DonCARES Founder and Executive Director Donovan Forrest just recently received his acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government Certificate in Non-Profit Administration program. But if you asked the 24-year-old Forrest if he could see this acceptance five years ago he would have told you a different story.
As an adolescent, Forrest struggled with behavior issues that were attributed to a developmental disability despite the opportunities afforded to him as a child. "My birth-mom was addicted to drugs when she had me, and most likely as a result, I grew up and had behavioral/developmental issues. However, my adoptive family provided me with plenty of opportunities that shaped my world view of what was possible through music, community service, and membership in non-profit summer camps." Forrest said.
Forrest, a longtime youth advocate, social entrepreneur, and non-profit leader was excited as well as over-joyed to be accepted to such a prestigious university in his hometown. However, it took a journey of six and a half years in undergrad to receive the letter that perhaps changed his world view of what was possible for a young black man in Philadelphia.
"For those who know me, they know how long I've had this dream. They also know how much I had to struggle because of my developmental disability, not just in school, but in my social life and as a result in my community. Once I got to college, I decided to change my life for the better. I started an organization in my community as a Temple student that could support vulnerable high school students through mentoring." Forrest says.
Although, he can say he's gained acceptance to one of America's oldest and prestigious universities as an incoming grad-level certificate student, the road to Penn's prestigious and cobble-stoned walkways was one of challenges, discouragement, but also one of encouragement through service.
To finally get accepted to any university is the best thing in the world." Forrest remarked. "But to get accepted to what many deem as "a competitive university is one of the best things in the world. "As an inner-city kid with behavioral issues, you kind of get swept up into this box of who you are. As a young black boy with challenges you don't get a chance to have a disability, you're a criminal. That's all there is to it."
While Forrest has one more semester at Temple's College of Education before he graduates, he attributes his success to his supportive family, his faith, his belief in himself, and the ability to serve through his non-profit DonCARES of Philadelphia, Inc.
"During our programming, we don't like to push the college agenda on our students. We just like to support them emotionally and socially. All kids have dreams, it's about putting the right people in place to help them achieve them." Forrest says.
"While we do encourage our students to obtain some form of post-secondary education, we still want them to be encouraged in the process. Just because it takes some students four years to graduate from high school and get accepted to college doesn't mean our students should feel pressured when they aren't ready." Forrest believes.
Forrest will take seven years of college to graduate from Temple University as an undergraduate student and while he has faced challenges it does not dampen his ambition.
"For me, getting accepted to the University of Pennsylvania is a statement to my mentees that slow and steady wins the race. There's no competition when they're in their lane. Just focus on your education and whatever your dream is, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes." Forrest says.
Forrest will begin classes in his non-profit certificate program in the summer and his main goal is to learn the ins and outs of non-profit management to scale the organization's efforts in Philadelphia.
Forrest, an incoming Student-Teacher at Northeast High School believes that when anyone is in the business of serving the most important stakeholders (our youth), non-profit executives especially must ensure that their practices are based on research and not just theory.