YEAH Celebrates 20 Years of Helping Underserved Youth

When Dean Rich Lyons began work as chief learning officer for Goldman Sachs in fall 2006, one of the first internal emails he received was from Robert Reffkin, a Goldman Sachs vice president in New York – and a 1995 graduate of the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas Program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Since 1989, the Center for Young Entrepreneurs at Haas (YEAH) has connected underserved East Bay youth with Berkeley-Haas mentors to put college within reach. Reffkin, whose final YEAH business plan presentation was judged by a most impressed Lyons (then the YEAH faculty advisor), is one of many YEAH success stories.

“I was supposed to be a ‘throw-away’ — a racially mixed child abandoned by my father and raised by my single mother,” says Reffkin. “One of the most fortunate experiences of my life was the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas. My personal experiences prove that students can thrive when given proper encouragement, training, and opportunities.”

While only 48 percent of the Oakland public school freshmen graduate four years later, according to a 2005 study by the Harvard University Civil Rights Project, 100 percent of the students who complete YEAH’s four-year program graduate and attend college. They are almost always the first in their families to do so.

“YEAH was founded on the idea that bringing Haas School students together with young people in the local community would help both live more productive lives,” says YEAH Executive Director Jennifer Bevington. “The program uses real-life lessons in business, finance, and entrepreneurship to help middle and high school students develop the skills needed for academic and economic success.”

“The students we are impacting today are the ones who, 10 to 15 years from now, will be mentoring others,” adds YEAH board member David Eckles, MBA 73, retired chairman and CEO of Helm Financial Corp. “It gives me a tremendous sense of pride to see these students wow executives with their ideas and go on to college. The rewards for both the mentored and the mentors make this program integral to Berkeley-Haas, a school that has been built on its knowledge, philanthropy, and commitment to giving back.”

To learn more, visit YEAH.