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Jefferson Award Winner Creates Path To Success For Impoverished Youth

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) - Phil Estes is comfortable navigating his way through the streets San Francisco's Financial District. In 1989, he left Wall Street and co-founded a private equity firm in San Francisco.

In the 22 years since, he's built his business and his family, but he's never forgotten the first day he volunteered to help homeless teens just ten blocks from his office, but a world away.

"It was powerful," he remembered. "You see the kinds of circumstances these young people have to deal with and you know, they're 13, 14, 15 years old.... They have come from awful places and they're trying their level best to just try to hang on and survive."

Estes volunteers with Larkin Street Youth Services, from doing outreach on the streets to fundraising in the boardroom, where he currently serves as Chair.

"Phil brings a huge passion and commitment to young people," said Executive Director Sherilyn Adams. "It was a little drop-in center when he started and now we (have) 25 programs in 14 sites, this full continuum of services for youth 12 to 24."

The services now include residential facilities, medical treatment, education, and vocational support.

David Wesolowski dropped out of high school in Ohio before he ended up at Larkin Street.

"I was living in Golden Gate Park and had no where to go," Wesolowski explained. "I couldn't find food. I was looking in trash cans for food. When I came here I was just looking for a meal you know, a place to get out of the cold, but I found something a lot better."

Wesolowski is now a college student working towards a career in personal training.

"They've encouraged me to do things and pushed me to do things I would have never done on my own," he said.

In the 27 years Larkin Street Youth Services has been operating in San Francisco, it's become a national model, with 25 programs that have helped 70,000 kids get of the street.

"I couldn't look myself in the eye in the mirror in the morning if I didn't do something," Estes said. "So I try to do something everyday."

That includes weekends: Estes recently formed a band, and together they play at charity events. But even with his many commitments at home and at work, he's mindful that another 3,500 kids will need Larkin Street Youth Services this year.

"I look forward to the day when we work ourselves out of business, there aren't any more homeless kids who were abused," he said. "That would be fantastic. So we'll keep working until that happens."

So for working for over two decades to support homeless youth to reach their full potential, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Phil Estes.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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