About Us



We are dedicated to providing the highest quality Arts education and experiences to children in the most economically stressed neighborhoods of southern California, thereby enhancing self-esteem, creativity, literacy, social and academic skills while strengthening the health and vitality of the children and their communities. City Hearts inspires a love of the Arts, an appreciation of creative discipline, and respect for the creative process, enabling children and youth to be confident, imaginative, tolerant, generous and cooperative, as well as caring and contributing participants in the global community.


Established in 1984 by former-ballerina-turned-criminal-defense-attorney Sherry Jason and her husband attorney Bob Jason, City Hearts was founded on the belief that the arts can and do help rehabilitate troubled youth who are plagued by drugs and gangs. City Hearts is now an integral part of the prevention and rehabilitation efforts in Los Angeles’ inner city. The program is a model for youth diversion programs nation-wide. City Hearts currently reaches 500 at-greatest-risk youth each week.


SHERRY JASON, founder and executive director

Sherry Jason, City Hearts Co-Founder, was a soloist with Ballet Concerto and has taught dance for 50 years. She received her B.A. in psychology from UCLA, and her Juris Doctor from Southwestern University School of Law. While with the L.A. County Public Defender’s Office, Juvenile Division, she met her husband attorney Bob Jason. Sherry and Bob’s philosophy on the nature of delinquency, intervention and prevention, and how the arts transform a child’s life led them to found City Hearts in 1985.

CALVIN BANKS, world music / guitar & songwriting

Guitarist, songwriter, and sound engineer, Calvin Banks has performed and recorded with Stevie Wonder, George Thorogood, REO Speedwagon, Bo Diddley, Big Mountain, and others. He has worked with music technology companies, and has taught digital audio recording, music improvisation, and songwriting, Calvin specializes in teaching in a way that connects a rich grassroots and traditional musical history with powerful social and literary content. This is his 5th year with City Hearts.

KATIE DALSEMER, photography

Katie Dalsemer has a B.A in Art, an M.A. in Film and a rich background in both portraiture and photojournalism. She’s won awards and exhibitions for her stunning journalistic work. Katie is also lead photographer for the Topanga Mountain News. She teaches beginning and advanced Photography with classes that focus on bringing unique individual artistic visions to life, as well as learning technical photographic skills. This is her 24th year with City Hearts.

KAREN FURNO, musical theatre

Karen Furno is an accomplished actress, singer, and dancer and has worked extensively as a performer, director, and choreographer. She recently portrayed Dora in EQUUS at the Chandler Studio Theatre that won the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Revival. She has been in television shows (The Practice, Ally McBeal), and films (The DTS Project, Christmas with the Kranks). She also teaches a wide variety of classes through STAR Education. This is her 9th year with City Hearts.

BRIAN NIEMAN, photography

Brian Nieman is a professional photographer and educator. His artwork has appeared in Polaroid Magazine, the L.A. Times, and The Peace Project Book among others. His work has been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and is in private collections throughout the U.S. and Europe. Brian was recently the “Educator” Winner in the California Streaming Photography Contest.  This is his 9th year with City Hearts.

GWENDOLYN OLIVER, dance & theatre

Gwendolyn Oliver is an actor, dancer, and singer. She was a Master Teacher at the San Jose High School for the Performing Arts, and co-owned the Dance Etc. studio. She has choreographed West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and Music Man, as well as several professional sports cheerleading squads. She studied with Uta Hagen and Stella Adler, and is a Groundlings-trained improv artist. Her first short film is winning awards at festivals nation-wide. This is her 17th year with City Hearts.

YVONNE SENAT JONES, shakespeare / theatre

Yvonne recently landed the role of Robyn Crawford (Whitney Houston’s best friend and Creative Director) for the feature, The Bobby Brown Story, which will premiere this Fall on BET. She holds an MFA in Acting from the University of South Carolina. This is her 5th year with City Hearts.

TYEE TILGHMAN, shakespeare

Tyee Tilghman is an actor, director, writer, and producer. He received an MFA in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and a BFA in Drama from West Virginia University in Morgantown. Tyee’s TV & Film credits include Mr. Malevolent, Criminal Minds, and The Young and The Restless.  He is passionate about Shakespeare, language, and inspiring young minds to create art.  This is his first year with City Hearts.

RAUL VEGA, photography

Raúl Vega’s award-winning photographs have appeared in foremost magazines such as Time, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Vogue, InStyle, Glamour, and Andy Warhol’s Interview. He received the National Publications Design Award for his Time cover of Carl Sagan and the National Gold Key Award for Interior Architectural Photography. Several of his portraits are collected in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Raul has taught photography classes at Otis College of Art & Design. This is his 7th year with City Hearts.


Sherry Jason - Founder/ Executive Director

Executive Director and Founder of City Hearts- Director of Ballet for Topanga, former Attorney at Law – Member of Dance Educators of America.

Bob Jason

Co-Founder of City Hearts; Attorney at Law, L.A. County Public Defender, representing indigent criminal defendants, retired; Author of several critical essays.

Rebecca Brando - President

Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychologist in low-income communities; volunteers teaching English as a second language.

Joe Lomba - Vice President

President of Alternative Rentals (a digital cinema rental facility); working in the entertainment industry with production and post-production departments since 2002.

Ed O'Neill - Treasurer & Co Vice President

Engineer, Contractor, Developer; Owner of Drilling & Construction Co.; Let There Be Hope (Medical Research Foundation); Topanga Historical Society.

Laura Salvati - Secretery

Regional HR Specialist, Lakewood Healthcare Center, Attorney at Law.

James Chressanthis, ASC

Major Television & Feature Film Cinematographer, Nominated for 3 Emmys, CBS Ghost Whisperer, Four Minutes, The Music Man, Urban Legend; Photographer, Sculptor, Artist.

Seth Emmons

Marketing Director, Cine Products- CW Sonderoptic; (Lenses for film, television) LEICA Store LA; Member of ASC Technology Committee

Joe Grassi

Principal of Grassi & Associates (Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS)); Engineer, consultant

John Merjil (Sandoval)

Business Systems Analyst, Deloitte Tax LLP, Financial & Consulting Firm; City Hearts graduate; City Hearts mentor and junior teacher.

Tracey (Stephens) Rinaldi

Fixed Income Portfolio Guideline Analyst, Capital Group Companies, Inc.; JD, Board Member on University at Buffalo Law School Alumni Association.

David Spiegelman

David heads up Wagstaff Digital, the digital marketing arm of Wagstaff Worldwide, a full service marketing firm that specializes in working with clients in all areas of hospitality and travel industries.

Lilit Hovhannisyan

Us Bank Teller Coordinator/Social Services Coordinator/Senior Teller; fluent in 3 languages; loves finance and is studying accounting.

Advisory Council

Sal Aquino

Principal of Jefferson Elementary, Compton, CA

Martin Schmitt

Internet Innovator, cars.com; Philanthropist, kayangel.org (Orphanage in Haiti)

Felice Willat

Professional Photographer, Member of Orvis Gallery


Junior Board

Our wonderful Junior Board consists of area middle and high school students who bring their collective creative flare and enthusiasm to the organization. Their goals are:

To raise awareness of City Hearts

To raise money and support for City Hearts

Get youth involved with City Hearts

To help youth develop leadership skills

They achieve these goals through a variety of  fun projects and events. To join the Junior Board, please call (310) 455-2898 or email info@cityhearts.org.


A list of our funders, past and present:

Ahmanson Foundation
California Arts Council
Capital Group Companies
County of Los Angeles/Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas
Crail Johnson Foundation
Dwight Stuart Youth Fund

Earl B. and Loraine H. Miller Foundation
Green Foundation
International House of Blues Foundation
Los Angeles County Arts Commission
Lowell Milken Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Niner Foundation
Ralph Parsons Foundation
Rose Hills Foundation
Supervisor Don Knabe
Thelma Pearl Howard Foundation
U.S. Bank Foundation
Weingart Foundation
William Morris Endeavor Foundation
Women Helping Youth Foundation

Fresh Focus


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