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Can you imagine living in a world without stories? Or one in which your own, personal story had no value and was never even heard? Several young film students visualized that potential scenario and didn’t like it very much. In 1997 the Los Angeles public school system had to cut back on creative arts programs for budgetary reasons. Unwilling to allow that reality to take root, a small group of stalwart students forged their resources together and founded the Young Storytellers Foundation (YSF) to fill that gap and help young children’s personal stories flower and be heard.
Helping Children Find Their Voice
The group started small but the vision and need remained large, so they incorporated as a 501(C)3, non-profit organization in 2003. It is currently a volunteer-based organization comprised of a veritable army of entertainment industry professionals, teaching artists and allied supporters. YSF’s stated mission is to inspire children to discover the power of their own voice. This is done by instituting and providing in-school programs throughout the Greater Los Angeles Area with a strong focus on Title 1 schools. The curriculum, which adheres to Common Core State Standards is primarily centered on mentoring and focuses on dramatic writing and storytelling, geared toward developing literacy skills, enhancing self-esteem and providing hands-on skill acquisition.
YSF offers an ever-growing range of programs for public elementary, middle and high schools as well as in a targeted foster care center. The non-profit currently works with more than 1,000 students annually, with another 5,000 participating as audience members. Summer workshops, intensives and camps are also volunteer-managed and run in order to provide continuity and to service kids in need.
A popular YSF program is Script-to-Stage, a 10-week elementary school initiative that takes students through the journey of conceptualizing and writing their own, short script, which is then performed on stage by professional actors in front of an audience. Volunteer-run during unstructured school time, Script-to-Stage pairs up each child with an encouraging mentor who currently works within the entertainment industry. It focuses on gameplay, dramatic structure, storytelling and writing. Students participating in the empowering program enjoy a VIP, red-carpet experience the night of the performance in which family, friends, teachers and the community all take part.
Another powerful YSF program is Movie Makers, which is offered as an after-school extra curricular for middle school students. Run over the course of two semesters, Movie Makers culminates in screenings of student-written and produced films all shot on location. Short films are created by student pairs, using the 3-2-1 equation, comprised of a three-page script, two actors and one location. Students are guided through the film-making process through group activities, hands-on exercises and mentoring by professionals and older, high school students. Professional actors are brought in to perform in the films with the students engaged in the role of directors and cinematographers. A screening is held for the school and family community and a trailer of the short film is created for the students to use as a pitch to industry producers, providing additional practice in the areas of career fulfillment and acquisition.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.