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Founder, Michael Leoni began working directly with homeless youth at 19 years old in NYC when he found himself in one of the most difficult times of his life. He had lost his job and his apartment in what seemed like an instant. On the verge of being homeless himself, Michael discovered a world that he'd never been exposed to before. Teenagers alone on the streets, struggling to survive, selling their bodies for money to eat. “The people I met and the stories I heard of neglect, violence, abuse, and abandonment, absolutely astonished me,” Leoni said. He began documenting their stories and decided the best way he could help was to share them with the world. He created a stage play called The Playground which premiered on stage in Los Angeles to rave reviews and continued to run at least once a year for the next six consecutive years.
Michael always insisted that homeless youth attend the show. He felt it was imperative to remain honest and true to their stories. Two young girls that attended had a huge impact on Michael. They wanted to be more involved with the show. Shortly after, one of the girls was murdered in a hotel room and left for dead in an alley, and the other girl was found dead with no explanation.
The death of these two girls had a huge affect on Michael and he was determined to not let their lives be in vain. So, he went out to the streets for a weekend with a camera and small team. That weekend turned into 7 years and resulted in the feature documentary, American Street Kid.
While filming American Street Kid, Michael and his team met so many remarkable kids, with one story more compelling than the next. Having interviewed hundreds of kids over the last twelve years, Michael would always ask 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, Michael’s work is all about imagination, creativity and visualization, so to speak with a kid that never daydreamed about what they wanted to be, left him speechless. No one had ever taught these kids that they mattered or that they were lovable and living on the streets only reinforced those beliefs.
Michael wanted to teach the kids that they’re worth something and that if they could learn to believe in and love themselves, that they could change their lives.
He began by creating an artistic mentoring program, which gave kids the opportunity to work directly with filmmakers, directors, designers, etc. He brought kids on to the American Street Kid film crew where they had the opportunity to work directly with the crew and on to several theatre productions where they learned about directing, stage-managing, lighting design and more. Exposing the kids to the arts seemed to ignite a passion in them that many of them didn’t even know existed.
The relationships Michael formed with the kids were extraordinary and what impacted him the most was witnessing how being a part of something created an immediate change for the kids. Most importantly, he saw the postive affect on the kids' lives from being a part of a family, and knowing that they were loved.
These experiences led Michael and his team to create Spare Some Change.
Spare Some Change is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and all donations are tax-deductible.Tax ID - 90-0859023