Tige Charity is the Founder and Executive Director of Kids in the Spotlight (KITS), a Los Angeles-based non-profit that provides a platform for young people in foster care to write, cast and star in their own short films, telling their stories their way.
Since its founding in 2009, the organization has worked with more than 750 young people, primarily 12- to 17-year-olds who reside in residential group homes, but also transitional-age youth from 18 to 22.
“We have produced over 75 short films by these amazing jewels, these diamonds that are in the foster care system,” Tige says. “We are making sure that youth in foster care are not forgotten, that they are heard, seen, validated, celebrated, and even employed.”
A Visit to a Group Home Planted a Seed
In 2005, after moving to California with her husband, actor Antonio D. Charity, Tige was working as a claims specialist in the insurance industry, wanting a change. When Antonio’s theater group taught an acting class at an all-girls group home, Tige went along. She felt deeply for what the girls were going through, having only their own bed to call their own, having to share a space with others who came and went as their circumstances changed.
“That experience cracked my heart wide open,” she says. “My thought was, ‘I was blessed. I was raised in a home with a mother and a father. And here these kids are in foster care through no fault of their own.’”
A realization Tige had that day stayed with her: when she saw a group of girls acting out, she understood that they were just asking for attention. They wanted to be seen.
“That visit really compelled me to want to do something, but I just didn’t know what.”
Inspiration at the Right Time
Change came for Tige in an unwelcome way, when she was laid off from her corporate job. While unemployed, she struggled to find her greater purpose, and one day had what she calls “a temper tantrum with God.” Then inspiration struck: “I remembered the girls I had met a couple years prior at that group home. And I could just hear this small voice that said, ‘Give them something you love. You love the arts, give them a platform to be seen, heard, validated, celebrated.’ It was a narrative around giving youth in foster care a platform and an outlet.”
The plan she envisioned was so detailed, she grabbed a journal to record it: “I started writing down the vision for Kids in the Spotlight, making movies by kids for kids, but you can’t just stop there. You have to celebrate these kids in an enormous way. We have to create an Oscar-like event, where we screen the films and present awards for Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Film.”
Twelve years on, that original vision is still going strong. Films produced by KITS have shown at film festivals and won awards nationally and internationally. “We’re seeing some of our youth from the first couple of years now working in the entertainment industry,” Tige says. “They’re creating projects and becoming successful, and paying forward too.”
Fundraising is the Biggest Challenge
For Tige, the most daunting part of running a non-profit is raising enough funds. “It’s just really challenging when you have this amazing opportunity for funders to invest in the lives of foster youth in a significant way, and they say no. Some people just don’t understand the vision, and some don’t understand how we accomplish so much with so little financial support. But we’ve also been blessed. We have some amazing individuals and a few foundations who support and champion our program, helping us change the trajectory of youth in foster care.”
Currently, Kids in the Spotlight is fundraising to purchase a 10,000-square-foot building to launch Production Studio for a Cause, which will serve as a home base for youth to create content. The building will also feature studio space that can be rented to generate revenue for KITS, and Tige envisions that productions renting studio space would hire youth from the program.
Opportunities to Change Lives
When appealing to potential donors, Tige emphasizes that there are more than 36,000 children in foster care in LA County alone. She believes that positive interventions like Kids in the Spotlight can potentially reduce the homeless and prison populations, given that the foster care system has historically been a pipeline to both homelessness and incarceration.
“We are creating opportunities for youth in foster care that can really change the narrative in terms of their well being. There are so many jobs in the entertainment industry, not just in front of or behind the camera. Pretty much any career path that one could choose, there is a space for that in the entertainment industry.”