When you think of the San Francisco 49ers, you often think about the football team and Levi’s Stadium. What you don’t always think about is how the team has found a way to ingrain itself within the Bay Area community.
On Aug. 27, the 49ers hosted Players for a Purpose, a chance for the 49ers organization to get together with the groups that they support. All 90 players attended this year’s event along with team President Al Guido, General Manager John Lynch, and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan.
The event raised nearly $589,000 for programs that support the Bay Area’s youth including Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY).
“It’s just an amazing partnership and we just feel really lucky to have been a part of that and to continue to be a part of that,” said FLY Chief Development Officer Lisa Breen Strickland.
FLY was created by Christa Gannon, who was studying law at Stanford almost two decades ago when she met with a group of kids at juvenile hall. She asked the group what would help them the most and the three pillars of FLY were founded.
Through legal education, leadership programs, and mentorship programs FLY has worked with youth in the juvenile justice system for 19 years.
It started with an approximately $31,000 grant and has grown to a non-profit with a budget of nearly $6.4 million. FLY now serves more than 2,500 juveniles a year in three Bay Area counties — Santa Clara, Alameda, and San Mateo.
Strickland says the 49ers Foundation has been key in the success of FLY.
“What we get back from them in terms of not just the financial support, which is wonderful, but we really have a partnership which goes beyond that,” said Strickland.
“Once a year in the fall, they bring a number of players into juvenile hall and do almost a whole day [with the kids],” Strickland continued. “In addition to running the drills and doing the football thing, which is cool…they also sit down in smaller groups with the kids at Santa Clara County’s Juvenile Hall and have conversations with them and talk about their history and what maybe they have been through or how they took advantage of the opportunities that were provided to them.”
FLY is one of just a handful of 49ers Foundation legacy programs, which means FLY has continued annual support from the 49ers Foundation.
The support has made a difference. In 2018, 83 percent of the youth that went through FLY did not sustain a new offense during the program; 90 percent of the youth in the program increased their academic progress through the year.
Some of the greatest successes return to FLY to give back.
“FLY is one of the only programs that I’ve ever been through and that I’ve seen that actually makes a difference and it’s because of the consistency,” said Anastacia Duenas.
Duenas was placed in the FLY program when she was just 15 years old. Now, at the age of 22, she volunteers regularly at FLY. She says the program changed her life.
“I didn’t really have a lot of guidance in my life at the time. They were being really persistent and consistent,” said Duenas. “Once I saw that they were not going to leave me alone, in a good way, I started opening up and taking advantages of the resources and the help.
“They don’t see the bad things in kids,” Duenas continued. “They don’t look at a kid who’s talking in class, speaking over the instructor, causing a ruckus. They don’t look at that as a problem; they look at that as a strength. This kid has a lot to say or this kid has a lot of energy. We can use that to all of our advantage.”
To find out more about FLY, you can visit www.flyprogram.org.