Abby Fifer Mandell
- Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship
A Picture to Last a Lifetime
A Picture to Last a Lifetime
USC Marshall students bring senior portraits, housing support and other services to teens from the Antelope Valley through NewColorsProject.
As seniors in high school, Raymiro Gomez-Galiano and Danissa Marroquin knew their futures were at their fingertips. But one thing was just out of reach: their senior portraits.
Senior portrait scholarships are one of several milestone initiatives that NEWCOLORSPROJECT, a nonprofit organization founded by Gomez-Galiano and run in partnership with Marroquin—the organization’s COO—promotes. Last year, the organization gifted 18 portrait packages to students from Palmdale High School, who couldn’t afford to pay for the pricey photo packages, which start around $100. This year, scholarships will be open to additional high schools in the Antelope Valley as well.
Said Marroquin, a progress degree student in the USC Marshall School of Business MASTER OF SCIENCE IN SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAM (MSSE), “We [Gomez-Galiano and Marroquin] both come from low income backgrounds and we weren’t able to afford our senior photo packages. We award these packages to students, because at the end of the day, these pictures are what you have left from high school.”
Gomez-Galiano, who is also minoring in environmental studies and nonprofits at USC, adds, “We ask them to share their stories when they apply. A lot of our applicants share very hard situations—how they are facing adversity and moving forward from it. When they get their senior portraits through the scholarship, they can acknowledge what they’ve been through, how far they’ve come and appreciate who they are as individuals.”
“Being able to go into the field and talk to people, identify a need and then design a product or a service that solves that need was an incredible experience.”
Gomez-Galiano and Marroquin met the summer of 2022, when they both enrolled in the MSSE program, hosted at BRITTINGHAM SOCIAL ENTERPRISE LAB. At the time, Gomez-Galiano was already working on NewColorsProject, an organization that launched from an informal request by his mother, an undocumented factory worker. In early 2020, he formalized her request with a virtual English academy named Aprende Inglés serving over 50+ Spanish-speaking adults, and in late 2020, NewColorsProject was formally registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
As a high schooler, Marroquin, who grew up in Los Angeles, had immersed herself in event coordination and community outreach for unhoused folks implemented by the City of Pasadena. Providing food and housing resources, she felt fulfilled. She knew she didn’t want to earn a conventional business degree, but instead deepen her capacity to support people like those she worked with in high school—people who reminded her of her family.
Prior to entering the MSSE program, Marroquin said she wasn’t even sure what “social entrepreneurship” meant. “I knew about nonprofits but social entrepreneurship was not in my vocabulary,” she said. She met with MSSE Program Director JJ Lee, who suggested she enroll in Senior Lecturer ABBY FIFER-MANDELL’s course on human-centered design.
“Being able to go into the field and talk to people, identify a need and then design a product or a service that solves that need was an incredible experience,” Marroquin said. “I knew I wanted to be a part of the MSSE program as a result of that exposure, and that I would meet many like-minded individuals from different backgrounds there.”
For Gomez-Galiano, the MSSE program helped him integrate the business mindset and concept of sustainable business into his organization. Learning about how to use balance sheets, how to create transparency, how to organize a business—all of it helped him grow NewColorsProject and envision an even more impactful future through its programs. “I could take lessons from corporate finance or accounting coursework and put it directly into my organization,” he said.
At the same time, he said his MSSE program peers and the lessons they shared from their own endeavors proved invaluable in helping him be intentional and think out-of-the-box. “The MSSE network has definitely shown us how to do things better and be more well versed in our work,” he said.
A Mission Center Around Need
User-centered design is at the heart of NewColorsProject’s mission, Gomez-Galiano says. In the Antelope Valley where he grew up, the unhoused population has increased 40% since 2019, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Authority.
To design NewColorsProject programs, Gomez-Galiano and Marroquin conducted tons of research. “We would have conversations and just get to know what was going on in the community and what was needed,” Gomez-Galiano said.
“We don’t try to create projects that already exist,” he said. “Instead, we want to support organizations that are already working on initiatives that resonate with us.”
One recent example is their partnership with the Midnight Mission on Skid Row. Most recently, this meant running a clothing donation drive for the unhoused in downtown Los Angeles.
Marroquin and Gomez-Galiano view community partnership not as a give and take, but as a long-term pursuit to develop mutually beneficial and enduring relationships. These partnerships are not only vital for fundraising and in designing projects, but also in exposing those who benefit from NewColorsProject’s work to folks in the community to whom they would otherwise not have access. The annual gala, in particular, allows young people in the Antelope Valley such an opportunity.
“It’s a chance to be in a space where they [students] are right next to the mayor, members of City Council, the sheriff, CEOs of different businesses,” Gomez-Galiano said. “We want them to be in this space and be able to see themselves there in the future, to see they are welcome even if it doesn’t seem like it because of their statuses or backgrounds.”
NewColorsProject’s first gala was centered around the theme “Beyond All Limits” and in many ways, this theme defines the organization’s work and mission. Said Gomez-Galiano, “It was about what it meant to be able to have big dreams, big ambitions and accept that nothing is too big and anything is possible.”
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