved and I learned that that simply does not exists.
I know that EnventU is my passion and purpose in this life. It is rooted in love….it is God’s work through me….and through this “failure” I learned not to worry about money or having the “perfect transition” to this next phase in my life. I’m creating something so much bigger than myself…that will change lives and yield nothing but good. When this defines your life’s work, there’s nothing else to worry about. I had to surrender myself to the process….embark on that “faith walk”…trust and believe that everything will always work for the good…and I do believe that!
DCF: What is your proudest moment?
LL: My proudest moment to date occurred last October, when EnventU was invited by BizBash CEO and Founder, David Adler, to participate in BizBash’s DC Plan-A- Thon event. As the premiere media publication and certified “Bible” of our industry, I have been a longtime fan of BizBash and subscribed to the magazine for as long as I can remember. To not only have my students invited to participate in this premiere event, but also to have the enthusiasm and support of many veteran industry colleagues in attendance, reaffirmed for me that this program is truly needed in our industry as well as in our communities. The evening culminated with BizBash making a spur-of- the-moment decision to elect EnventU as their official charity donation for the 2015 holiday season. I was overjoyed, overwhelmed, and so very proud.
DCF: So what are you Currently Conquering?
LL: We’re always looking to identify potential partnerships with corporations and other organizations for donations, in-kind sponsorships, as well as event collaborations in advance of our Fall 2016 program session.
Also, EnventU is just wrapping up our Spring program session which concluded with the production of Frank W. Ballou High School’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism “End of Year Celebration” Reception on June 7. With many of our program’s participating students being a part of this academy at Ballou, the students are able to plan and produce their own event which has been an exciting process to foster.
Lastly, we’re gearing up to celebrate our one-year anniversary with a Launch Reception event on June 29th . At this event, we’ll share our progress to date with our industry peers, potential donors, and other supporters. We have tons to celebrate and I am looking forward to it.
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