Filmmakers of the Future: Foster Youth Grow Storytelling Abilities at Media Training

To Foster Change hosts a two-day boot camp for former foster youth who are interested in becoming filmmakers.

Joshua Elizondo had big dreams as a teenager: Becoming an Angeleno, founding a nonprofit, interning at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and presenting at the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards were on his bucket list.

He accomplished them by age 23, but none of them were served on a silver spoon. He put in hard work after jumping into a solo cross-country road trip at 18 years old.

“Looking back, it’s like, ‘Why did I do it that way?’” he said.

Originally from Michigan, he decided that instead of renting a U-Haul, he would simply drive 2,000 miles across the country and back until he was done.

“I packed my car, drove to L.A., got here, unpacked my car, spent the night on an air mattress on the floor, and then the next morning was in the car heading back,” he remembered. “I would spend 16 to 17 hours driving. It’s nothing I’ll do again.”

Joshua Elizondo takes a break from filming fellow participants Jasmine and Xavier. | Victoria Gonzalez

Not many young people have the courage or the resources to move out of their homes to try their luck, but for many transitional age youth — young people aged 16 to 24 years old who are transitioning out of foster care — it’s not a choice.

A social impact initiative from PBS SoCal, To Foster Change addresses Southern California’s large foster youth population, one of the largest in the country, using storytelling. In this way, the youths can tell their own life story, create a supportive network of peers and inspire the public to get involved as well.

Broad in its scope, the initiative hosts intensive media training workshops, facilitates a video diaries series, offers workforce development and presents annual photography workshops and gallery showings. It also focuses on hosting community conversations to find out how public media storytelling can add to the work of community partners, as well as creating original content with an abundance of foster youth input as one of many ways to engage with them.

In collaboration with the Justice for My Sister Collective, which trains nonbinary youth, foster youth and young people of color in filmmaking, on Sept. 27-28, To Foster Change hosted a two-day boot camp for youth who are interested in becoming filmmakers. A total of 25 participants got a taste of the industry with the initiative’s fourth media training.

Jasmine Brown and Xavier Ayala act out a scene for a brief sketch as Joshua Elizondo practices filming them at the Sept. 28 media training workshop.

Over the two days, participants received hands-on training with cameras and were introduced to speakers with various jobs in the industry, including documentary filmmakers, makeup artists and photographers.

Kimberly Bautista of Justice for My Sister, who ran the workshop, said To Foster Change is particularly profound because it helps participants deepen their understanding of storytelling while cultivating a support group for each other.

“That’s powerful because we’re so used to seeing stories that are so focused on the abuse that we don’t always have ways to imagine the healing,” she said.

Elizondo shared that last year he lived out of his car while still attending school and running his nonprofit, The Foster Bunch.

“No one really knew I was homeless … it’s not really acting because I just live the life I want to live even if my circumstances are not that way. That’s kind of how I did foster care too.”

Xavier, 20, said sometimes it’s difficult to cope with being in foster care. He added that the initiative is helping him deal with his situation and keep negative thoughts away as he focuses on what he wants to do.

“That’s the one thing about foster kids,” he said, “they’re very dedicated, but they’re caught up in this shell where they can’t really express themselves. Programs like this can open them up.”

Since starting the program almost four years ago, Kathy Jura, the Program Director for To Foster Change at Public Media Group of Southern California, has seen the program grow as a relationship-building opportunity for youth from similar backgrounds, with similar interests. “The workshop provides a safe, supportive environment for participants to share sensitive stories and learn from professionals that understand where they are coming from.”

Joshua Elizondo takes video of fellow participant Jasmine as she acts out a scene for a brief sketch at the Sept. 28 media training workshop. | Victoria Gonzalez

Jasmine, an effervescent 25-year-old, said she didn’t expect to meet so many other people she wants to work with.

“There are a few people I’ve already exchanged info with, and they have projects they want me to work on, so I’m excited!” she gushed. “My mind is blown because I wasn’t expecting that.”

Jasmine said that in addition to finishing her bachelor’s in psychology, she wants to become a plus-size model, an actress and an advocate for mental health awareness, so To Foster Change was a perfect fit for her.

“It’s just amazing. I can’t wait to tell other people about it,” she said. “I want to volunteer! I want to be involved.”

Elizondo, who wants to join the industry as an actor, agreed.

“I’m here because I want to support all of them and they’re going to be the people to help me change the industry,” he said.

Bautista summed it up.

“I think it’s really a space for like-minded individuals to come together and imagine a world in which we have the resources and the tools to tell our own stories.”

For more information or to learn more visit ToFosterChange.org.