Vanessa (last name withheld) shined so brightly behind the camera they had to put her in front of it.
Vanessa, a Kids in the Spotlight program participant and Hillside Group Home resident, earned the lead role of Symphony in “Cyverius,” a short-film she co-wrote.
“Cyverius” is a product of four young filmmakers from Hillsides Group Home in Pasadena, California.
Ironically, the short-film is a story of two young scientists on a journey to find a cure to save their world from a global pandemic.
“It started off where they wanted to do something outside of what the norm was,” said Hollywood regular and “Cyverius” director Alphonso McAuley.
At the time the short seemed like sci-fi. Today, it hits too close to home.
The themes of compassion and integrity in testing times is an eerie foreshadowing of the medicine the world needs in a challenging 2020.
These budding screenwriters are the heart of KITS, a Los Angeles‒based nonprofit that helps foster youth heal and grow from their trauma through storytelling and filmmaking.
KITS enlists Hollywood’s best to provide professional training on writing, casting, directing and acting in their own short-films through 15-week programs.
McAuley emphasizes the importance of this leg-up in a competitive entertainment field.
“If they are interested in continuing on into the industry it definitely gives them an edge on what’s coming up next,” said McAuley.
Tige Charity, KITS executive director, founded the nonprofit after attending an acting class her husband taught at a group home. “That experience cracked my heart wide open,” said Charity.
Now, she’s prouder than ever that KITS foster youth are using their platform to tell important stories. Especially “Cyverius.”
“It is an overwhelming joy to see our youth tell a story that celebrates and values humanity, despite the challenges they faced growing up in foster care,” said Charity. “Even though we provide them with the opportunity to tell their stories, their way, these kids chose to use their creativity to positively impact their world with a story about hope and humanity.”
KITS is changing the trajectory of lives.
There are more than 30,000 youth in foster care in Los Angeles County, and only half of these youth will have a job by the time they turn 26. In LA specifically, where millions flock to pursue their entertainment dreams, foster youth make up 85% of youth recovered in sex trafficking raids.
To KITS, foster youth are more than the label that describes them.
“[The program] taught me that I’m not just some foster kid ‒ not just a series of numbers on some old, dusty filing cabinet that’s abandoned; that I’m a person, that someone cares for me, that I’m not alone,” said KITS alumna Noel Dibrell.
Dibrell joined KITS at age 15 while facing housing instability as she lived in different foster homes, group homes, schools and shelters. Through KITS, Dibrell has written three short films and has participated in five overall. KITS led her to an internship opportunity at ICM Partners, a global talent and literary agency. She also serves as the current board secretary for KITS.
A quarter of program participants sign with a talent agency after completing the program.
Ty Burrell, who plays quirky dad Phil Dunphy from the hit series “Modern Family,” is one of KITS’ most outspoken ambassadors. He highlights the impact KITS has on foster youth while they’re in the system, as well as their futures after aging out of the system. It’s a focus that sets KITS apart.
“Many of these kids spark to vocations they see on set,” said Burrell. “There are so many aspects: construction, lights, sound, hair and makeup, craft services, in addition to directing, writing, or acting. There are so many occupations that the kids get to see up close and realize they are capable of doing them for a living.”
KITS foster youth see tangible results.
KITS has already had approximately 500 program participants, however, their mission is far from over. KITS needs sustainable and more diversified funding to continue giving LA foster youth the platform for artistic release and career preparation.
Here’s how you can help:
- Become a monthly monetary or in-kind donor. Use the $25 you spend on coffee and croissants monthly to instead provide writing materials for 10 kids
- Does your employer have a corporate social responsibility program? Contact KITS to see how you and your employer can work together to create donation matches for KITS
- Donate your month’s eating out allowance toward the production studio KITS is working to fund. The studio will serve as a creative space for program participants to make films and a place where filmmakers and television studios can rent space for production, as well as employ KITS foster youth
- Share information about KITS and KITS short films
- Follow KITS on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
- Text GIVE to (818) 239-7010 to make an immediate impact on KITS foster youth
KITS heals by working together and involving everyone in the process. This is the attitude our world so desperately needs to adopt in these times of uncertainty and widespread hardship. KITS touches the lives of many, not just the foster youth participating in the programs. Take it from actress Kelle Stewart, a long time KITS ambassador.
“No matter what happens to you in life, [Charity] has planted a seed in the children, that if they just dig down deep and find that seed again, it will pull them out of any situation and get them back on track. And that is truly life-altering for the person it’s happening to, and anyone that is a witness to it.”
Sounds like the medicine we all need right now.