DANVILLE -- After more than a decade serving as board chairman and all-around leader of the Oakland nonprofit he began in 2001, Vintage Foster has "graduated," stepping aside to allow a new vision take flight.
The group he began, the Bay Area Leadership Foundation, will honor the San Ramon resident's achievements on Saturday with its Citizen of the Year award at the Blackhawk Museum. It's a black-tie event that raises funds for scholarships and school mentoring programs for the underserved youth they aim to help.
"The reason I stepped off the board is that I believed there needed to be that next generation of leaders to say 'This is good, but have you thought about this?' As proud as I am of the work I brought, it was time for someone else to provide an enhanced vision," he said.
Foster, 46, is moving along, but launching the next decade of success by redefining his role doesn't mean the organization, its cause and 12 years of stories aren't tucked tightly under his breastplate. As if it had happened yesterday, he recalled a student from the first class "phoning in" after choosing nonviolence to resolve a classroom argument.
"She said, "I'm calling because I know if I hadn't been in this organization I would have handled it another way, and it would have felt good. I called because I'm not going to sacrifice going to college,' " he remembered. "She exemplified students and situations we find ourselves involved in. They just need someone to talk to so they can stay the course."
The Leadership Foundation provides scholarships and mentoring for high-achieving, underserved youth to realize their academic and civic potential. Once accepted into the program, students are paired with mentors who serve as academic navigators as they increase their Grade-Point Average, complete community service and prepare for higher education. As of December, more than 200 students from Richmond, Vallejo, Oakland, Pittsburg and San Jose have received the group's support; graduating from high school and often becoming the first people in their families to attend college.
"Historically, the foundation has looked for young people who have excelled scholastically and have balanced that out with outstanding community service," Foster said. Leadership Foundation students haven't lacked intellect or inspired vision, he said, they've lacked opportunity.
"These kids may have two parents who are doing a great job but don't understand the system, or they may be wards of the state," he said. "But they aren't victims: they're achievers."
Yaneiri Hernandez Ochoa, 17, is living proof of his definition and winner of this year's Youth Award. The oldest daughter of a single mother with four children, she is ranked second in Richmond's Kennedy High School senior class. She attends multiple advanced placement courses, tutors elementary school children, volunteers at senior care centers and community festivals and maintained a 4.0 GPA during the year her family was homeless.
"The worst part of being homeless was staying together as a family. We lived in a car, and my mom was always there," she said. "It was hard to understand no one was at fault."
Motivated by a burning desire to be a role model and "the backbone for everybody," Yaneiri said homelessness "shaped her."
Learning she'd been accepted into the Leadership Foundation's program bolstered her self-image.
"I was proud of myself for applying and doing the interview. It was the first time I had someone offering help," she said.
Her take-away lesson was threefold: accept help, share it with others and gain knowledge. Staying away from bad things like drugs and viewing family struggles as learning lessons took determined effort. After considering multiple college offers, Yaneiri will study sociology at UC Davis this fall. She's proud of her accomplishments, although surprised by the award.
"I'm actually going to be receiving an award because of all the things I've been through and how strong I am," she said, as if the realization had just occurred.
Working on her acceptance speech, Yaneiri said she intends to include mention of her mother, despite the fact she "can't find words to describe how much she appreciates her mom being the best parent ever."
Foster, who through Bay Area Leadership Foundation has passed along the blessings he has experienced as president and founder of his built-from-scratch marketing firm, AMF Media Group, said "closing the gap" is critical.
"We're seeing an even greater divide between those who have access to resources, education and opportunity and those who don't. It's important that we partner to close that divide and better manage it."
Responding to a question about his award, he followed the Leadership Foundation model; sharing the wealth and saying, "To be honest, I feel awkward. It's a great honor, but an honor that should be spread out across many people."
What: Twelfth annual Bay Area Leadership Foundation awards gala, a black-tie event with cocktails, dinner, an awards ceremony and auctions to raise money for the foundation's college access fund and high school mentoring program.
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Blackhawk Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville
Tickets/Info: http://bit.ly/15GVPxl or phone orders: 510-622-7881