Founded in 1998, Scenarios USA is a national non-profit organization that uses writing, filmmaking, and the arts to foster youth leadership, advocacy and self-expression in under-served teens. Scenarios USA asks young people to write about the issues that shape their lives for the annual “What’s the REAL DEAL?” writing contest, and thousands have responded with their raw and revealing insights. The winning writers are then partnered with some of Hollywood’s finest filmmakers to transform their stories into award-winning short films. 15 million people a year watch a Scenarios USA film, at film festivals, on television and in high schools nationwide. Scenarios USA believes that by valuing youth and listening to their opinions, we can have an impact on promoting healthy relationships, confidence, and self-expression among young people.
The mission of Scenarios USA is to motivate youth to explore, express and take responsibility for how they make choices about crucial life decisions connected to sexual relationships by using the art of storytelling, writing and filmmaking.
Scenarios USA is based on and replicates two international efforts in France and West Africa: “3,000 Scenarios Against a Virus” and “Scenarios from the Sahel,” respectively. Both projects have been successful at galvanizing their respective communities around teen HIV/AIDS infection. Scenarios USA began in December 1998, primarily as the result of extensive volunteer efforts by the program’s founders, Kristen Joiner and Maura Minsky, working in coalition with teachers, filmmakers, community-based organizations and young people.
During the 2007-8 school year, Scenarios USA is implementing a contest entitled, “What’s the REAL DEAL about Masculinity?”, in which young people are encouraged to write about how gender and social context influence and impact sexual health.
The program will be offered to all young people ages 12 – 22 in New York City, Cleveland, OH, and the Rio Grande Valley, TX. One submission in each region will be selected for production, the winning youth will be partnered with a feature filmmaker to make the film in their hometown, and they will premiere the film in New York City in 2009.
The young people will then receive leadership, public speaking, and advocacy training to help them become change agents in their community and beyond.
In addition, once the films are made, they will be distributed to high schools, community groups, film festivals, and conferences, so that millions of young people across the country can learn from and be inspired by their peers.
Scenarios USA serves young people aged 12–22 in New York City, South Texas, and Greater Cleveland, Ohio. During our last contest cycle, almost 1000 youth participated in our story and scriptwriting contest, who were reached through several hundred participating public schools and community-based organizations (CBOs). Beyond the young people who directly participate in our contest and go on to receive extensive mentoring and related opportunities, Scenarios USA distributes its films to high schools, community groups, conferences, and film festivals nation wide. Scenarios USA films have also aired on Showtime, MTV, B.E.T., and the Internet, giving millions of young people the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by their peers.
Scenarios USA directs its program services to underserved school districts in order to reach youth of color from economically disenfranchised families. The inner-city schools and CBOs we target serve many children of immigrants and youth who are themselves recent immigrants; youth at high risk for unwanted pregnancy, HIV, and other STDs; incarcerated youth; youth at risk for substance abuse; and other “marginal” young people whose needs are often overlooked and whose stories are rarely told. The racial breakdown of the young people who write for the contest in NYC is roughly 24 percent African-American, 54 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 14 percent Caucasian, and 2 percent other. The gender breakdown is 59 percent female, 41 percent male.
Scenarios USA will conduct the different phases of its program – from the writing phase to the script selection, to the filmmaking to the distribution and leadership development phase. In addition, this year's program is geared to helping young people explore their sense of identity and develop critical thinking skills in considering how their identity interacts with and is influenced by societal stereotypes and expectations and how this in turn affects the choices they make in romantic and sexual situations.
A team of evaluation and issue experts is conducting a comprehensive evaluation of each aspect of the program. Overall, the anticipated achievements for the year include: young people will have more confidence in their writing; young people will have a greater understanding and be able to articulate their sense of their identity and its impact on their choices; young people will write about their life stories; three stories from the three regions the organization works will be selected by a diverse group of stakeholders to be made into films; young people will learn about the art of scriptwriting and filmmaking with professionals in the field; young people will learn about everything that goes into making a movie – from writing a story, to finding a location, to hiring a crew, to auditioning actors, to setting up lights, to feeding the crew, to directing; the youth-made films will be in local high schools, in community organizations and in local screenings; the youth-made film will be seen on Showtime; the youth-made film will stimulate dialogue among youth and between young people and adults.
Kristen Joiner & Maura Minsky
Kristen Joiner was Program Officer for the Sustainable Development & Population Program of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) until August 1999. Prior to joining PGA, she initiated and coordinated a Youth Development Program for Project ARISE, an award-winning grass-roots community development organization for Mexican immigrants on the Texas/Mexico border. In 1995, as Community Investment Manager for Habitat for Humanity International’s La Frontera Initiative, Kristen developed the finances for and co-organized a self-help housing program in the Texas/Mexico border colonias. While working for the Washington D.C. Office of Habitat for Humanity International in 1994, she initiated Her House, a project of women-built homes for women.
Maura Minsky was a Producer with Teachscape, an Internet Company focused on supporting teachers in their work until January 2001. Until March, 2000, Maura was a Producer with ABC News, creating documentaries for the Discovery Channel, the A&E Network and the History Channel. Maura previously worked with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation as its East Coast Director; under her tenure, two of their documentaries were nominated for an Emmy and an Oscar. From 1989-1993, while working at Hanna-Barbera as Manager of Television, Maura co-created and produced an educational live-action/animated series for children and in 1994 produced a 10 part series on issues facing young people for HBO in addition to teaching middle school in Los Angeles.
Rosario Dawson - An acclaimed actress and the Co-Founder of Voto Latino, a non-partisan, youth driven, multi-issue, national org. founded to create a unified voice for Latino youth and young adults. Keven Duffy – Has a background in film production and development, and is involved with non-profit management and with mentoring young people in storytelling and filmmaking. Beth Fredrick - Executive Vice President, International Women's Health Coalition, who is an internationally recognized leader, advocate, and spokesperson on sexual and reproductive health. Doug Liman - Director, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Swingers, The Bourne Identity & Co-Founder, Hypnotic.com. The critically acclaimed director also directed the SUSA film He Said, She Said. Avram Ludwig - Producer, Swingers, Fast Food, Fast Women. A film producer who has worked with several directors and filmmaking teams and has produced five Scenarios USA films. Mary Lou Ortiz (Treasurer) - Director of Financial Planning and Analysis at the International Rescue Committee, who develops and monitors the IRC’s budget. Adam Rosman (Secretary) - Senior Vice President, Corporate Compliance, for Cablevision Systems Corporation, who works with the Company’s business and corporate units. Lucinda Treat (Chairwoman) - Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Madison Square Garden, who oversees all aspects of legal affairs for the company, including the New York Knicks, the arena complex, and Radio City Music Hall. Gilbert Zepeda (Vice-Chairman) – TX High School Drama Teacher and 27 year educator who was named Disney Teacher of the Year for Fine Arts in 1999 and received the Texas Medal of the Arts in 2000.