Our series, A More Perfect Union, aims to show what unites us as Americans is far stronger than what divides us. In this installment, we introduce you to Young Storytellers, a mentoring organization that gives students who have a story to tell the opportunity to share it.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- In the shadows of the Hollywood sign, some of Tinsletown's brightest young talent is hard at work. Fifth graders at Santa Monica Boulevard Community Charter School in Los Angeles are crafting their first screenplay, reports CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas.
"I'm writing about a dragon, a leopard gecko, and a hunter," Isaias Caceras said.
"It's about a vampire named Molly and she doesn't like blood," Jamie Montenegro said.
Jeannie Koenigsberg, a Paramount TV executive, is one of the mentors helping to turn that passion into prose.
"It's exciting to see the stories turning in little kids' heads and get it out on paper. It's really like the best part of my week," Koenigsberg said.
For nine weeks, she and other volunteers, like TV development executive Brad Saunders, give the budding screenwriters a crash course in how to bring a script to the stage.
"My job is to just write down what he says, maybe like give him a little guidance but it's amazing how it all wraps up in a really great package," Saunders said.
Real actors help complete that package – but must first audition.
Chrissie Fit is no stranger to Hollywood. She said the roles actors land in this school auditorium have special meaning.
"Is this as exciting as getting a real Hollywood part?" Yuccas asked.
"More so because you see the joy on their faces," Fit said.
The non-profit program runs in more than 60 public schools in Los Angeles, New York City and Austin, Texas, reaching about 2,400 students every year. Dozens of companies, including CBS, sponsor teams of mentors.
"We're not necessarily trying to cultivate the next great generation of screenwriters. If that happens, fantastic. But really we want them to come out of this… being able to stand up in front of a room full of people and articulate themselves in a competent manner," Curtis Baxter of the Young Storytellers said. The program was a finalist in the 2018 Renewal Awards, The Atlantic's initiative to honor nonprofits across the country driving change in their communities in innovative ways.
On the day of the big show, the students get the star treatment complete with a red carpet and front row seats to see their play come to life for the first time.
"Does it make you want to write more later?" Yuccas asked Montenegro.
"Yes," Montenegro responded. "Like more fiction than non-fiction with more twisted endings and surprises."
"I love that she wants twist endings and I think she's got a lot of them inside of her. ... That's something we stress in the program," Koenigsberg said. "It really is just go where you want, go out of the bounds."
Sometimes the true Hollywood ending is discovering you have the power to create your own.
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