Shelly Wood has been named the new executive director of the Virginia Avenue Project, a 16-year-old nonprofit arts education organization in Santa Monica.

With an extensive background in education and the arts, Wood has dedicated her life to working with youths, Virginia Avenue Project staff said. For 20 years, she worked for the California Department of Youth Authority developing arts programs and providing mentoring opportunities for incarcerated youths and youths on parole.

The Virginia Avenue Project is a free after-school program that uses the performing arts in conjunction with long-term one-on-one mentoring to help youths discover their full potential.

Wood began her career as a volunteer at Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility while she was a visiting student intern in UCLA’s M.B.A. program.

She worked as a high school teacher with the Youth Correctional Facility and was instrumental in starting the department’s Restorative Justice pro- gram, which received international acclaim.

“We are thrilled that Shelly Wood is now a part of our team, as she brings tremendous energy, enthusiasm and a wealth of experience of working with at-risk kids and the arts, to the table,” said board president Randall Sommer.

Project founder and artistic director Leigh Curran added, “We’re looking forward to expanding our reach while maintaining the high quality of our programs, under Shelly’s exceptional leadership.”

Wood created and facilitated the Arts and Culture Programs for California Youth Authority, and helped advance the program over 15 years.

“When you directly affect a life, you indirectly affect everyone else,” Wood said. “Artists in our programs truly change lives through their passion and their ability to show what is possible. It truly makes a difference.”

Throughout her career, Wood has helped raise millions of dollars for a variety of programs directed at helping young people, according to a Virginia Avenue Project spokesman, and she continues to raise funds to help amateur athletes.

Wood has served on former Attorney General Dan Lungren’s Youth Mentoring Council and served on the Department of Justice/Department of Education Cadre, which provides training and support to school districts and community organizations. She is also a professor at the University of Phoenix.

Information, www.virginia