2016 Awardee

Sam Cobbs

as CEO, First Place for Youth

Sam Cobbs, CEO of First Place for Youth, is a nationally recognized expert and policy advisor on foster youth and the challenges they face transitioning into adulthood. In his 20 years of work in the field, Sam has created and implemented programs that successfully reduce poverty and homelessness among vulnerable young people, and he has been a leading advocate for better access to programs that improve young people’s lives. Sam’s leadership and tireless commitment have been recognized by awards from the Anne E. Casey Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Red Cross, and by civic leaders including Senator Barbara Boxer, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Sam joined First Place for Youth in 2005 and swiftly grew the organization from a local grassroots agency into a nationally recognized model for success, as well as one of the largest providers of housing to former foster youth in California. “Each year in the Bay Area, more than 600 youth transition out of foster care and often find themselves alone and without prospects for jobs, housing or education,” he says. “Not surprisingly, former foster youth are at much greater risk of homelessness, poverty, low educational achievement, and incarceration.”

Sam grew up in difficult circumstances himself, including being homeless for a period of time as a young adult. “I firmly believe in the adage, ‘To whom much is given, much is required,’” he says. “Comprehending how truly fortunate I had been, I made the choice to diligently pursue work that would ensure that all young people have a fair shot at life’s opportunities.”

The timing of a sabbatical is right not just for Sam, but also for his organization. After 10 years of steady growth, First Place for Youth will soon begin extending its reach through a national expansion. “It’s important to re-invigorate First Place for Youth before we grow further,” he says, “and in part, my time away will bring fresh skills and confidence to our leadership team.” While on sabbatical, Sam looks forward to spending time with his family and on the golf course.