UT mentorship organization makes fundraising magic happen

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Photo Credit: Thomas Negrete | Daily Texan Staff

One of UT-Austin’s student organizations is dedicated to mentoring disadvantaged middle school students and has already attracted dozens of volunteers. But their fundraising goal is so enormous, they need a little magic to pull it off. 

Since officers can’t just pull the money out of thin air, they asked religious studies sophomore Giancarlo Bernini to perform a magic show and help raise $25,000. The show, called “Don’t Blink,” will be performed at 6 p.m. Thursday in Hogg Auditorium, and the expected audience is over 1,000 people. They hope to raise at least $25,000. 

Texas for Expanding Opportunity is dedicated to mentoring children at Martin Middle School and teaching them valuable leadership skills such as the importance of a strong handshake and eye contact. TEO plans to use the money earned from Don’t Blink’s ticket sales and sponsorships to develop specialized mentorship opportunities and to expand their program to other schools in Austin. 

Alexi Cortez, business honors and marketing junior, founded the club in March of her freshman year with UT’s current student body vice president, Micky Wolf. Cortez and Wolf, who is a business honors, psychology and Plan II junior, wanted to create an after-school mentorship program where middle school students could develop professional skills and get excited about their education.

Chandler Groves, Plan II and business honors sophomore, worked closely with planning the fundraiser. He said the organization emphasizes the idea that extracurricular activities are vital to academic success.

“The majority of the students are minorities and economically disadvantaged,” Groves said. “We get them involved in extracurricular activities. We’re trying to raise money for those activities and enrich their lives so that they can find things to do outside of the classroom.”

Although past fundraisers worked for small donations, members knew their goal would require something spectacular. When an officer suggested contacting Bernini, Groves was excited because he had seen one of Bernini’s performances before.

“I actually met him for the first time at Camp Texas because he was hypnotizing a group of people,” Groves said.

Bernini said he has performed for fundraising events in the past but never at the scale of this event and consequently has added a lot of new tricks to his usual routine.

“In terms of preparation, I’ve added about four new illusions to the show,” Bernini said. “I’ve been working on several new illusions that I got specifically to do this show, but I’m also going to be doing the classic stuff I’ve always done. I’ll definitely be bringing my time machine.”

Bernini’s fundraising performance marks a milestone for TEO since much of the proceeds will accommodate new mentors and program sites.

“The whole first year was just a really big challenge getting into the Austin school district,” Cortez said. “After a year we were finally able to kick off our program at Martin. We started with probably five mentors the first couple weeks, and now we’re up to 60. Now that we have so many mentors, we’re trying to expand to other schools next year.”

For Cortez, Don’t Blink is not only an exciting new step for TEO but also an indication of how far the organization has come since its beginning.

“I’ve had a blast promoting it,” Cortez said. “If you talk to any of my friends, I haven’t shut up about it for the past three months. This started two years ago, and we’re doing something really cool on campus. It’s going to be so rewarding when we’re done, not just to the organization, but to kids within the Austin community.”