While growing up in the Edenwald Projects in the Bronx, Hasan Stephens’ life lessons came earlier than expected. His neighborhood was home to several street gangs, persistent violence and poverty. And while the option to sell drugs or steal for money often tempted Stephens, his mentors and family members made sure that he stayed the course and remained true to himself.
“Having people guide me in the right direction allowed me to escape that life when many of my friends weren’t able to,” Stephens said.
Nowadays, Stephens is reaping the benefits of his decisions. He laughs when he says his Google Calendar is his best friend. It really is, though, navigating him through his days serving as founder and executive director of the Good Life Youth Foundation (Good Life), as an adjunct instructor at SUNY Cortland, and as a co-facilitator of the Community Foundation’s The Leadership Classroom (TLC) — a job that has been eye-opening for the social entrepreneur.
In 1989, we launched TLC, once known as the Neighborhood Leadership Program, to teach practical skills to grassroots organizations working to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Monthly interactive classes help participants hone their leadership skills, find neighborhood resources and gather community support. Over the past nearly 30 years, more than 360 individuals have graduated from the training program and more than $245,000 in grants have been awarded towards the graduates’ community projects.
Before Stephens partnered with InterFaith Works’ Beth Broadway as a co-facilitator, he was a TLC participant himself. He felt like a sponge, absorbing its extensive program outline and building skills that would further advance his organization.
“The biggest thing I love about TLC is the union of organizations that normally would not have even known about each other,” Stephens said. “It bridges communities and organizations that are often doing the same type of work.”
Stephens takes the lessons he has learned in TLC and applies them to his organization. Good Life, founded in 2009, encourages successful and productive careers and life strategies among at-risk Syracuse youth ages 13-24.
Curtez McLauren was a young man who came to Good Life during a very difficult time in his life. For him, the organization has opened many doors that seemed closed to him when he was incarcerated.
“I thought I wasn’t going to make it to college,” McLauren said. “Good Life keeps me active.”
Stephens beams like a proud father when he talks about the young adults who have come through his organization. McLauren is thriving and excelling in the Good Life curriculum. He is doing well in school and no longer getting into fights.
“His growth is so tremendous since the time that we’ve come in contact with him,” Stephens said. “We want to applaud those types of successes because that’s going to lead to even larger ones.”
Stephens is looking to the future and the endless possibilities TLC can unearth down the road… and, of course, the culture-infused tastes from around Central New York that manifest themselves in the meals that TLC members share during their sessions together.
“In addition to the food,” Stephens said with a smile, “The most satisfying thing about TLC is watching the other organizations grow.”