Ty Burrell
Photos courtesy of Kids In The Spotlight

Kids In The Spotlight

by Mara Shapshay

Ten days ago, the most vulnerable kids in L.A. County became the most invulnerable as they stepped into the spotlight, thanks to the Kids In The Spotlight charity event.

“It was upsetting to watch but I’m very happy to share my story. It shows you that anything is possible,” said Ashley Gomez, writer/actress of the short film, Another Way Out.

Ashley isn’t your average writer/actress. First of all, she is a teenager and secondly, she is a foster kid. She lives in Maryvale (a group home for girls). Ashley was one of seven teenagers from Maryvale and Hillsides who took part in the Kids In The Spotlight fifth annual film festival.

Tige Charity (yes, that is her real name) came up with Kids In The Spotlight five years ago. She has a team of Hollywood experts and volunteers who take foster kids from tragic and traumatic backgrounds and helps them to express themselves creatively through filmmaking.

Kids in the Spotlight

For ten weeks, they come up with a story idea, write the screenplay and then help cast the film (they also star in the film). Then, they’re each assigned a director who shoots the film. At the end of the ten weeks, they have a polished 10-minute short film ready to be premiered at the film festival.

The Kids In The Spotlight film festival was held at the Writer’s Guild Theater. The foster girls wore fancy sequined dresses and the foster boys wore suits which were bought for them. There was even a red carpet. Oh, and they arrived in limos!

Ty Burrell who plays the father on the ABC hit sitcom, Modern Family, was the host of the film festival and some of the celebrities introducing the films were Mo McRae (Sons of Anarchy), Rico Rodriguez (Modern Family), Andrea Navedo (Jane the Virgin) and Greer Grammer (Awkward).

One of my favorite films was Ashley Gomez’s Another Way Out. The story follows a teenage Hispanic girl who gets involved with drugs and gangs. She has a step-father who beats her within an inch of her life after he notices the scars on her arms from cutting herself.

In the film as in in real life, the police save Ashley from her abusive stepfather and put her into Maryvale. She is sullen and depressed, until a Tige-like character comes to Maryvale and encourages her to tell her story.

Another film that was impressive was Heaven’s Hard Pitches. It won best film and tells the story of a teenage girl who runs away from her abusive foster family and ends up at a group home. She is in search of her real father who is her only hope of having a normal life. The detective who helps her finds her father, ends up being her Dad. It’s a great film about hope and reconciliation.

All the films had great themes. A Reckless Phase is about a class valedictorian who is poisoned by a bully on graduation day but recovers and graduates. It’s a story of triumphing over adversity.

Rico Rodriguez

The Beauty Project is the story of an awkward girl whom two guys get into a bet over whether they can make her “dateable.” She finds out about the bet and is crushed, but realizes through the process her own self worth.

Welcome to Camp Apotampkin is about an outcast girl who finds her “people” when she attends a camp for monsters and vampires.

The Bully is a film about a boy who is bullied by a popular kid in high school, only to realize that the bully does in fact have a heart.

I Wish I Had Your Life was about a poor African American girl who befriends a rich white girl. The African American girl realizes that she in fact has the better life because even though her family doesn’t have money, they have love.

In all of the films, I noticed that all the central characters felt like outcasts and were shunned by society, which is how being a foster child must feel like. But for the ten weeks and the day of the festival, they were not those neglected foster kids, they were bonafide stars.

Kids In The Spotlight’s goal is to break the cycle of family heartbreak by empowering these foster kids. Tige and her team bring out their innate abilities, as well as build their self esteem. Spotlight teaches them that they can have and deserve a better way of life.

The kids at Maryvale and Hillsides are the most vulnerable kids in L.A. County, and Kids in the Spotlight gives them a voice. Seeing them step out of the dark shadows that have been their existence into the bright shining spotlight was worth the price of admission and more.

Kids in the Spotlight

Mara Shapshay

About Mara Shapshay

Mara Shapshay is a writer/comedian/performer who has a BFA from NYU Film and an MFA from the American Film Institute. She is a stand-up comic who performs regularly at The Comedy Store, Improv, Laugh Factory, and many other venues. Mara is currently writing her memoir, Sleeping With The Dalai Lama. In addition, Mara writes for The Huffington Post, Thefix.com and Glamour Magazine. She can be seen in an episode of season 6’s Kathy Griffin’s Life On The D-List. Follow her on Twitter @marashapshay

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