Life is so much bigger than just you. We all have a responsibility. Purpose is not just for me, not just for us, but for others to benefit from as well.
When my husband and I moved to California, he joined a theater company that was teaching an acting workshop at an all-girls group home. He was one of the actors teaching the workshop, so when he asked me if I wanted to accompany him to this foster care agency where he would be teaching, I said of course! Little did I know how much that would change my life.
This was my first time ever being in a foster care agency and really seeing kids in foster care up close and personal. During that visit the director of the mentoring program asked us if we wanted a tour. When I walked into the girls' room and saw these twin-size beds in the room, with their dresser drawers under the beds and all their personal pictures above the beds, my heart just broke. I felt so sorry for those kids, and my mind began to wonder, "Why was I fortunate to be raised in a home with a mother and a father, and these kids were in foster care, through no fault of their own?"
I knew I wanted to help, so I asked, what could I do to give back? They mentioned that they always need mentors and people to be a part of the girls' lives. As we continued to tour the facility I noticed a group of girls acting out, and in that moment, I had this moment of judgment, thinking, "Why are these girls misbehaving and acting out?" I thought, "Company is present; they shouldn't be acting this way!" The minute I had that thought, another thought occurred to me, that they're not just acting out — these kids were asking for attention. These kids understood company was present and they needed the attention.
I thought about what the director said about needing mentors, but I knew that wasn't a good fit for me. I had this overwhelming sympathy for them, but they didn't need that. Empathy, yes, but I was at a place where I just wanted to hug every one of them and take them home with me. I knew mentoring would not work.
A couple of years passed and I never stopped thinking about those girls. At the time, I was working a corporate job as a litigations claims specialist. I'd been working in claims for nearly 15 years at the time and I was so unfulfilled and tired. I knew my purpose had to be bigger than arguing over the value of bodily injury claims everyday. I literally felt like I was deteriorating on the inside.
In 2008, when the country entered a recession, the company I worked for started laying people off — and I was the last person hired in a three-person insurance department... So in 2009, I got laid off. I had never been without a job before, so I thought, "What am I going to do now?" I knew I could get another job at another insurance company, even in a horrible economy, but I just didn't want to. I just couldn't. I knew there had to be something else.
It just so happens that my pastor at the time was preaching a series called "Discovering God's Dreams for Your Life." I was a little rebellious about it, thinking, "Oh, we're talking about purpose. I've heard enough sermons about purpose before." I was kind of like, whatever; I wasn't feeling it. But one day I just had this powwow with God. I was at a place where I was just tired of being unfulfilled, frustrated, and dissatisfied. I didn't really want to get back in the rat race looking for another job, and I certainly couldn't live off of unemployment, so I finally asked God, "What in the world am I supposed to be doing?"
Then I remembered those girls and a thought occurred to me: "I want to give those girls an outlet, a platform to tell their stories, their way. They want to be seen, so let's give them that platform to be seen and let's celebrate them." And the vision for Kids in the Spotlight was literally given to me that night, detail by detail, and after I stopped crying, I jumped up and grabbed a journal and started writing it all out.
When visited the foster care agency and I witnessed kids in foster care, I began to do some research on how kids end up in foster care. The outcome of kids in foster care and the statistics were absolutely heartbreaking. In L.A. County there are more than 35,000 kids in the system; only 3% actually go on to college and earn a degree. A lot of these kids end up going from foster care facilities to prison. That impacts our economy, which impacts my life, your life, and everyone's life. And yet, the expectations for these youngsters are the same for kids that come from a stable home. This demographic of kids are forced to mature, think, and thrive at an intensity that is rare. That's a lot to expect from kids who have been transferred to multiple homes and schools throughout adolescence. I knew there was something that could be done. I now know that the arts have a very powerful influence not just on people who are in the arts but also on people that experience the arts. We all feel something when we see a good movie, a good play, attend a good concert, or visit a good museum. All of these different forms of art bring community together.
