How a Los Angeles High School Student Helped Raise More Than $13 Million During the Pandemic

Special Features   How a Los Angeles High School Student Helped Raise More Than $13 Million During the Pandemic
 
Quarantunes, created and hosted by Demi Weitz and her father Richard, has benefited dozens of charities, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Demi Weitz and <i>Quarantunes</i> guest Billy Porter
Demi Weitz and Quarantunes guest Billy Porter

It’s often during the most challenging times when life-changing ideas are born. Such is the case for Quarantunes, the innovative streaming concert series co-created and co-hosted by Demi Weitz and her father, WME partner Richard Weitz, that has raised over $13 million for a host of charitable organizations since the coronavirus pandemic began.

What began as Demi’s 17th birthday present from her Hollywood agent dad—an evening on Zoom featuring Chicago artist Dario Giraldo—has since blossomed into an invitation-only event that has boasted performances by Josh Groban, John Legend, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bernadette Peters, Billy Porter, H.E.R., Barry Manilow, the original cast of Hamilton, and dozens of others.

As the private streams began attracting more attention, high school student Weitz realized she and her father had a great opportunity to let the series help those struggling during these challenging times. It was after the fourth concert, the Los Angeles resident says, when she thought, “I'm very lucky. I'm very privileged, and I felt like there was a call to action. We had now created a platform that people were hearing about and wanting to be on. And we are luckier than most right now.

“So I said, 'Dad, we're raising money for charity. There is not a question. We're doing it. This little thing that you started—or we started, because I guess it was for my birthday—it’s really helped people emotionally. But we need to take it a step further, because we're able to do that.’ So I created a GoFundMe [page], and I chose the Saban Community Clinic [as the first beneficiary].” Quarantunes ended up raising $100,000 for the Los Angeles medical clinic through GoFundMe and organizational matching donations.

The focus of the evenings also changed. Weitz says she wanted the series to be more informative, “for people to really understand what was going on in the hospitals [during the beginning of the pandemic], and that was the most important part to me. [Los Angeles] Mayor [Eric] Garcetti came on, and that really legitimized what my dad and I were doing. It took us to the next step, and we were raising money for the frontline workers. A doctor from San Francisco, who I'd never met, said, 'This re-energized me, I'm ready for the next surge. Thank you so much.' So it made me realize that what we were doing was multi-dimensional. It wasn't just a financial thing. It was something to help other people's mental sanity and mental health. And that was really powerful for me.”

<i>Quarantunes</i> creators and hosts Richard Weitz and daughter Demi Weitz.
Quarantunes creators and hosts Richard Weitz and daughter Demi Weitz.

Weitz later discovered that when fundraising through GoFundMe, not all the money collected goes directly to the cause, so she began working with the various charities and hospitals to create “separate [fundraising] links, so the money would be funneled right to the organization.” Among those that have benefited from the weekly streams are No Kid Hungry, 11 New York hospitals, Big Brothers Big Sisters, The United Way, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, and more.

She also points out that although numerous large corporations have donated, many of the contributions have come from individual donors. “Any dollar counts. Any penny counts. Any number. You could participate and give anything you can. We really appreciate that,” she says. “It's been inch by inch. My teachers have come on. My dad invites anyone he's ever met in his entire life. It's not just a celebrity thing, which I think is also really important. We've really built a community.” (Music rights complications currently prohibit the streams' availability to the general public.)

Although some teens might bristle at the thought of working so closely with a parent, Weitz lavishes praise on her father, who, she says, “goes after what he wants, and he just wants to make people feel better,” adding, “My dad, 100 percent hands down, is my best friend in the whole entire world, and I would not trade anything for the experience I've had with him. It has built the strongest bond between us. We put our hearts and soul into it… I love him so much.”

When asked whether she has a favorite evening from the more than 30 Quarantunes thus far, Weitz says, “We were doing a lot [to benefit] COVID-based organizations, and then we switched our focus to social justice. I love Bryan Stevenson so much. I think he is the most inspiring man. He's an American lawyer who works to help the innocent that are convicted on death row. We did a benefit for his Equal Justice Initiative with the original cast of Hamilton. We also did [a stream to benefit] FREEAMERICA, John Legend's organization, along with his manager, Ty [Stiklorius]. I feel like that one had the most powerful stories, and people were genuinely there to learn about biases and the prejudices they had. Those two stood out to me because it was really about the stories and first-hand experiences.”

A devoted theatre fan, Weitz was also inspired by the two evenings to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which brought in more than $2 million for the fundraising organization. “We love everyone in the Broadway community,” she says. “They are so giving, and they want to help each other, and their enthusiasm and their joy is just so powerful. It radiates through the screen.”

Her personal performance highlights from the streams include the new band The War and Treaty (“they have the most fantastic voices ever, and they’ve become like family”) as well as Liam Payne, Teddy Swims, Finneas O’Connell, and Tony winner Ben Platt. But the most memorable moment may belong to current Jagged Little Pill Tony nominee Lauren Patten: “Someone said, ‘I will donate money for Lauren Patten to sing a song,’ and she didn't have her guitar, so she drove 30 minutes to her mom's house to pick up her guitar and drove back to sing. I thought that was incredible.”

And how does Weitz feel she has changed as a person working on the benefit series? “I've been given so much responsibility and freedom during quarantine to expand and learn,” she says. “I'm so grateful because my dad and my mom have been so supportive, but they've also given me guidance and an opportunity to grow and do things myself, and this experience has changed my life. I feel like I was a complacent teenager before who didn't really have a passion or a drive or a purpose, and now all I want to do is open up the Zoom screen and make people smile that are on there, and help these organizations.”

As coronavirus cases are still rising around the country, it looks like there will be a need for the uplifting series for quite a while. “I think what we've created is so special that I'm never going to stop doing this work, whether it's in the form of Quarantunes or something different,” says Weitz. “And my dad and I, we're not stopping until we're allowed to leave this house safely. I think maybe we'll expand or try to take it to the next level as the world evolves. I think Quarantunes will evolve with it, and if anything, it will be a legacy to carry on in a different form. …So no matter what happens to the Quarantunes platform, I think a lot of organizations are going to need help for a really long time.”

As for her own future, the high school senior is currently applying to a host of colleges, where she hopes to pursue a major in communications. “I also want to get involved with [Bryan Stevenson’s] work and help us move forward in the fight for justice,” she says.

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