OAKLAND (KPIX 5) Seeing the San Francisco Bay from a 32-foot cabin cruiser gives you a whole new perspective on the world.  And if you ask the captain, he’ll tell you a change in perspective can change your life.

“It opens up a whole new world of opportunity,” said the captain, Matthew Graves. “If I can dream bigger, then I can move to better things.”

A better life is what Matthew Graves wants for all young people in Oakland.

Two years ago, Graves started the Oakland Youth First program to introduce kids to industries, and hopefully careers, that many urban teens may never have considered.

“The first thing they say is, ‘I never believed I’d be on a boat in a harbor next to million dollar yachts and actually pilot one up and down the bay,'” said Graves.

To introduce kids to the maritime industry, he raised money to buy a boat. Kids in the program learn about navigation, the environment, safety, and teamwork on board.

“It’s hands on, everything is hands on,” he said.

Being part of a crew teaches students like Antoinette Chaplin valuable job skills.

“(It) teaches you how to be patient, how to be a team leader, independent and helpful,” said Chaplin.

Graves, a systems engineer and technical consultant, says he started Oakland Youth First to make a difference.

“Growing up as a foster kid, I have a unique understanding of the need,” he explained. “The first need is family and acceptance and self esteem and team building.”

At his office in West Oakland, there are flight simulators where boys and girls can actually earn hours toward a pilot’s license.  There is even a room set up like a control tower to track planes in real time as they fly over the Bay Area.

“An air traffic controller job just needs a high school education, and you can make over $60,000 a year and up. We show them the possibilities,” Graves said.

In the last two years, this program has shown over 200 students new possibilities — helping them set new courses for their futures.

So for opening the horizons for Oakland youth, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Matthew Graves.


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