SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — In one of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods, there’s a steady “ROCK” where children can forget about their troubles and have fun.

A program at El Dorado Elementary School organized by Real Options for City Kids — also known as ROCK — lets students like Anthony Fletcher build motorized fan cars.

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“It’s really fun,” said the 5th grader.

Curt Yagi has led the 25-year-old nonprofit for the last 16 years.

ROCK provides healthy opportunities for at-risk youth, ranging from kindergarten through teenagers, so they can pursue a bright future beyond the gangs, violence, drugs, abuse and poverty that many of them have experienced.

“They can be doctors, they could happy and safe, go to college. [It’s a] release from this lifestyle they’re in,” said Yagi.

Today, ROCK serves 600 students a year at El Dorado and Visitacion Valley Elementary and Middle Schools.

Yagi and his staff and volunteers steer students into positive experiences.

The group provides homework help in the schools, plus free afterschool, weekend, and summer activities that include sports drills, fencing, ziplining, camping and hiking in Yosemite.

“A lot of them have never been outside of San Francisco, let alone Vis Valley. And just seeing that for the first time, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is amazing!'” Yagi explained.

The activities are free for the participants. Funding comes from the city, school district and private donations.

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Yagi first started working with ROCK as a volunteer. After several years of volunteering, he joined the nonprofit’s board of directors.

Yagi — whose has a degree in computer science — then gave up his tech job to become the executive director of ROCK.

He said he realized it was more rewarding helping the kids than at his startup job.

In his many years as executive director, Yagi has seen many kids from ROCK grow up, then return and share their stories about how the nonprofit helped them.

Anthony Lorencillo, now a plumber with his own family, remembers ROCK was a refuge where he learned leadership and life skills.

“ROCK found a way to make us all feel special in our own way. Like that shooting star. They wanted us to shine,” Lorencillo said.

Joi Fisher, now a college graduate with a criminology degree, is grateful that Curt has been her mentor all these years.

“Curt took the time to tell me to go away to college and get the college experience,” she remembered. “That’s definitely how Curt has been, like…I guess you could say like a light of my life. He guides me in the right direction.”

Yagi said the reward is knowing that he’s helped children grow up happy and healthy.

“They want to tell me they’re not in trouble anymore, or they have a good job, they’re really happy and safe. And that’s the longterm impact that really affects me,” Yagi reflected.

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So for providing a ROCK of support and hope for Visitacion Valley kids, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Curt Yagi.