Topanga Youth Services is the resident youth organization of the Topanga Community Center. Founded in 1993, TYS has been funded by a county grant and community donations to bring activities and events to kids in Topanga and the surrounding area for ages 10-19, and is now offering more additional activities for 5 and up. The program specializes in performing arts and our highlights are the notable annual musical and talent show. We also offer a multitude of shorter classes and workshops that change with guest instructors, such as improv, film, dance, glee club, songwriting as well as things such as cooking and field days. We aim to offer programs that you want to have and to keep everything totally free for those who qualify for scholarships.
TYS began as a response to the needs of youths in the area. In 1993, a vandalizing incident brought about concerns of parents for positive focus and recreation for youths. As a result, a parent survey and proposal arose for what was soon to become Topanga Youth Services. At the time, Susan Nissman, had begun the grant writing process. She then turned the project over to Sunny Lannutti, who, along with Kathleen Hernandez, Gayle Cline, and Julie Sugarman, brought in some parents and teens to help develop the program. There were some doubts and challenges in getting space at the Women’s Club (now the Topanga Community Center) and with finalizing the grant. However, it was finally decided that Topanga teens needed a community venue, and after meeting and speaking with all the powers that be, Topanga Youth Services was born.
Karen Cooke has been the director of TYS since 2006. As a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts as well as their Educational Theatre program, Karen brings her aptitude with performance art to TYS.
Some recent productions she has directed include Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music and Into the Woods, as well as original, co-created tributes to Glee and a Cirque piece, Technicolor Dream. Karen also wrote and directed a Beatles musical, Come Together for TYS.
Managing other programs and events include the Talent Show each fall, band events, such as 455 Live and workshop offerings. Maintaining the county grant, registering new youths, coordinating fundraising and volunteers, advertising and promoting activities and finding new resources and equipment for the community house are a few other tasks at hand.
It has been important for Karen to give the kids of Topanga a voice. She encourages participants to create projects or ideas and to take leadership in areas of interest.
Outside of her work with TYS, Karen works in the Los Angeles schools, teaching arts in educational plays with elementary and middle school classes and directing them in staged readings.
Karen hails from Michigan, New York and Amsterdam, where she was a member and artistic director of a few theater companies along the way.
Past Directors & Notable Guest leaders
- Shane Liledahl, Summer Rona, and Morgan Weitz: Music Directors
- Kristy Beauvais (2012 & 2015 – 2022): Choreographer
- Cecilie Stuart Garcia (2007-2014): Choreographer
- Billy Portman (2007): Director of Tommy
- Noel Rhodes (2000-2006): Music Director and Leader of Mothrocity band/comedy nights
- Paulette Messenheimer (1994-2006): Director of Aesop’s Fables, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty-ish (adapted by two TYS members), and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- Paula Lebrot (1993): Director of Topanga Jones Classic Park
Thank You for Your Support
TYS’s annual musical and talent show as well as band nights, classes and events for youths 10-17 years in the Topanga and surrounding areas have been held at the Topanga Community Center since it’s inception in 1993. TYS thanks past and current board members and TCC members for their support!
TYS has received annual funding through Los Angeles County Third District’s Community Development Commission since it’s inception in 1993. TYS thanks former Senior Field Duputy Susan Nissman, former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and current Supervisor Sheila Kuehl for their support!.