With the help of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, actress Stephanie Andujar became the first member of her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Despite her budding career, which already boasted roles in films such as the Academy Award-nominated “Precious,” she completed her studies.
“I wanted to get a business degree for my mom and my dad ... to make them proud and help them as well,” Andujar said.
This weekend, she will visit several events across the Sun Valley area speaking on the importance of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, including an engagement at The Community Library in Ketchum on Friday, April 1, at 5 p.m. Afterwards, there will be a reception at 690 Spruce Avenue in Ketchum.
The “I Have a Dream” Foundation provides social, emotional and academic support to young people nationwide.
“A lot of kids, we don’t know what they go through,” Andujar said. “They come to school happy—that could be their safe haven. But at home, it could be a completely different story.”
She will speak with local “dreamers” on the brink of graduating high school, many uncertain about the future.
The foundation was originally focused on getting students to college, said Laura Rose-Lewis, executive director of the foundation’s Idaho chapter. Now, it has broadened its horizons to students who may want to go to trade school, vocational school, community college or pursue the arts, she said.
“We want to celebrate whatever they want to do, so they can find their bliss, their path to success,” Rose-Lewis said.
For Andujar, the foundation provided much more than just an education.
“It provides family, community, friendship, even when you’re going through bad times,” Andujar said. “At the end of the day, they make it feel like you have somewhere to go to.”
In her speaking engagement, she wants to shed some wisdom on what she has persevered through.
“It hasn’t been easy for someone like myself,” Andujar said.
She became a part of the foundation when her family moved back to the Chelsea projects in New York City, where her mother grew up.
“The projects weren’t bad—there was a roof over our heads,” Andujar said. “It took care of us when we needed it. But, obviously, we wanted more, we wanted better for ourselves.”
She started taking after-school academic courses.
“My mother put me in there to stay off the block,” Andujar said.
As a kid, she got into fights. She watched as family members became drug addicts.
“I just want to shine a really good, positive light,” Andujar said. “I’ve been through a lot.”
To avoid trouble, she started performing theater at Beacon Arts.
“I found a life outside the projects,” Andujar said. “That’s where I found my calling ... Like they say, if you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”
In the third grade, the “I Have a Dream” Foundation told her they would help with tuition through college.
“I didn’t believe it until I got older,” Andujar said.
During a theater audition as a kid, she did not know what a monologue was.
“It’s not every day kids from the projects, Puerto Rican kids especially, are being taught Shakespearean monologues,” Andujar said.
Instead of being deterred, she went to her local library and studied. At that age, she already took her career seriously.
“I think I had a really good head on my shoulders for a 10-year-old,” Andujar said.
On the show “Orange is the New Black,” she was almost turned away because she was too young and her “lips were too big,” she said. Ultimately, she got the gig.
For “Blue Bloods” they rewrote the character from Molly Fitzgerald to Molly Chavez.
“They gave a Latina like myself an opportunity,” Andujar said. “I can’t tell you how much that means. Sometimes you do run into dead ends where you do get frustrated.”
Initially, she was supposed to get killed off after her first episode in a “Bonnie & Clyde” style shootout. But, they liked her so much they asked her back.
“If you dream it, you can achieve it,” Andujar said. “It sounds kinda corny, but it’s mad true.”
Alongside all her success, she has faced her fair share of denial. However, she takes it all in stride.
“I’ve been through too much to cry over rejection,” Andujar said.
All those auditions of creating characters on the spot helped her create, produce and star in five seasons of her own YouTube show, “StephA: One Woman Show.” She even sewed the costumes with her grandmother’s sewing machine.
“Instead of waiting for an opportunity, I have to create my own,” Andujar said.
Often typecast in dramatic roles, she wanted to show off her comedic side. She understands the importance of being a content creator.
“This is show business,” Andujar said, emphasizing the last word. “I can show up and be cute, but there’s more to it.”
Forming her own company, Andujar Productions, she filled out all the trademarks.
“I was my own little lawyer.”
Her production company is a family business. Her brother helps edit videos.
“I treat him like an intern,” she said, snorting with laughter.
Her mother helps manage and her sister is a graphic designer.
“My family was my top priority,” Andujar said. “I wanted to make them proud.”
Three days after her father passed away in 2009, she had to go to the “Precious” premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
“This is about me taking care of my family at the end of the day,” Andujar said. “This is what I have to do.” ￼
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