Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Michael Angelo Camacho of Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Foundation Is Helping To Change Our World

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
8 min readSep 28, 2022

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My operating definition of leadership is servant leadership. I believe a leader must view their life as mission and have an inherent desire to serve others. A good leader displays empathy, awareness and stewardship. This is made manifest by their ability to take initiative, earn the trust of their team, and lead them in executing the vision of the organization.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Angelo Camacho.

With top-tier relationships across a broad range of sectors in San Diego, Michael Angelo Camacho has been involved in evidence-based program design, financial analysis, resource development, and civic engagement. Because of the special place the arts have in his heart, he now utilizes his decade’s worth of nonprofit experience in the service of San Diego Unified School District through the VAPA Foundation. Michael Angelo is proud of what the organization has accomplished in its five years of existence and the district’s commitment to addressing socioeconomic issues by making art education available to every student in every school a priority.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I come from a poor farming village in the Philippines where 40% of its population experience extreme poverty. This means that people of this village often experience malnutrition, may have no access to a safe water supply, live in unsanitary conditions, many children may not live past the age of five, and the ones that do might not attend school. Although by no means the poorest of upbringings, it was still the kind of place where missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers are sent to build wells and teach in schools.

When my family arrived in San Diego, we settled in a low-income neighborhood five miles from the border that was riddled with violence and gangs once collided. I can still recall a classmate of mine not showing up to class because she was murdered in a community park across the street from church. Home felt just as crazy as the rest of the world but finding avenues for expression like drawing comics and listening to music gave me alternatives that kept me out of trouble and functioned as coping mechanisms for dealing with the tremulous situation that I was thrust into. Most importantly, these hobbies inspired me to work hard and aspire for more.

Obtaining my bachelor’s degree in business was my first step toward reaching my goals. Although there were many subjects that felt far more interesting, I chose this path because I felt it was a practical degree that could get me out of my parent’s apartment sooner rather than later. This led to me to nonprofit finance which gave me the opportunity to shape my values and support a wonderful cause at the same time. Because of these experiences, I developed a passion for philanthropy and working for an organization that helps others. I then took the next big step: I entered the University of San Diego master’s program in nonprofit leadership and management. Now with over a decade of experience in working in the nonprofit sector, I have sharpened my perspective and fundamentals enough to have the honor and privilege of enhancing the quality of and access to art education for San Diego Unified School District.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

VAPA Foundation was relatively new when I joined and as such, I was the only full-time employee at the time. Because of this, I decided to participate in Clairemont High School’s internship program, which is committed to providing school seniors with meaningful, hands-on work experience outside the classroom to prepare them for a life after high school. The intern that was assigned wanted to pursue a career in art administration, and through VAPA she was granted the opportunity to gain experience in the administrative and programmatic aspects of nonprofit work.

This intern was able to participate on the creation of a variety of projects, such as the development of the VAPA Foundation’s strategic plan, the development of the student VAPA advisory council, participation in school outreach, as well as public speaking before the Board of Education, discussing the Visual and Performing Arts.

Having this intern join me for an entire academic year was truly enlightening. I learned how to mentor someone looking to discover their own path and it was rewarding to teach concepts that they can apply to the real world. After the program was over and I reflected on this experience, I could tell that I was speaking to a future leader in the community. It was a great feeling to know that I’ve done my part to inspire and develop the next generation of leaders and create a pipeline for bright minds to be more prepared.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the things we all had to learn was working remotely and the joys of communicating via zoom. My workstation did not have a mic and so I purchased one but rather than buying a desk mic, I bought a headset I found on sale. The headset I chose happened to be for gaming and so for the first week or so that I started utilizing it, people would joke that I looked like an aircraft pilot or their gamer son.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The purpose of the VAPA Foundation is to enhance the quality of and access to arts education in the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) via:

VAPA Enhancement Program (VEP): Enabling tk-12 SDUSD teachers to apply for VAPA-related artist residencies, field trips, professional development or materials that go beyond the school budget.

Honor Concerts: Enabling elementary, middle, and high school students from across the district to audition, collaborate, and play together for the community in professional settings.

Recognitions: Recognizing the students, teachers, administrators, and community members committed to creating, teaching, and supporting arts education.

Collaborations: Creating bridges between SDUSD and the host of local artists and organizations committed to transformative arts learning.

Targeting Needs: Using data to target programs to schools that demonstrate most need.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

During this year’s Level Up Summer Camps, the VAPA Foundation contracted with a variety of art organizations to run the series in various schools and at the end of the camp season, the art instructors and camp coordinators share their stories. One of the stories that I will always remember is a 6th grader that was not doing too well in school. This student was shy and expressed no interest in school. This VAPA instructor invited him to summer camp and told him to have an open mind and through the program, he discovered life-changing ways to express himself through the arts. During the 4 weeks of camp, he found himself becoming highly engaged thanks to the help of his classmates who were able included him in painting a mural for their school. It was a game-changer for him.

This is one of many stories that VAPA Foundation has to share, illustrating its impact.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Create more access for arts education in public schools is key.
  2. The generosity of the community in supporting the mission and vision of the VAPA Foundation allows us to reach and serve more students.
  3. Increasing a public understanding about the value of the arts as part of humanity, and the “intelligences” it taps into that are not typically used in other core subjects.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

My operating definition of leadership is servant leadership. I believe a leader must view their life as mission and have an inherent desire to serve others. A good leader displays empathy, awareness and stewardship. This is made manifest by their ability to take initiative, earn the trust of their team, and lead them in executing the vision of the organization.

Taking leadership of VAPA Foundation has been so rewarding. I see relationships with members of my team and the community to be the utmost motivation, and this passion has been contagious. Without this excitement, my board would not be so excited and active and together we’ve been able to more than double the impact VAPA Foundation the last two years in a row!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The mission of the VAPA Foundation in providing students with access to arts education and that is my passion. Witnessing the impact of our work in the eyes of students, along with joy they experience from the freedom to express themselves through art during school and at home is a need we need to fill around the nation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As Samwise Gamgee once said, “Where there is life, there is hope,” and it is something I frequently tell myself. This quote reminds me the importance of patience, diligence, and fortitude. It also shows that even a person from small nation like the Shire or the Philippines can achieve a little bit of hard work and a whole lot of hard work. For the likes of someone like me to operate a small nonprofit and to help transform the lives of others who come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds is a pleasure and blessing.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

If could have a private breakfast or lunch with anyone, it would be Hayley Williams of Paramore fame. Although there are other female musicians I could have chosen, it’s been special to see her band’s rise to prominence during high school, I appreciate the various styles they have expressed through over the years, and I’d love to hear her thoughts about the traditionally male dominated genre that is rock and roll. I also find her recent solo albums to be very profound and would like to learn more about her struggles with depression and her self-reflection about lessons learned. They’ve been sold out for months, but how great would it be to go the “When We Were Young Festival” and see them perform together once more in person too!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I encourage readers to learn more about the wonderful work of the VAPA Foundation by visiting https://vapafoundation.org/, as well as our social media channels, such as Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VAPAFoundSD.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator