Leon Powe's mentoring program gives Oakland youth Fresh Start

Photo: SFGate.com
Leon Powe at Youth Basketball camp at Merritt College.

By Terez McCall
Special to TheBlackHour.com

The plight of foster children in the U.S. is well documented, and statistics paint a bleak picture of trauma and turmoil.

More than 3,000 foster children reside in Alameda County alone, and over half of them will become homeless by their 18th birthday, according to the California Department of Social Services.

Benefits to Youth:
  • Real-world experience
  • Realize potential career paths
  • Possible permanent career placement
  • Professional references, resume building
  • Possible educational scholarships
For these young men and women, the future can seem far from bright. NBA champion Leon Powe is all too familiar with this reality.

A native of Oakland, Powe and his siblings were placed in the foster care system after an accidental fire destroyed their North Oakland home. Powe calls the tragedy "the beginning of a long nightmare."

Yet in just a few years, he went from being shuffled between 30 homes to a professional basketball career.

Powe received numerous awards for his efforts to help the community, and says his goal is to "try to save everybody". He co-founded a non-profit organization in 2008. Fresh Start for Oakland helps foster care youth adjust to independent life.

Further Reading:Exclusive Leon Powe interview with former Laney College student Jacquinn Scales, a former guest on The Black Hour
Once young people "age out" at 18 and are released from the foster care system, they are often at a stark disadvantage. They face challenges unknown to their peers, have fewer resources or support networks, and lack important independent living skills that many take for granted.

This is where Fresh Start comes in, filling in the gap for transitioning foster youth ages 14 to 21 to help them become successful adults.

Mentoring is an important part of the program, as Powe attributes his own success to the guidance and encouragement of his mentor Bernard Ward, executive director of the organization. Mentees are linked with an individual or professional mentor in a career they aspire to pursue, giving them insight and hands-on experience in the field.

Another key component is the Independent Living Skills Program, which offers essential services such as tutoring, job search assistance, budget planning, interpersonal skill building and links to vital community resources.

Emphasis is placed on assessment and goal setting through individual counseling. Thanks to Fresh Start, Oakland foster care youth have a dedicated, supportive team on their side to help them to win.

Powe serves as an incredible example of overcoming the odds they face, and giving back to the community in return.

For more info visit freshstartmentoring.org.

This article originally appeared in the Laney Tower newspaper.

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