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Inspiring U | Jan 31, 2024

What's New With U? January

Image of middle school students playing in an orchestra

We hope that Usdan will continue to serve as a source of joy and inspiration. Please continue reading stories from this month's newsletter to learn about our new Board members, grant funding, and more!

Usdan Receives $1M Investment from Suffolk County 

We at Usdan are thrilled to share some heartwarming news that has us dancing with excitement. Suffolk County has awarded Usdan with a generous $1 million grant through the JumpSMART Small Business, Arts, Recreation & Tourism Downtown Investment Program! This is truly transformative funding for our organization, and we are extremely grateful to the County for investing in us. 

With these funds, we're setting our sights on creating an arts and culture haven that goes beyond the boundaries of our beloved campus for hosting year-round community programming, cultivating meaningful partnerships, and weaving a tapestry of engagement opportunities centered around arts, culture, and the power of creative expression. 

Executive Director Lauren Brandt Schloss shares her excitement about this milestone: "This incredible grant from Suffolk County is a testament to the shared belief in the power of the arts. With these funds, we are poised to create a lasting impact on our community, fostering a space where creativity knows no bounds." 

The positive effects will be felt in our Usdan community and extend to boost the economic and social well-being of our region, including local businesses and the community at large.  

While the grant from Suffolk County is an incredible boost, this is just the beginning. 

We express our heartfelt gratitude to every member of the Usdan family for your unwavering support, enthusiasm, and commitment to our artistic and cultural endeavors. 


We are proud to welcome two new members of Usdan’s Board of Directors, Kendell Pinkney and Renee Lista.

Kendell Pinkney is a Brooklyn based theatre-artist, producer, and rabbi. His work has been presented or developed at venues such as Feinstein's 54 Below, Joe’s Pub, The National Opera Center of America, Musical Theatre Factory, Two River Theater, and Goodspeed Opera House, to name a few. Kendell has been featured in the acclaimed docuseries The New Jew, with actor-comedian Guri Alfi, BuzzFeed’s Tasty channel broadcast of Saturday Night Seder, and Crooked Media’s religion and society podcast, Unholier than Thou. A frequent keynote speaker he has presented at conferences across the US and Canada, and was among the first rabbis honored to offer a multi-faith invocation for the 110th First Lady’s Luncheon, honoring Dr. Jill Biden. He continues to consult with a variety of media outlets, arts and civic institutions on both Jewish and Jew of Color representation. He is the recipient of a 2023 IDEA Residency at Opera America, as well as Theater J’s Expanding the Canon commission program in Washington DC. 

Kendell serves as the rabbinic educator for Reboot, and is the founding Artistic Director of The Workshop (theworkshopny.com / @theworkshopartist), a New York based arts and culture fellowship that supports and foregrounds the work of professional artists of BIPOC-Jewish heritage. NYU-Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing, MFA. kendellpinkney.com


Renee Lista is originally an upstate New Yorker who has lived in the NYC Metro area since 2005. She has 20 years of sales experience, with over 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry and, most recently, building and developing sales teams in the healthcare startup space. She has won regional and national awards as both an individual contributor and a leader. In 2023, Renee left the healthcare industry to follow her passion and pursue a degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in Natural Resources and Conservation. Upon completing her degree in 2024, she plans to continue her studies and obtain a Master's in Sustainability. 

When she is not busy with school, she spends her free time with her two kids, Nicholas and Jillian, her husband, Jason, and her mini schnauzer, Watson. She enjoys traveling, reading, going to the beach, photography, kayaking, and cooking, and has a passion for creating meat and cheese boards. Her children have spent eight summers at Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts, achieving their "lifer" status this past summer. 

Renee is excited to join the Usdan Board, where she is looking forward to being a part of the incredible culture she immediately felt from the members, and contributing to the future success of Usdan. 


This series not only seeks to highlight the remarkable work of our alumni, but also to explore all of the amazing career paths that studying the arts at Usdan can offer to our students. 


We are overjoyed to extend our congratulations to Usdan's Community Relations Coordinator and alum, Kyra Leeds, who recently performed in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Fiddler on the Roof in Millburn, NJ. Also sharing the stage was fellow Usdan Alum, Blair Goldberg. Their achievement follows in the footsteps of fellow Usdan theater camp alums Jackie Hoffman and Joanne Borts, who starred in the off-Broadway Yiddish production of Fiddler in 2019. The beloved Tony-Award winning musical, set in Imperial Russia around 1900, centers on Tevye, a milkman, who attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon his family’s lives. Fiddler on the Roof ran at Papermill Playhouse from December 6 to January 7, 2024.

Are you a Usdan alum, or do you know a Usdan alum who would is doing something amazing? If so, please email and tell us all about it, and you (or they) could be featured in our next newsletter!

Student Spotlight: Nia Thompson

We are thrilled to share the exciting news that Usdan student Nia Thompson is playing in the role of Young Nala in the Broadway production of The Lion King! This is an incredible testament to Nia’s exceptional talent, dedication, and hard work. Break a leg Nia, we have no doubt that you will bring the character of Young Nala to life with grace, skill, and boundless spirit. Bravo! 

The Lion King is currently playing at the Minskoff Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click here.