Impact Beyond the Silver Screen
Kids In The Spotlight (KITS) empowers L.A. foster youth to address and overcome trauma through the arts, telling their stories their way. Our Script-to-Screen programs culminate in the annual KITS Film Awards—think movie premiere meets the Oscars—where these opportunity youth are given celebrity treatment as they celebrate a year of learning, healing, and achievement. Prior to the awards portion of the evening, we screen the short films made that year, written by and starring our creative and talented youth, for an audience of 500+.
What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?
Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
County of Los Angeles
City of Los Angeles
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?
Expand existing project, program, or initiative
What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?
The L.A. foster care system affects 35,000+ foster youth plus their families, friends, and the community at large. We are seeking to address outcomes like 1) 40% end up in jail, homeless, or dead within three years, 2) foster youth are 3-5 times more likely to die by suicide than same-age peers, and 3) 25% suffer from PTSD. The societal cost of foster care–state and federally–exceeds $9 billion annually under just title IV-E of the Social Security Act. The ongoing impact of trauma is particularly debilitating given their abrupt independence upon aging out. Unaddressed, it can lead to a range of challenges negatively affecting their self-management, responsible decision-making, and self/social awareness. We must address their feelings, and the systemic problems of the child welfare system, because the painful outcomes to these potential changemakers is unacceptable. Our art therapy approach provides a healthy outlet for expressing/releasing the traumas the youth have experienced.
Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.
Creating artistic openings for foster youth to be seen, heard, validated, celebrated, and employed combats the barriers they currently face. Providing a platform for youth to create content, KITS offers a lifeline to those who often feel overlooked and devalued. KITS’ Script-to-Screen program spotlights Black and brown foster youth ages 12-22 who write, cast, and star in their own short films. The program year culminates in the annual KITS Film Awards (KFA), where their films and talents are showcased for the public—including industry insiders and decision makers who can hire them. The KFA offers our youth the Academy Award-worthy treatment they deserve (glam squads, suits/gowns, limos, red carpet, celebrity presenters) where our youth take center stage in the spotlight. After their films are screened, awards for best ensembles, screenplays, actors, and films are announced. With a platform to shine, the transformation of our opportunity youth takes place. Screenwriting gives them agency and decision-making power. Acting gives them a safe outlet to express themselves. The KFA restores hope through giving foster youth an audience who helps carry the weight of what they’ve endured alone. With the help of LA2050, KITS will further magnify the impact of our youths’ films and grow their opportunities for creative industry employment through having a professional film crew capture the event and package it for distribution to a television audience—like the Teens Choice Awards.
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
By giving youth with the unique lived experience of foster care a learned skillset to heal from trauma, KITS prepares foster youth to bridge the diversity, equity and inclusion gap in the entertainment industry. KITS envisions our youth overcoming barriers to entry, creating a more equitable Hollywood, and restoring social capital to foster youth. To that end, KITS partners with industry professionals who mentor our youth in every area of filmmaking to see what passions are unlocked. KITS Ambassador/Director David Mahmoudieh mentored former foster youth, Rodney, through shooting his National Short Screenplay Competition-winning script, “Bully.” Premiering at the 2021 KFA, David secured Terry Crews and Ariel Winter to star alongside Rodney in his short film, and has since hired Rodney for a Google commercial. As we seek to get the KFA professionally captured and televised, the impact will be added exposure for our youth and increased job opportunities in L.A.'s largest labor economy.
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
KITS evaluates our Script-to-Screen program impact with intake and exit surveys, done at the start of class and at the completion of production day, providing quantitative data. However, the KFA lends itself to qualitative feedback as the youth give speeches sharing what the experience means to them. In 2021, one teen expressed gratitude as the patrons bore witness to her mom’s story, which in effect, is her story too. Separated from her mom due to incarceration, she and her group wanted to create a film that encouraged their peers to stop gang violence in their L.A. community. A transitional age foster youth said, “I’m glad to be a part of KITS. Being in this program has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! More progress to come!” A 2018 guest recently told us, “I LOVE LOVE LOVE KITS!! Your work is amazing and inspirational!!! You are truly saving a nation! I was honored and proud that my daughter participated in this beautiful event a few years back. Keep on keeping on!!”
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
Direct Impact: 750
Indirect Impact: 1,000,000