Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”
Edition 19 — Amy Zahlaway
The First Job I Loved
Amy Zahlaway is a jack of all trades. She earned a fair share of job experience at Artists For Humanity: first as a teen videographer, then an assistant film mentor, and finally, a recruitment coordinator. Later she worked in communications at the Lewis Family Foundation. Now she’s a hairstylist at Patrice Vinci Salon on Newbury street.
Whether it was producing media or styling hair, Amy insists that every single one of these jobs employ the skills and confidence she developed at AFH.
“AFH shows people, especially adults, the importance of the creative industry for youth. A lot of people can’t see the value that art can hold in a young person’s life. It trickles into their professional self-esteem, their ability to get a job and to work with confidence in any industry.”
Amy asserts her ability to problem-solve is a real-life application of her experience in filmmaking. Planning and being attentive to an audience are universally valuable skills she first practiced at AFH, skills she’s used in other workspaces. Amy draws connections between her work in the film studio and the work she’s done outside of it.
“You storyboard. You think of what you need to do to get that. You set up your shots, what time of the day you need to be there, your camera, your batteries, and the lighting. You have to go there, you have to do it and then you have to edit it to produce a project that people want to watch.”
“When given a task, I‘ve always been able to build a system around it, follow through, and be successful with it.”
Though working at AFH wasn’t Amy’s first job, it was the first paid job Amy had as a teenager that also incorporated her interest in the arts.
“I’ve worked at Sullivan’s on Castle Island before — I guess you could say working at AFH was the first job I loved. I did AFH year-round, in the summertime, and during school. Even when I wasn’t on the job, I was there constantly. I liked it because the art classes at my school weren’t so strong and because they didn’t continue outside of school.”
“I was interested in combining art and work. I wanted to keep art as a part of my life. Besides AFH, I don’t know any other place that does that for teenagers.”
Amy expresses disbelief about her first week at AFH when she helped produce video content for Google. However, she admits her most memorable client job was Boston-specific — filming a concert at the Hatch Shell.
“It was nighttime. We got to go underneath the Hatch Shell, to see the inner workings and to use these fancy cameras that I had never even worked with before.”
“It was a shocking moment! I was on a film crew and not in the crowd. We were all dressed in black — very legitimate — and then on top, the orchestra was playing music.”
Speaking with Amy, who is so well-spoken and self-assured, I’m surprised when she tells me her confidence has grown a lot since she first started AFH. Both amazing project opportunities and mentors, such as Jason Talbot aka SWAT, were instrumental in encouraging her confidence.
“Jason is very funny and a big personality. I was so quiet when I first started. I feel like I didn’t talk my entire first summer, but he would get it out of me and make me laugh. The whole crew did.”
“It’s why I loved AFH so much — because no one was ever an outcast. It never felt like you were out of place or that people didn’t want you around.”
After Amy graduated as a teen participant and attended the University of Massachusetts Boston, she returned to AFH and continued adding to her job experience.
Amy assisted Jason Talbot as an Assistant Video Mentor and then became a Recruitment Coordinator, working closely with Rob Gibbs, Co-founder and Painting Studio Director. Being trusted with responsibility and valued as a team member were formative to Amy’s self-confidence as a problem-solver.
“I used to work with the kids from the Boston Youth Fund: interviewing, hiring, doing their paperwork, and things like that. I took pride in my job because I was young and AFH put a lot of trust in me.”
“They gave me a lot of guidance, but they also let me take charge, especially as an assistant manager when I worked with Jason. He had a lot more experience than me but we worked as teammates.”
Once a recruitment coordinator, Amy is well-versed in speaking about the technical and professional skills that teens gain through AFH. That’s not to say her appreciation for the mentorships and friendships formed at AFH are not personal and genuine as well.
“I wish I could have told myself about people at AFH sooner. I wish I could have gone to my 10-year-old self and said, ‘You’re going to find a crew.”
“I always felt scared that I wasn’t going to fit in — all the typical stuff. I would tell myself to calm down, chill out, and wait a second. I’m going to find my path and people who encourage it.”
Amy seems to have found her path. Working as a hairstylist may seem different from producing media, but the confidence and self-advocacy skills she gained at AFH helps Amy effectively communicate with her clients every day.
Amy now no longer works at AFH, or with Jason and Rob. After the interview, she excitedly heads out to catch up with her former mentors over lunch. Her professional titles have evolved but she inarguably retains their friendship. After all, it’s the relationships people form at AFH which are the most unique aspect of working here.
Interview conducted and written by Amy Chu.