By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Most stage plays involving teenagers or kids of school age are based on fiction. And the productions put on by a West Philadelphia nonprofit may look like fiction, but the issues they tackle come from real life.

“If it’s going on with young people we are talking about it,” says Kaliek Hayes, co-founder of Childhoods Lost. “We want young people to see real life scenarios on stage before they go through them.”

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The name “Childhoods Lost” is a play on words, according to Hayes. Their mission is to create art with a purpose that makes sure young people do not lose their childhood.

“When I was a kid,  I was lost, says Hayes. “My mom had to put me out of the house when I was 15, 16 — I was gone.”

Hayes and his brother Stephen Gardner had rough childhoods. They saw their best friend get killed in front of them by the time they were 13. Hayes became a drug dealer and by 14 was a father. He was in federal prison before he turned 20.

“I had already had three kids by then,” he says, “I said if I ever come out of that situation, I would do something different.”

Hayes says he learned to weld while in prison and during his five years behind the wall, he changed himself, vowing to never return.

“All of that is why we have Childhoods Lost,” says Hayes, “and that is why we are here to be a beacon in the neighborhood.”

When Hayes was released from prison, he and Gardner wrote a book outlining some of his real world experiences. The book didn’t sell, but the duo linked up with Bilal Islam, a hospital worker by day who loves to write in his spare time. The took the book and turned it into a series of stage plays designed to teach youth about HIV, relationships, religion, sexual and child abuse and much more.

(credit: Childhoods Lost)

(credit: Childhoods Lost)

“Stage traditionally is for adults,” says Hayes, “but Childhoods Lost productions are for the youth– it’s about them.”

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For the past five years, Hayes, Gardner and Islam have worked to produce more than a nine stage plays. They bring in young actors to play the parts and then present them in places where kids of all ages have access. Childhoods Lost gives away one-third of their tickets to young people to ensure they are in the audience.

“When there are young people in the audience, I know they are getting something from it,” says Hayes, who has brought their plays to schools, to kids in foster care and many more. “I just believe we gotta do something– if we are not doing anything we see what happens.”

In addition to the stage plays, Childhoods Lost hosts biweekly “Chess Chats” at the Urban Art Gallery in West Philadelphia, thanks to the support of Karl . There they use the game of chess to mentor young people and teach life skills.

(credit: Childhoods Lost)

(credit: Childhoods Lost)

But their work is just beginning. Their current play, Legacy, tells the story of the young lives of Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, and Huey P. Newton.

“What we are doing on the stage– it should be worldwide,” says Hayes.

The biggest challenge they have is raising money, but it hasn’t stopped Childhoods Lost. They keep moving using sweat equity to raise money in neighborhoods where money isn’t in large supply. Their goal, change the lives of youth one scene at a time.

“It’s God and passion,” says Hayes on what pushes them through. “I just want to see young people have a better future than what is traditionally offered.”

For more on Childhoods Lost, go to https://www.childhoodslostentgroup.com/

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