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Jefferson Award Winner Helping Bay Area Youth Succeed

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) -- A youth support agency that started in the 1960s is still going strong with this week's Jefferson Award winner at the helm.

The sun slanted through the narrow windows in the auditorium of the First Universalist Unitarian Church in San Francisco as high school junior Huzaifa Shahbaz stepped up to the podium in front of 120 of his fellow classmates.

"I highly recommend you go to visit colleges," he advised, speaking confidently into the microphone.

Shahbaz just finished a year of studying with the Huckleberry Wellness Academy. Now it was his turn to share tips with the other students from San Francisco and Marin, who like him, are among the first in their families to go to college.

The Huckleberry Wellness academy introduces students to careers in health. It's the latest program spearheaded by Bruce Fisher, Executive Director of Huckleberry Youth Services.

"What we do in our Wellness Academy is what schools used to do: provide counseling to provide academic support and to provide assistance in applying to colleges," Fisher explained. "There's not a lot of that now."

And Fisher is proud to say it's working.

"We're very excited because there's approximately 35 graduates, and so far 34 have been accepted into college," he reported.

One of those 34 is San Rafael senior Luat Tran.

"Oh my God, I'm so excited because I got accepted into three colleges," she exclaimed. "I already picked them so I'm going to go to SF State and major in probably nursing or something around there."

Fisher's commitment to helping young people succeed has been a lifelong passion. For the last 25 years, he's been running Huckleberry Youth Programs, one of San Francisco's oldest youth service agencies, and a national model.

Huckleberry House first opened its doors in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. It was 1967, and Huckleberry was the country's first runaway youth shelter. Today, 48 years later, the house still operates in the city's Haight-Ashbury area, but under Bruce Fisher's leadership, it's expanded to do so much more.

Families can get counseling at the house. And only a few blocks away, the Cole Street Health Clinic provides medical care for teens and mental health services. There's also a juvenile justice diversion program, and in Marin County, a multi-service center for youth in San Rafael.

"I think the ability to respond to the needs of young people has driven me," Fisher explained. "It's very satisfying to see the growth of the agency and the success of the agency."

And as is clear at the Wellness Academy event, success can be counted one teenager at a time.

"It's just for me to come to a place for help," Shahbaz said. "If I wasn't feeling safe, once I got into Huckleberry's -- it's an environment for me to feel safe and talk to the staff. It gave me a lot of opportunities."

So for creating those opportunities with programs that have impacted thousands, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Bruce Fisher.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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