I thought letting foster youth tell their stories, their way through short films would be a great way to start the healing process and to give kids in foster care an outlet while also teaching them life skills and vocational skills. We live in Hollywood. It's a great town to get really amazing jobs, and not just in front of the camera or behind the camera. There is so much opportunity in making movies. They are literally learning every aspect of filmmaking that people don't necessarily think about. I knew we could use this avenue to change their trajectory. As much money as we put into the prison system? How about we use that money to start providing the resources and things that foster kids need to heal, grow, and thrive? How about we help them become positive citizens and successful citizens? I believe it's our responsibility.
The next morning after I had my "powwow" with God, I jumped out of bed and went to We the People (a company that helps with legal document preparation)and asked how to incorporate a business. I completed all the paperwork that same day. I knew it had to be a 501(c)(3) because this was going to be a huge endeavor that would make a huge impact in the lives of foster youth and I knew I couldn't do it by myself. I remember someone at We the People telling me that I could hire an attorney to do the paperwork for the 501(c)(3). The attorney was going to cost about $2,500, and the application would cost about $750. I thought, "Lord, I can't afford that." So I kept digging and digging and finally thought, "Maybe I could do it myself." So I did. I spent about eight hours completing the 1023 form myself and with the help of my husband. I mailed the form to the IRS, got approved, became a 501(c)(3), and the rest is history. We have been operating ever since. Nine years. We started with zero funding and now have an operating budget of nearly $1 million and have produced over 60 short films to date
There are so many possibilities that these kids are being exposed to by having this platform. The more I worked with the kids and witnessed the traumatic things they have gone through, the more I knew they deserved every ounce of time that I could give them.
It has been challenging at times, but we work through it. Our next phase is to build a performance boarding school/academy that is going to be a solution for one of the challenges that we keep seeing, which is kids constantly being transferred to multiple homes, agencies, and schools. Our kids don't see their finished film until the KITS annual festival and awards ceremony, which usually takes place in November at the Fox Studios lot. Therefore, when they are transferred multiple times, sometimes we can't locate them and they miss being a part of their big celebration. The awards celebration is KITS's version of the Oscars, during which all the kids have a unique opportunity to taste a bit of the town's glamor by walking on the blue carpet, posing with celebrities, dressing up, and, most importantly, seeing their works for the first time — completed and on the big screen. This is their big day to really shine, to see the end results of their work, and it breaks my heart when we can't find them because they've been transferred to a different location: They don't get the celebration that they deserve. We try to be very present on social media so they can stay in contact in case they get transferred, but it doesn't always happen. Our goal is to open this academy where the kids will have a safe and permanent place to learn and live for four years and not worry about being transferred. We really want to create a place where there is stability, love, and permanency. The agencies that we work with have reported that the kids are doing so well and the work transfers into their school work, but our current program is only 10-15 weeks. Some of these agencies don't have anything that compares to the level of engagement our program offers, so when our program ends, the kids start reverting back to some of their prior behavior. So the performing arts boarding academy will be a solution to many of the negative statistics associated with foster youth, such as homelessness, incarceration, poverty/unemployment, and early pregnancy. We are really excited about finding ways to make this happen for the kids.
As I have continued with my own purpose and mission over these last nine years, I'm always inspired by watching other people grow when they truly tap into their purpose. I love seeing people win in life. It inspires me. Know your design; know your purpose; know what you were created to do. I think a lot of times we try to make ourselves fit into a mold that wasn't designed for our genetic makeup. Be the YOU that God created you to be. When you really find your purpose, that takes you to a place of joy and fulfillment that is immeasurable. Know your purpose and let your purpose lead you. Always be purpose driven and mission focused. That way everyone's needs are taken care of.
Tige earned her BS in accounting from Oral Roberts University and an MBA in nonprofit management from American Jewish University. A wife, mother, visionary, executive producer, executive director, and adjunct instructor, Tige uses her experiences to inspire and motivate others to live in purpose. In 2009, she created Kids in the Spotlight, an organization that provides a positive outlet and platform for foster care youths to tell their stories, their way.
Narrative written by Tricia English in collaboration with Tige Charity