I began working directly with homeless youth at 19 years old in New York City during one of the most difficult times of my life. I had lost my job and my apartment in what seemed like an instant. I was on the verge of being homeless myself, and discovered a world that I had no idea existed - teenagers alone on the streets, struggling to survive, selling their bodies for money to eat. The kids I met and the stories I heard of neglect, violence, abuse, and abandonment, absolutely astonished me. I began documenting their stories and decided the best way I could help was to share them with the world. The culmination of their stories became a stage play called The Playground, which premiered on stage in Los Angeles and continued to run at least once a year for the next six consecutive years.
Two young homeless girls kept coming to the show and wanted to get involved. Shortly after, one of the girls was murdered in a hotel room and left for dead in an alley. Not long after that, the other girl was also found dead.
This had a huge impact on me and I knew I needed to do something more. So, I went out to the streets for a weekend with a camera and a small team to make a two minute Public Service Announcement. That weekend turned into 8 years and ultimately became the feature documentary, American Street Kid.
Having interviewed hundreds of kids over the last twelve years I always asked the same question, “If you could be anything in the world right now, what would it be?” The majority of the kids said, “I don’t know, I’ve never thought about that”, or, “no one’s ever asked me that question before.” As a Writer/Director, my work is all about imagination, creativity and visualization, so to speak with a kid that never daydreamed about what they wanted to be left me speechless. No one had ever taught these kids that they mattered or that they were worthy of anything other than the life they already had, and living on the streets only reinforced those beliefs.
I wanted to teach them that they are worth something and that if they could learn to believe in themselves, they could change their lives.
The relationships I formed with the kids were extraordinary, and what impacted me the most was witnessing how being a part of something created an immediate change in them. Most importantly, I saw the positive effect on the kids' lives from being a part of a family, knowing that they were loved and that they could make a difference in this world.