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Tiana Burgos: Opening A Door To Creativity

By Henry Street Settlement

Woman smiles at camera in face mask

Our 2020 annual report is out now and we are sharing the featured stories of strength and resilience. Read more about Tiana below, or in our annual report now.

When the pandemic hit, Tiana Burgos knew she would do anything to keep her grandma safe. “We stocked up on food and stayed inside from March through Mother’s Day,” she says.

With an associate degree in video art and technology from Borough of Manhattan Community College, Tiana had just started a new job as a production assistant for a movie studio in March 2020. Within four days, she was laid off.

Raised on the Lower East Side in a world of strong women—her mother, grandmother, and three sisters—Tiana, who had long struggled with anxiety, now faced days spent in isolation and fear, as the television news and concern for her family made her heart race. Staying in a small apartment with her grandmother during the pandemic, with only a bed to serve as chair and desk, Tiana spent her days playing video games (“not as fun as it sounds”) and her nights having panic attacks.

Then she saw an Instagram post from a former art teacher seeking participants for the LES Youth Opportunity Hub, an educational and social support consortium for young people ages 14 to 24, of which Henry Street is a lead partner. Nervously, Tiana, at age 24, thought, “This is my last chance to join.”

Tiana, who had loved acting in high school and had taken voice lessons through a scholarship to Abrons Arts Center, signed up for improv, art, and poetry classes. “It was so amazing to be able to talk with real people and laugh and get my mind off of all the stress,” she says. “I stopped having panic attacks.”

When Tiana learned of a paid opportunity to be a group leader teaching middle and high school Hub participants, she proposed a screenwriting class, having taken one in college. She grabbed her textbooks, did some online research, and now has about a dozen students. She used her earnings to sign up for an online television writing class with Gotham Writers. “I love to learn,” she says, “and now I love to teach!”

Says Hub Director Elisa Kaplan, “Tiana’s participation in the Hub has been a window into doing what she wanted to do.” Her vibrant energy led to her earning the position of intern for the Youth Leadership Council, where she helps chart the course for the dozen young people who discuss topics of concern—from gentrification to environmental sustainability.

Coming from a low-income family where most money goes straight to paying rent, Tiana had buried any hope of working as a writer or performer. “There are things I felt like I had to give up.” Now reinspired as a writer and artist, Tiana hopes to get back into musical theater.

The Hub has opened Tiana’s eyes to new creative opportunities. “I’m becoming more aware of what makes me happy, and I feel I’ve grown so much. I have hope that things will be okay.”

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