Tige Charity found herself unemployed due to her job in the insurance department during the recession of the late 2000s. Looking for a new purpose in life, she began to think about the one-time visit she made to a women’s dormitory with her husband, actor Antonio D. Charity (Orville), and how the director of the house told her about the mentoring bonus. In 2009, Tige decided to found Kids in the Spotlight (KITS), a non-profit organization that helps empower foster youth through filmmaking. Participants in the KITS program write scripts, direct, cinematographers, actors and act in projects together with mentors from the world of cinema. “You give them art, create a platform for them to be seen, heard, authenticated and celebrated,” says Tige.
Now, KITS has grown enough to open its first studio. Launched with an open house in April, KITS Production Studio is a 5,300-square-foot space in Van Nuys for entertainment companies to film, read, and cast. (Studio rents range from $950 for 12 hours to $90,000 for 30 days — significantly cheaper than many large soundstages.) Studio space tenants will have to have two young adults work with them. as the PA for each product through the KITS workforce development program. The team is trying to raise $2.5 million to buy the property outright, with this May sprint fundraising, which is National Foster Care Month. Donations can be made through kitsinc.org.
“In the entertainment industry, a lot of these jobs are based on who you know and on your connections,” explains Tige. “But we are bringing these connections to the youth.”
Since the founding of the nonprofit, KITS has worked with more than 850 youth ages 11 to 24. Over the past decade, they have created more than 85 short films starring actors including Terry Crews and Nadine Ellis. “What KITS has been able to achieve is nothing short of remarkable,” said Ty Burrell, a longtime supporter of the group. “Tige and her incredible team have used ingenuity, resourcefulness and a huge collective heart to enable countless nurtured youth to tell their stories. I consider myself lucky to be in their orbit.”
Each year, short films are screened at the KITS Film Awards, where the kids in the show are welcomed and experience the red carpet treatment. The most recent awards night was held last year at Regal LA Live in Downtown LA. According to Tige, the goal was not simply for young people to make films, but for the film industry to invest in them. “I really wanted to give these kids that kind of connection,” she said.
James Gutierrez, from Whittier, California, entered the show in 2021 and won the second annual KITS National Short Screenplay Competition for his film. Rainy days. KITS connected him with actor and producer Mo McRae (Flight attendant), who became director. Gutierrez, who learned about the organization through a youth nurturing program while studying at the University of Cerritos, said: “It was the most beautiful, humbling thing I have ever been involved in. “I feel like it takes me one step closer to not only reaching my dreams but also helping to heal all the hurt I still have to face inside.”
This story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to sign up.