Throughout his experience as an undergraduate student at Temple University and youth mentor, Donovan Forrest has evaluated his community to see what can be made better. This mindset toward improvement stems from his sophomore year in Lancaster, PA, where she spent a little over two years studying at Millersville University. Passionate about leadership and youth mentoring, Forrest served as Education Chairman of the Millersville University Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a First-Year Experience Mentor to undergraduate students. Usually found around Millersville's campus donning a suit, tie, and a taper fade, the nineteen-year-old college student believed in changing the narrative of his life early.
“My adolescent years were a challenge. I had a temper, was dealing with all this unresolved trauma, and wasn't sure which direction my life would take. I became a youth mentor as soon as I graduated from high school at The Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia and developed a strong passion for mentoring. I put everything I had into being a positive role model for younger students and slowly my life began to come together." said Forrest.
Forrest has never lost that spirit, and five years later he brings that same mindset to his work at DonCARES of Philadelphia, Inc. Recently, he and his team members secured funding and began their partnership with Next Steps Americorps to continue their critical work in schools in North Philadelphia. Coming into the role of CEO of the growing company is a daunting task, although Forrest is excited to help an organization that has been his philanthropic home for going on four years.
“Any time I’ve taken any leadership position, from a non-profit CEO to a summer teaching assistant, there is that imposter syndrome, ‘I don’t know if I can do this. Why do other people believe that I can do this?’ Kind of a moment of intense anxiety,” said Forrest. “But then relatively soon after that, I feel this overwhelming conviction that we will be able to positively impact kids in North Philadelphia by showing up. I think that's the biggest part of leadership, being prepared to show up and listening.
Being a CEO has given him insight into new areas of the organization that can be developed.
“I’ve always been used to doing projects by myself. So when it came to working as a team, I was hoping I wouldn't have to delegate tasks as much.“This position is a new experience because you’re [also] thinking about all of the fun your mentors are having with their mentees and you want to be part of it. As an administrative director, an undergraduate student, there's not much time to spend doing what you love. However, that's when you have to make your work something you enjoy."
"A common misconception of the mentorship of "at-risk" youth populations is that mentoring sessions consist of a loving berating of their behaviors. Instead, what many find is that each session is usually the complete opposite. Nearly all of my sessions with my mentee involve me listening for long periods of time to their thoughts, experiences, and ideas... usually wondering if I'll ever get the chance to give the advice that is in my head."
Before he started DonCARES of Philadelphia, Inc., Forrest worked as a busser at a local restaurant. “I think one factor that really drew me to start DonCARES was my experience working in the restaurant business and experiencing some of the lowest points of my young adult life,” said Forrest. “For close to a year, I was working late nights and long hours as a busser in a business that didn't really care for their employees. At the time I felt like my occupation and the fact that I recently dropped out of school caused people to look at me differently. It felt like I had to be creative and think of a culture for an organization whose core was people and positive and edifying relationships."
Even though he believes being a non-profit founder is one of the best things in the world, he believes strongly in the importance of growing the organization to be more impactful.
“What excites me most about the future is really figuring out the direction of our organization,” said Forrest. “Because Philadelphia is stringent in the number of new schools that can be created, I really want to start a school that focuses on the principles that many schools are missing such as restorative justice, project-based-learning, and a skills-based curriculum.
Forrest remains passionate about advocating for the whole-student as a steppingstone to increasing academic achievement for all students. In addition, Forrest also believes in the power of mentoring relationships where students can be their full selves while also exploring ways to allow students to express their individuality.
"Instead of working to close the achievement gap we work to provide more opportunities for our youth. At DonCARES, we believe & understand that students tend to perform better & reach higher when exposed to consistent sources of growth & support," said Forrest.
Whether he’s at Temple or The U School, Forrest’s vision continues to inspire and cultivate mentoring relationships for the better. And, as Forrest continues leading an organization that he loves so much, he excitedly watches DonCARES of Philadelphia, Inc. grow and advocate for our future generation of scholar-activists.