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

Nancy Bassing


Fairmont Builders

Sherri Morgan-Johnson, R.N.


Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Keith S. Fimian

President Emeritus

U.S. Inspect, LLC

Michael J. Barvick

Alexis Consulting, LLC

Jeremiah S. Buckley

Buckley LLP

Barclay Butler

DoD/VA Interagency Program

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

Irene Dorgan

Yuma Center

Patricia DeSanctis

Lisa A. DiMonte

Planet Depos

Lance Ford

Palm Facility Services

Howard Goldberg

(Ret.) Aerospace & Defense Consultant

Denis Harper

Summit Group

Peter Healey

Butzel Long Tighe Patton PLLC

Sharon Hefferan

Yuma Center


Earl Jenkins

Congressional Black Caucus

Angela Lee

Internal Revenue Service

John Melnicki

Harbor Lane

Thomas McCabe

BWX Technologies

David Moore

MidCap Financial, LLC

Dwight Murray

(Ret.) Jordan Coyne & Savits

Anthony Niles

Catholic University of America

Steve Schlosser


Patrick Senftle

Pressler Senftle & Wilhite, P.C.

Joe White


Robert Willis

(Ret.) McCarran Ferguson Captive Management Company

Eric Yan

Ernst & Young

Our Leadership

Janaiha Bennett

Executive Director



Janaiha joined the Youth Leadership Foundation in 2006 as a mentor for the PALS program. Previously, she provided direct services to students through the Children Defense Fund and managed youth workers through the America Reads program at the University of Maryland. A native Washingtonian from Ward 7, Janaiha holds a Bachelor’s degree in Developmental Psychology from GWU, a Master's degree in School Psychology from the University of Maryland and a Certificate in Non-Profit Executive Management from Georgetown University. More...

Gabrielle Holmes

Director of Talent Management

& Personnel Strategy

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

Darion Parker

Community Outreach Coordinator 

& Ed Smith Leadership Fellow


Darion is a native of Prince George’s County, Maryland with deep family roots in Washington D.C. Throughout his lifetime he attended DC Public Schools as well as Washington Catholic Schools. Darion maintains that the journey of life is about constantly educating oneself. What he appreciates most about mentorship is the opportunity to expose youth to possibilities they never knew existed. In 2014, Darion graduated with his Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown University. He is a published author and active contributor to “kid-grit,” which is an anthology series that features youth voices sharing their challenges and how they overcame them. This text is used in classrooms throughout the USA to create space for difficult conversations and bolster socio-emotional learning.

Recent 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+.

© Copyright 2020 Youth Leadership Foundation, Inc.

1015 Fifteenth Street NW Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005. All Rights Reserved.