YLF builds character among youth of our Nation’s Capital.

Our Values

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 now, virtual mentorship is LIVE. 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

In 1952, a blind mother with vision took her child to Arlington National Cemetery.


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 a founder 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 develop social outreach 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 co-founded 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 and embrace 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 Board

Gerard E. Mitchell


Stein, Mitchell, Beato & Missner LLP

Derrick Chambers

Vice Chairman

African-American Chamber Fund

Nancy Bassing


Fairmont Builders

Sherri Morgan-Johnson, R.N.


Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Michael J. Barvick

Alexis Consulting, LLC

Jeremiah S. Buckley

Buckley LLP

Barclay Butler

DoD/VA Interagency Program

Michael Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.

Marcus Coleman

Mid-Atlantic Business Solutions

Irene Dorgan

Yuma Center

Howard Goldberg

(Ret.) Aerospace & Defense Consultant

Denis Harper

Summit Group

Sharon Hefferan

Yuma Center

Angela Lee

Internal Revenue Service

Caroline Lulli

(Ret.) Marriott International

John Melnicki


Thomas McCabe

BWX Technologies

David Moore

MidCap Financial, LLC

Dwight Murray

(Ret.) Jordan Coyne & Savits

Tom Shakely

Americans United for Life

Steve Schlosser


Patrick Senftle

Pressler Senftle & Wilhite, P.C.

Joe White

Eric Yan

Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP

Our Team

Janaiha Bennett
Executive Director

Janaiha has been involved with the Youth Leadership Foundation for fourteen years, beginning as a mentor at PALS. Her love for YLF runs deep. A native Washingtonian from Ward 7, Janaiha holds a Master's in School Psychology from the University of Maryland and a Certificate in Non-Profit Executive Management from Georgetown University.

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Krista Keil
Character Content

Krista has spent the last ten years working with youth and vulnerable populations in the non-profit sector in various capacities, particularly within the field of mental health.Krista is passionate about forming today’s youth to become tomorrow’s leaders. Krista has a Bachelor’s in Religious Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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Gabrielle Holmes
Personnel Strategy

Gabrielle is an experienced Operations Manager who prides herself in ensuring clients succeed through proper policies and procedures that increase internal and external customer service. Gabrielle is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, GA and resides in Washington, DC with her husband and four sons.

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Dareon Amaru
Community Outreach

Dareon is a native of Prince George’s County, Maryland with deep family roots in Washington D.C. What he appreciates most about mentorship is the opportunity to expose youth to possibilities they never knew existed. He is a published contributor to “kid-grit,” an SEL anthology used in classrooms throughout the US. Dareon has a Bachelor's degree from Georgetown University.

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Alex Karmazin
Donor Relations

Alex brings a wealth of experience in fundraising across the non-profit, political, and venture capital sectors. His non-profit efforts have allowed organizations to increase their local footprint, and provide essential services to hundreds of clients.Alex has a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology from American University and a Masters in Public Administration from George Washington University.

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Key Highlights

YLF successfully launched its Virtuous Leadership Academy for high school students and achieved record-breaking enrollment for school year programs. We have been named "One of the Best" Small Non-Profits in the Greater Washington Catalogue of Philanthropy.

1. YLF successfully launched its Virtuous Leadership Academy for high school students. As a part of VLA, students make a a yearlong commitment to becoming a better leader. The Academy kicked off with our Summer Spirit of Service Challenge. Students develop creative solutions to solve social problems before a panel of C-Level judges. 

2. YLF enrolled a record-breaking 174 students in SY 2018-9. In FY16, we launched clubs at four schools and served 98 students aged 7 to 14. In FY17, the number of students served has grown by 70% and breaks organizational records. We are pleased to continue strong partnerships in the Brookland, Columbia Heights, Congress Heights and Highland Park neighborhoods.


3. YLF students outperform peers across measures of future leadership. 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. 


4. 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+.