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Our Mission and Values

Our Mission

YLF builds character and a brighter future for young leaders in our Nation's Capital.

The life-changing work we do is possible because of staff and volunteers that are living out the values they impart to students: joy, excellence and a spirit of service


The Youth Leadership Foundations serves 350 students annually with its quality mentoring programs in seven school partners across the cityYLF serves third through twelfth grade students after school, on Saturday, in summer, and through virtual mentorship. No matter the format, our programs feature one-on-one mentoring, formative talks about character, intentional engagement of parents and dedicated time for “community-making” (e.g., meal times, team-building & sports activity, etc.) 

Our mentors believe that a student grows as a person when (1) parents are supported to parent; (2) students experience true friendship and belonging in community; and (3) students learn to be generous according to their circumstances and give back to others. Nine-in-ten students describe our programs as life-changing.

Our History

Our History

In 1958, a blind mother with a vision of her child's future took him to Arlington National Cemetery.


President Dwight Eisenhower was presenting the Medal of Honor the internment of the Unknown Soldiers of WWII. What transpired was the birth of a sense of duty and sacrifice for country and appreciation for history in her son.

It was then that a young Ed Smith vowed to read a book a week for the rest of his life. The child fell in love with history and vowed to read a book a week for the rest of his life. In 1960, that child had kept his promise, graduating near the top of the first-ever desegregated class from Western High School. Lacking resources to attend college, a young Edward Smith began working in the mail room of the White House for President Johnson during the War on Poverty. His talent for writing became evident at this time and paved the way for his success as the first African-American tenured Professor of American University; the founder of that university’s Civil War Institute; a speech writer for President Carter; and one of the early founders of The Heights School in Potomac, MD.


In the 1970’s and 80’s, Professor Smith collaborated with Opus Dei, an institution of the Catholic Church to launch leadership development programs called the Program for Academic and Leadership Skills (PALS) and the Tenley Achievement Program (TAP). PALS and TAP gave promising youth in Washington an opportunity to have a relationship with positive adult role models. They provided tutoring and mentoring on Saturday mornings and summers throughout the city. After nearly three decades of success, so many inner-city families were entrusting their children to TAP and PALS that Professor Smith saw the need for an organization which could directly serve the these families and communities.


Professor Smith helped to found YLF in 1997 to be able to better serve the community. Over the next two decades, 4,000 students attended YLF programs, and, more than 95% of their parents have a high satisfaction with their son or daughter’s involvement in PALS or TAP.  The programs are rooted in Catholic moral and social teaching. YLF is an inclusive environment that celebrates the individual and embraces students regardless of their religious, racial, ethnic, or familial status. In 2009 and 2017, YLF was named one of D.C.’s Best Small Charities by the Catalogue for Philanthropy. In 2015, it was selected for the Fair Chance Partnership. YLF celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2017. Today, our program serves 350 students annually in seven school partners across the city.

Professor Edward Smith speaks to a YLF group at Arlington National Cemetery.

Our Impact

Our Impact

For over two decades YLF has served more than 4,000 students. Nine-in-ten students describe YLF programs as life-changing.



YLF students outperform their District area peers in educational trajectory and across measures of future leadership. Of the 4,000 YLF alums, 97% have graduated high school (compared to 60% of area peers), and roughly 80% have continued their education beyond high school at university, community college or trade school (compared to 48%).  In SY 2016-7, YLF conducted a study measuring the leadership development of our students compared to peers. YLF students outperform peers across 8 measures predictive of future leadership, including focus, effort, judgment and preparation. 

Just in the past few years, YLF students that embody our core values of joy, excellence and a spirit of service have attended schools such as: Gonzaga, Banneker, St. John's College High School, Bullis, Landon, The Heights School, Sidwell Friends, St. Albans, School Without Walls, Archbishop Carroll, Dematha, Elizabeth Seton HS, and McKinley Tech.

These students have also attended colleges like: Howard University, Towson University, West Virginia University, Mount St. Mary's University, Hampton University, George Washington University, Virginia State University, North Carolina Central University, Thomas More College, Haverford College, University of Maryland and Spelman College.


YLF has been named "One of the Best" Small Non-Profits in the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy. YLF was chosen out of 200 for our organizational excellence. We are counted among just seven organizations featured by the Catalogue to provide substantive mentoring in the District out of a sea of 341+.

Our Team
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