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Young storytellers program

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Title: Young storytellers program  
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Subject: Anthony LaPaglia, Kelli Williams, Billy Campbell, Ron Perlman, Tate Donovan, Paget Brewster, Gia Carides
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Young storytellers program

The Young Storytellers Foundation develops literacy through the art of storytelling. Using group exercises and one-on-one mentoring, we provide under-served children in the public school system an opportunity to write stories and see them brought to life through performance. Our mission is to inspire children to discover the power of their own voice.

The Young Storytellers Program currently serves elementary school students in Southern California, including the cities of Los Angeles, Culver City, Santa Monica, and Burbank. YSF targets Title 1 schools; these are schools and school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty in which academic performance tends to be low and the obstacles to raising performance are the greatest. What was started in 1997 with ten children at one elementary school has reached over 6,000 children as of 2012.


Young Storytellers Foundation was founded in 2003 in Los Angeles. The foundation was organized to support an in-school mentoring program which was begun as a grassroots effort in 1997 - the brainchild of three students at the American Film Institute; Mikkel Bondesen, Brad Falchuk, and Andrew Barrett.

Upon learning about cutbacks in funding for creative arts programs in the Los Angeles public schools, Bondesen enlisted the help of Falchuk and Barrett, and together they developed the Young Storytellers Program (YSP). These three writers developed a six-week, one hour per week curriculum. Together with seven additional writers, and school principal Sharon Langman, they offered the first Young Storytellers Program session at the Playa Del Rey School in Venice, California.

The program was an immediate success. The original mentors recruited new volunteers, and slowly they expanded the program, adding one or two schools each semester.

Mission and objectives

The Young Storytellers Foundation offers a means of self-expression to kids at a time when most public schools have fewer and fewer opportunities for artistic and creative activities as part of the curriculum. YSF's belief is a simple one: that every child has natural storytelling ability; and that, through the expression and celebration of the talent and imagination that exists in every child, they can discover their own unique and special voice, and with it a confidence and pride that will last their entire lives.


In each school that offers the program, YSF pairs 10 elementary school students with 10 creative professionals – all volunteers, who, over the course of nine weekly meetings, guide and encourage the students as they imagine, develop and write their own short screenplay. The philosophy is to welcome each student into the program as the talented, capable and creative artist they are - from the first moment they walk into the classroom. Each mentor serves only as a facilitator; the student is the storyteller – of every idea, plot, character, and word. By encouraging and coaching, mentors reveal the young writers inherent talent, giving them the opportunity to fully explore and express their individual creative voices.

At the end of the nine-week session, professional actors, all volunteers, join students and mentors in staging "The Big Show," a spirited staged reading of each script for an audience of family, teachers and friends. Before each Big Show, the students meet each of the actors and each student selects the cast for their own story. After the show, the young writers take a final bow before a much-deserved standing ovation.

This final step brings the community together to celebrate each child’s creativity. The positive effect of the program on the self-esteem, social behavior, and academic life of each student is truly remarkable.

The program has also been adapted for summer camps. For a number of years, Young Storytellers mentors have volunteered to run the program at The Painted Turtle, a camp for children who are terminally or chronically ill.

The YSF scripts have been brought to life by actors including Matthew Perry (Friends), Hank Azaria (Mad About You, The Simpsons, Huff), Tate Donovan, Adam Brody, Kelly Rowan, Rachel Bilson, Benjamin McKenzie, and Melinda Clarke (The O.C.), Anthony LaPaglia (Without A Trace), Emily Procter (CSI: Miami), Jason Ritter (Joan of Arcadia), Jennifer Grant (Beverly Hills, 90210), Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), Fred Savage (Austin Powers in Goldmember), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Mary-Lynn Rajskub (24, Legally Blonde), Paget Brewster (Huff, Criminal Minds), Billy Campbell (Enough), Esai Morales (NYPD Blue), Kelli Williams (The Practice), Gia Carides (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Constance Marie (the George Lopez TV series), Judy Greer (13 Going on 30) and Cheri Oteri (Saturday Night Live); as well as cast members and voice actors for such popular kids' programs as SpongeBob SquarePants, Lizzie McGuire, and Even Stevens. '

Population served

YSF runs its unique, 9-week program in over thirty schools each semester. The students are primarily in the 5th grade.

YSF focuses its efforts toward Title One Elementary Schools. In the Los Angeles area schools served by YSF, the general population breaks down as follows:

  • Male: 50%
  • Female: 50%
  • African-American: 12.1%
  • Asian/Pacific: 4.2%
  • Latino: 71.9%
  • White: 9.4%
  • Other: 2.4%

Since the first session in 1997, the benefits of the Young Storytellers Foundation's program have been clear. Parents, school principals, and teachers attest to the fact that the Young Storytellers Program’s ability to offer personal attention, an unyielding belief in each child’s innate abilities, a nonjudgmental atmosphere for creativity, and a special celebration of each Young Storyteller’s achievement has a direct and substantial positive impact on each participant’s academic performance, test scores, attendance, social interaction, and self-esteem.


The staff of the YSF consists of a full-time Executive Director, an Associate Director, a Program Director, and a Program Coordinator. The rest of our enthusiastic organization is made up of thousands of volunteer mentors and actors.

The program is run in each school by a volunteer Head Mentor and ten volunteer Mentors. Each mentor works one-on-one with a student for the duration of the nine-week program. Many of our mentors are creative professionals, and all are carefully screened and trained before they enter the classroom.


YSF has received grants and contributions from many philanthropic organizations including: The National Endowment for the Arts, The Los Angeles County Arts Commission, The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, The Thelma Pearl Howard Foundation, The Dwight Stuart Youth Fund, The Herb Alpert Foundation, The Eisner Foundation, The Endeavor Foundation, Entertainment Industry Foundation, Sony Entertainment, The Skoll Foundation, Participant Foundation (a donor advised fund at the California Community Foundation), Paul Newman Foundation, The Nimoy Foundation, The Louis Borick Family Foundation, HBO, Warner Bros., WME Entertainment, CAA, NBC, Fox Gives, FOX Broadcasting, FX, City National Bank, and Target, as well as from thousands of individual contributors.

See also

External links

  • Young Storytellers Foundation - official website
  • E!Online - article about YSF fundraiser
  • NPR audio article - Gloria Hillard reports on the Young Storytellers Foundation
  • Dustin Hoffman
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