What Now America
Energetic nonprofit founder works to help West Oakland youth
On any given Saturday afternoon, between 15 and 40 children and teens stream into the DeFremery Recreation Center in Oakland where they spend five hours learning about subjects such as science and math in fun and interactive ways, enjoying a healthy lunch, and receiving unlimited support and encouragement.
The program, What Now America (www.whatnowamerica.org), launched in 2008 by Oakland resident Milad Yazdanpanah, strives to provide West Oakland families with a safe and positive environment where children can learn academics, and participate in physical activities and tutoring circles.
Before founding the nonprofit, Yazdanpanah, who works full time as a business analyst, and members of his volunteer board of directors asked families about the services they would like to see offered in Oakland.
“We went to local hot spots around the city and surveyed about 300 people,” Yazdanpanah says. “Based on those results, we decided to start a weekly drop-in group that supports children in the areas of academics, health education, and social development.”
Children who attend the free program held each Saturday from 12 to 5 p.m. also take home a bag of nutritionally balanced groceries, an added incentive for many single-parent and low-income families who often turn to the local dollar store to buy groceries, since there are no major chain supermarkets in West Oakland.
“Healthy nutrition is a huge part of our program,” Yazdanpanah says. “Each Saturday, all of the kids enjoy a healthy lunch prepared by some of our teen participants, who have honed their cooking skills in the program.”
Once lunch is finished, the teens serve as mentors to the younger children, breaking up into groups to discuss issues such as drugs, violence, and the importance of having respect for themselves and others.
To sustain the program, Yazdanpanah relies on donations and volunteers from Convergence Church, St. Mary’s College, and local community members, who help with tutoring, sports programs, cooking, and more.
“We always need volunteers, and once people help out, they typically return because they can see firsthand the difference they’re making,” Yazdanpanah says. “We have kids who grew up in the program and are now working with younger kids. They see how the program has positively impacted their own lives and they want to give back.”