Tige Charity found herself unemployed from an insurance department job during the late-2000s recession. Looking to find a new sense of purpose, she began thinking about a visit she’d once made to a girls group home with her husband, actor Antonio D. Charity (The Orville), and how the home’s director had told her about the rewards of mentorship. In 2009, Tige decided to create Kids in the Spotlight (KITS), a nonprofit that helps empower foster youth through filmmaking. KITS program participants write, direct, shoot, cast and act in projects alongside mentors from the film world. “You give them the arts, create a platform for them to be seen, heard, validated and celebrated,” says Tige.
Now, KITS has grown enough to have opened its first studio. Launched with an open house in April, KITS Production Studio is a 5,300-square-foot space in Van Nuys available to entertainment companies for shoots, table reads and castings. (Studio rental ranges from $950 for 12 hours to $90,000 for 30 days — significantly cheaper than many major soundstages.) Those who rent out the studio space will be required to have two youths work as PAs per production through KITS’ workforce development program. The group is trying to raise $2.5 million to buy the property outright, with a fundraising sprint this May, 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 it’s based on your connections,” explains Tige. “But we’re bringing these connections to the youth.”
Since founding the nonprofit, KITS has worked with more than 850 young people from 11 to 24 years old. Over the past decade, they have created more than 85 short films, which have starred actors including Terry Crews and Nadine Ellis. “It’s nothing short of remarkable what KITS has been able to accomplish,” says Ty Burrell, a longtime supporter of the group. “Tige and her incredible team have used ingenuity, resourcefulness and a huge collective heart to allow countless foster youth to tell their stories. I count myself lucky to be in their orbit.”
Each year, the short films are screened at the KITS Film Awards, where kids in the program get glammed up and experience the red carpet treatment. The most recent awards night was held last year at the Regal LA Live in Downtown L.A. According to Tige, the goal isn’t simply for young people to make a film, but to have the film industry invest in them as well. “I really want to give these kids that type of connection,” she says.
James Gutierrez, who hails from Whittier, California, joined the program in 2021 and won the second annual KITS National Short Screenplay Competition for his film Rainy Days. KITS connected him with actor-producer Mo McRae (The Flight Attendant), who came on as director. “It’s been the most beautiful, humbling thing I’ve ever been a part of,” says Gutierrez, who heard about the organization through a foster youth program while attending Cerritos College. “I feel like it gets me one step closer to not just getting to my dreams, but helping to heal all the traumas that I still have to deal with on the inside.”
This story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
This article was originally published by Hollywood Reporter and was written by Ural Garrett.