Meet Janaiha

(juh-nay-ah)

The YLF Board of Directors has identified Janaiha Bennett as its new Executive Director effective, May 1, 2018. Janaiha is a long-standing believer in the mission and vision of the organization.  A YLF mentor since 2006, she joined us as an Associate Program Director in 2012 after graduate work in program evaluation and school psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park.  She has been a huge part of the transformation that saw YLF earn recognition from the Catalogue of Philanthropy as One of D.C.'s Best Community-Based Non-Profits in 2017 where she served as YLF Deputy Director.

We recently sat down with Janaiha to discuss her role and YLF's future. I invite you to take a listen.

Janaiha Bennett

YLF Executive Director

Outgoing YLF Executive Director Sits Down With Successor - Robert DeSimone
00:00 / 00:00

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Interview Summary

When asked about her promotion, Janaiha said, "I could not be more thrilled. I mean, you know it well and we’ve talked about this: YLF has been a formative part of my personal and professional journey. I’ve always cared a lot about youth development." It's due in part to her upbringing. Janaiha's mom is an educator and was a focal point throughout college and graduate school. YLF has been the natural next step. "Even with all those experiences working with youth, my time mentoring at YLF remained the most impactful. I've gotten to watch my mentees grow into amazing young women who are now mentors themselves. The culture at YLF has challenged me to live out the values we share with students on a daily basis.  And so, it is an honor to be given the opportunity to manifest the values I have cultivated within this community to serve this community in such an important role" 

We discussed her perspective on the YLF Vision for 2020, to which she expressed a desire a"to see YLF kids equipped to lead their city and be servant leaders in their families.  I have been very much a part of the process [Rob] initiated to ask our students and families how our programs can continue to serve them. At every turn this vision we crafted as a team has resonated."

Immediate plans will focus on ensuring program stability, growth in talent and increasing community support for YLF. "From our students to our supporters, we want to invest more time with our students through growth in weekday programs and making our Spirit of Service Challenge for high school students the best high school mentoring program in the city."

When asked about the role that bring a mom plays in leading YLF, Janaiha noted the long history of YLF's nurturing leaders as she now is "stewarding the work of the Executive Directors that preceded me". She describes how motherhood has prepared her for this role in ways that are unique and powerful.

The importance of quality mentoring resounds as one thinks of it in the the context of your own children, and again her own family is a source of inspiration: "Every mom I admire is a mom who works hard and is industrious, be that within the home or outside it. ... I look at my own mom. She directed the Child Development Center at my primary school when I was a kid coming up. Or my sisters. The eldest has homeschooled her two children for the past seven years; she leads church ministries, she tutors kids in her neighborhood and is always looking for ways to help others who are struggling; The sister in-between us is a mom of three boys; she’s the web content manager for a national non-profit while running her own photography business; she’s got a healthy web following for her storytelling approach to family photography. Anyways, these women are all extraordinarily beautiful examples  to me.. I like to call them Proverbs 31 moms… and I emulate them for sure."

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