Young Storytellers Foundation

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The Young Storytellers Foundation develops literacy through the art of storytelling.

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.


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.

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[edit]

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.


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.

Contractual Agreement required of Participants[edit]

There is some cause to question the published and stated goals of YSF when one reviews the contract that must be signed to participate.In some instances this contract is not provided to the participants and their parents/guardians until they have already spent some time in the program. The main point of the agreement is to have the participants waive all rights they may have to work they themselves have created, transferring it exclusively and in perpetuity to YSF. It also allows YSF to create derivative work from the projects the students are involved in. The contract also states that the students waive all rights to any credit for said work (this may be due to the problems that would arise should the students work end up in a union production with the credit then requiring payment, etc.) An excerpt of the contract/release for YSF's Movie Makers program is below. It does not seem to provide for any "good and valuable consideration" for signing such a release and it should be noted that though the contracts terms are to be interpreted by the laws of California, they specifically exclude California's provisions concerning conflict of law.

"Thank you for voluntarily participating in the Young Storytellers Program (the “Program”) with the Young Storytellers Foundation (“YSF”). Your participation in the program (or the participation of your minor child) may involve many aspects of our work, but in being involved in the program; you may also create, modify, adapt, participate in, or otherwise work on various creative projects. In order to protect our interests, and to clearly define your rights related to your participation (or the participation of your minor child), we need you to carefully consider and sign this Release. This is an important legal document, so please take the time to fully understand it before signing. Any communications or material you create, provide to YSF or are otherwise involved in will be treated as non-confidential and will be owned by YSF. This obviously includes any creative work, but also includes less obvious things like questions, comments, ideas, images, writings, music, sounds, audiovisual works or effects, artwork, design elements, graphics, suggestions, concepts, notes or other materials (we will refer to all of these things as “Program Materials”). By signing this Release, you agree to transfer and assign to YSF all rights in the Program Materials forever. This means that YSF will have the exclusive right to do anything with those Program Materials without paying you anything, including the right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, incorporate into other works, distribute, sub-license, perform, display and otherwise exploit those Program Materials, in all languages and throughout the universe, in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter devised. By signing this Release, you acknowledge and expressly agree that you will not receive any financial or other consideration in connection with our use of the Program Materials, including, without limitation, credit. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you agree that if we have specifically offered a credit in exchange for certain submissions, our agreement must be in writing, and all aspects of that credit (including determination of eligibility) will be at our sole discretion and any failure to provide credit will be a non-material failure and will not entitle you to damages or any relief at law or in equity (without limitation you will not be entitled to any injunctive or equitable relief)." [1]

No information is available as to how many parents refuse to sign the standard YSF release excluding their child from participation. Many of the programs hold their activities on the campus of Los Angeles County public schools, bringing into question how such a requirement could be used to exclude a student from the program while at the same time making use of public resources.

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