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Turning passion into action

Turning passion into action: A McCourt Center alum’s journey from nonprofit mentor to executive director Cross-posted from the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

Published: November 1, 2021

As executive director of the Youth Leadership Foundation, Janaiha Bennett, a graduate of the Nonprofit Management Certificate Program at McCourt’s Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership, supports the growth and development of thousands of young Washingtonians.

For almost 25 years, the Youth Leadership Foundation (YLF) has provided one-on-one mentoring and tutoring services to kids across the District. Under Janaiha Bennett’s leadership, YLF was recognized by the Catalogue of Philanthropy as one of DC’s best community-based nonprofits. Bennett, who was born and raised in DC, is the daughter of an educator who cared deeply about helping kids actualize their potential. From an early age, she, too, was fueled by a passion for youth development. Bennett was a peer mediator in middle school, a tutor in high school and started a tutoring program of her own in college. “The best mentors help students realize that they are also still learning, growing and becoming better people,” said Bennett, who started her journey with YLF as a mentor. “I’ve been involved with a lot of different types of youth development organizations, but YLF instilled in me the importance of living out the values I impart on students.” Bennett entered the Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate program at the McCourt School as she was preparing to transition into her current role as YLF executive director.

“I wanted to gain the tools necessary to make the shift,” she said. “The program curriculum covered everything from board activity and finances to communications and branding. It catered to a lot of different experience levels, and the way instructors related everything back to our organizations was really powerful.”

Bennett’s proudest moments as an executive leader have been the little moments — “when a young person aspires to become a mentor with YLF because of their own experience or when parents weep at the end of a program because of the impact it’s had on their child,” she said. “It’s the understanding that our team is really making a difference with individuals and showing them how they can affect change within their own communities.”

Bennett is among many former mentors who still keep in touch with mentees. One student, “who was very shy and reserved in middle school, evolved into an instructor and leader for YLF while in high school,” said Bennett. “We helped her develop a deep sense of resilience and agency — and now she works in public health advocacy.”

Bennett attributes much of her own personal and professional growth to YLF, the continued support from other local nonprofit leaders and the relationships she built as a student in the McCourt School. “Even after the program, my peers and former professors are still willing to lend their expertise and advice,” she said.

In the years ahead, Bennett is confident that the family-oriented culture at YLF will continue to help facilitate her leadership development, and that she and her team will remain dedicated to their own personal growth and seek mentorship in each other. “It’s important for anyone entering into nonprofit executive leadership to know that it takes a village. The Youth Leadership Foundation’s work is just one piece of a wider web of organizations that are helping to keep our community strong.”


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