SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — When cash-strapped public schools cut performing arts budgets, a group of professional performers in San Francisco acted on an idea to fill the gap.

Some Presidio Middle School students are singing and acting, something many of them never imagined possible, thanks to the Pacific Singers and Actors Workshop, also known as PacSAW.

The 7-year-old nonprofit was founded by Kristin Clayton Knezevic, Curt Branom and Nicolle Foland.

“The mission is to create a love of performing in them. And the curiosity of wanting to know what that’s like, performing for people,” said Foland.

The trio leads free after school workshops, mostly in San Francisco public middle and high schools.

They hire several colleagues to help teach singing and acting basics to nearly 100 students a year, like Anton Khludov, who chose to enroll.

“The people who come here want to express themselves and have a voice,” he said of the students.

Knezevic says everyone wins regardless of whether or not students go on to pursue a career on stage.

“It opens up a whole new world when you start to connect with characters or even songs that are in a different language,” she explained.

Eighth grader Lauren Pham’s confidence has soared by attending PacSAW.

“Being a student in this after school program, we’re able to be a leader,” explained Pham.

As they practice, Branom says students gain life skills, including the value of failure.

“I’ve seen students who’ve failed at an improvisation and then they come to me at break and say, ‘Can we just do it one more time? I know I can do it.’ And I always let them do it. And then they kill it,” said Branom.

Pham marvels that professional actors and singers like Knezevic, Branom and Foland would share their professional training with the students–Branom stars in Beach Blanket Babylon and Foland and Knezevic bring their experience from the San Francisco Opera.

“They’re absolutely generous,” Pham said. “They all really go in-depth with every student that chooses to do Pacific Actors.”

So for empowering students through free performing arts workshops, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Kristin Clayton Knezevic, Curt Branom and Nicolle Foland.

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