Austin’s E4 Youth encourages creative pursuits

Will Kosinski

Advertising junior Ricardo Villegas always wanted to pursue creative design, but said he felt pressure from family to choose a job more stable than advertising. He now works with Austin nonprofit, E4 Youth, to help students with similar aspirations feel more comfortable pursuing artistic careers.

E4 Youth connects local high school students with creative career ambitions with college-age mentors such as Villegas so they can gain experience and find stable jobs. Through the organization, Villegas now mentors students at his old Austin high school who, like himself, want to pursue jobs in the arts.

“I wanted to become a mentor because the opportunity came up that they were gonna have the program here in my old high school,” Villegas said. “I thought it would be a good chance to help out my community. I get to teach them what I learned through the program and help them improve.”

Carl Settles, E4 Youth executive director, said he founded the organization about 10 years ago to link mentors with economically disadvantaged students. Students in the program are interested in pursuing careers such as photography, graphic design and advertising, which Settles said are mostly accessible to students of privilege.

“Affluence allows kids to develop their skills or passions and access connections to get exposure,” Settles said. “Less privileged students don’t get to find out what they like to do.”

Villegas guides students’ projects in creative fields and offers criticism in putting together a portfolio of their best works. Some projects can help students earn access to entrepreneurial events, such as South By Southwest, and build portfolios to be used for internship and employment applications.

“(E4 Youth) teaches them to be entrepreneurial about who they are as a person,” Settles said.

Akins High School sophomore Ash Catalan said he joined the organization to improve his chances of becoming a serious job candidate and to learn about his artistic interests.

“I know there’s a stereotype of the starving artist, but I feel like I’m doing what I’m doing right now to be more successful than other people who will just be starting (in college),” Catalan said.

Villegas said he mostly wants to help build confidence in his students and does not want them to worry about securing the most prestigious position. 

“I want to show the adults and the students that you can be successful with being creative,” Villegas said. “I want them to focus on what they enjoy.”