Comcast and NBCUniversal each year help spark and shape the interest of young people in technology and the pursuit of STEM careers – including by supporting Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Digital Arts Festivals. Held annually, the Festivals are a national competition in which youth ages 6 to 18 submit original creations in photo illustration, music making, graphic design, game design, movie animation and film. In July, the 2014 winners were treated to a unique, weeklong experience in Los Angeles. Among them was 13-year-old Sanja Kirova, who shares her experience below.


If someone predicted five years ago when my family moved to the United States from Macedonia that I would be strolling down the Hollywood Walk of Fame dedicated to spectacular stars, and that I would be treated as one, I would have laughed it off. Yet, that dream became true thanks to Boys & Girls Clubs of America and great sponsors like Comcast and NBCUniversal, Sony Electronics Inc., and Cartoon Network. 

After moving to Indiana, I became a member of Boys & Girls Clubs of Porter County – Portage Unit, where I have been going every day after school. The Club is my safe place where I first began exploring my new surroundings, my new country. As a new resident, I was devastated knowing that I would have to learn a new language, meet new people, adapt to new rules, and simply start off on a new and clean slate. 

Honestly, I was scared, but fortunately the Club was there to support me and help me overcome my fears. The Club still helps me to go above and beyond in accomplishing my personal best and inspires me to stay persistent on reaching for the stars. I am involved in nearly all activities and programs in my Club and this year I was selected Youth of the Year for Boys & Girls Clubs of Porter County – Portage Unit! 

Although I enjoy all of these programs, Digital Arts Festivals personally is the most fulfilling and influencing because it combines my two very favorite fields: art and technology. Digital Arts Festival enables youth to express creatively and gain critical technology skills that will benefit them in their future careers. 

So far, I have submitted entries in all six of Digital Arts Festivals’ categories consisting of Graphic Design, Game Design, Music Making, Film Making, Stop-Motion Animation, and Photo Illustration. I like photography because I always learn something new. Animation is equally exciting because it requires drawing and photo/movie editing to bring images to life. Game design enables me to ignite my imagination and challenge myself. It also requires good organizational skills and trains my patience and problem-solving skills. I used to play video games, but now I take pleasure in creating them!

While I have been recognized in the Music Making and ImageMakers categories on a regional level in the past, this year I was thrilled to hear that I won on a national level in Stop-Motion Animation and Game Design! I was one of 18 teen winners from all over the U.S. and got to join them on a trip to Los Angeles. We were welcomed warmly at Universal Studios City and received an unbelievable "back lot" tour of this remarkable studio. Then we attended a career panel with amazing NBCUniversal professionals during lunch who fed us advice on music in film, game development, and pitching ideas. That evening, we were honored at a glorious gala awards ceremony. It struck me, for the first time, how significant our accomplishments are. The next day, we received an on-site photography lesson from a talented professional photographer. Then we were surprised with front-of-the-line passes for the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. After a fantastic time at the Park, we went to the magnificent Hollywood and Highland Center where we spied the Hollywood sign in the distance and snapped several pictures of the Walk of Fame stars. We also enjoyed an amazing tour of Warner Brothers Studios. We lunched on the rooftop of the breathtaking Cartoon Network Studios where we and had a Q&A session with a talented Emmy-Awarded animator. We ended the day with time at the Santa Monica Pier where we snapped photos of the beautiful sunset over the grand Pacific Ocean. The Digital Arts Festivals recognition trip to Los Angeles was an unbelievable, unforgettable, incredible experience! I loved it, and I know that I will value it my whole life. Of course, this experience and the program never would have been possible without our lead sponsor – THANK YOU to Comcast and NBCUniversal for making miracles possible by supporting the National Digital Arts Festivals and our forever grateful members. Thank you to Boys & Girls Clubs of America and all the sponsors that support their mission and give wings to the youth.