Oakland Leaf

Oakland Leaf saw the significant school dropout rate for Oakland youths and decided to do something about it. Their after-school programming guides youth to explore their interests and passions, develop their voices, and grow as students and individuals.


For kids born in Oakland, the educational outlook isn’t very positive. Youth faced extremely low graduation rates for high school and college, coupled with the problem of violence in the area. This realization drove a group of Oakland-area educators to start Oakland Leaf in 2001. They saw this as an opportunity to provide programs to equip future leaders with the emotional skill set to express themselves peacefully and powerfully in a world determined to silence their voices.

If they don’t figure out what they’re excited about, what they’re passionate about, what their purpose is, they will stop [attending school] and they will find negative outlets for this energy.

— Odiaka Gonzalez, executive director of Oakland Leaf

Oakland Leaf’s daily after-school programming is project-based and emphasizes arts and culture; health and wellness; empowerment and leadership; literacy; and S.T.E.M. In action, these programs include a community garden program, cooking classes, sports programs, dance classes and other opportunities. “We’re really trying to create pathways for young people. We’re thinking about their social and emotional well-being. We’re thinking about their health and wellness. We’re pushing them to become critical thinkers and continuous learners,” Gonzalez says.

The program currently partners with six public elementary and middle schools in Fruitvale and East Oakland, serving more than 750 middle school and high school students every day. In order to continue to serve these students and hopefully more, Oakland Leaf sought funding from a bank with a community focus. Gonzalez believes we can all examine where we are putting our money—and that an investment in our youth is an investment that will pay off for all of us in big ways for decades to come.

We wanted a community partner that’s invested in Oakland and not only believes in our mission but is also aligned with our mission. Why I love [working with] Beneficial State Bank is because they get that they need to contribute and give back to the community.

Odiaka Gonzalez, executive director of Oakland Leaf

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