Thursday, February 24, 2011
February 23, 2011 — They spent their teenage years living on the streets of New York City. Today, a group of formerly homeless adolescents is one step away from winning an Emmy for the gritty, critically acclaimed documentary they produced about their own lives.
“Invisible: The Diaries of New York’s Homeless Youth” was created by—and inspired by—teens and young adults in The Reciprocity Foundation’s program for homeless youth. The half-hour “mini-doc” originally aired on New York’s PIX 11 channel to an audience of roughly 700,000 viewers in late 2009, and it has now been nominated for an Emmy Award by New York Chapter of National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The program offers an intimate, sometimes unsettling look at the enormous economic and cultural challenges homeless teenagers face in their search to find roofs over their heads—along with safety and solace in their lives.
Each year, up to 2.8 million young people experience homelessness. Reciprocity Foundation co-founder Adam Bucko says, “This is a huge victory for homeless youth. We’ve spent the past seven years convincing corporations, governments and the public that homeless youth aren’t hopeless—they have enormous talent, creativity and potential.”
From shooting video to writing copy and overseeing edit sessions, the formerly homeless young people who co-produced “Invisible” mastered the spectrum of television production skills. WNBC news reporter Chris Glorioso, an Emmy award-winning journalist himself, served as a mentor and co-producer on the project.
“I have rarely seen a group of young adults so fearless and so focused,” says Glorioso. “These kids, who spent their formative years sleeping on sidewalks and on strangers’ couches, conceptualized a piece of television that is both heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. That’s not easy, even for a seasoned documentary maker.”
The Reciprocity Foundation students undertook this project in order to highlight an often-ignored and somewhat taboo issue; the film documents personal experiences of youth homelessness as only once-homeless teens can capture them.
The show was co-written, co-produced and partially shot by seven of Reciprocity's formerly homeless teens: Lyssette Horne, Selassie Samuel, Eleet Lucheonnie, Aaron McBride, Dorian Paat, Bobby Beavers and Jennifer Carter.
Told mostly from a first-person perspective, “Invisible” explores the causes of youth homelessness that arise when youngsters are orphaned, must flee chronic physical and sexual abuse, are thrown out because of their sexual orientation, or are simply trying to escape overwhelming economic dilemmas. The homeless youth featured in the documentary talk openly about the circumstances that made them homeless and the Reciprocity Foundation’s unique formula for lifting kids out of crisis and into successful careers.
Reciprocity Foundation’s co-founder Taz Tagore says, “Homeless youth can break the cycle of poverty, but only if you enable them to have a career goal that excites them and leverages their talents. In a very real way, working on this documentary has done just that for our students. They were homeless just months ago, but now they can honestly say they’ve produced an Emmy-nominated television show in the nation’s top media market.”
Documentary co-producer Lyssette Horne spent two years homeless and is now making a career in television production. "When I teamed up with Chris, PIX and the Reciprocity Foundation, I started to realize my dream career was in media activism through documentary making,” she says. “After helping write and produce ‘Invisible,’ I know that I can make a difference with the stories and experiences I portray.”
Today, these youth are college graduates, filmmakers, activists and community leaders. Not only that, they are mentors to the younger kids in Reciprocity’s program—demonstrating how success has enabled them to be effective advocates and role models for other homeless kids.
ABOUT US: The Reciprocity Foundation was co-founded by Adam Bucko and Taz Tagore to implement sustainable solutions to homelessness. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit has won numerous awards for its innovative approaches to helping homeless youth break the cycle of poverty. Using an integrated approach—one that combines job training with business leaders, access to college education, yoga, meditation, media training and whole-person counseling—the Reciprocity Foundation has helped hundreds of homeless youth reach their full potential.