Most people fall into two categories. There are those who knew exactly what they wanted to be and what they wanted to do with their lives before they entered high school. Then there are those who never really knew exactly what their future would hold, but had some vague sense of what it would look like. Sean Powell falls in the first category. Powell grew up with his family in Virginia, and for years he saw his family serve as a foster parent for 10 different boys and girls; boys and girls he considers his brothers and sisters. Overtime, Powell noticed that all the kids who came into the home had been diagnosed with different illnesses; illnesses which required strong medications. Powell recalls, “Me and my brother were playing a game, and, we had to stop playing the game and he had to take his medication and see his counselor. When he came back he was gone, I was whipping his tail in the game, I didn’t even want to play anymore. I realized it was the medication that had him looking like he was about to pass out.” It was at this point that Powell begun looking at certain medications unfavorably and committed himself to not only developing genuine relationships with his foster siblings, but also using those relationships to help reduce their symptoms, provide guidance for how to act in public and help them adjust to school. Ultimately he desired to help others.
Unbeknownst to Powell, he had begun doing clinical work and conducting interventions, not too different from what his future career as a qualified mental health professional would require. As he continued his education, Powell would soon realize that he was the one in need of assistance. During his sophomore year of college, Powell became a father. It was during this pivotal moment in his life that Powell began reaching out to different individuals in the community and visiting various organizations, where he could acquire the skills that he needed to be a successful father. All these meetings eventually resulted in Powell mentoring kids from small basketball groups in the community. This experience, combined with the encounters he’d had with his foster siblings at a young age, eventually lead Powell to start Engage the Foundation in 2010.
While still at student at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Powell and a couple of college friends, began mentoring young men in the community, doing boyhood to manhood work. “I had an internship with the Richmond Family and Fatherhood Initiative and I was helping young fathers learn about fatherhood, at the same time I was learning about it as well. Lots of boys had sisters and parents wanted something for their girls, so we partnered with a womanhood organization, BILLIE Inc. (Believe in Love Like It’s Everything), they dealt with the girls.” What started as mentorship for boys and girls, developed into a plethora of other programs and businesses under the Engage the Foundation umbrella. Currently, Powell and his team offer programs focused on creating a K though College to Career pipeline that has opportunities for just about any field.
After successfully developing programs focused on the social and psychological betterment of his community, Powell realized that more had to be done in the economic sector. To that end, Engage the Foundation started a young business builders program for children ages 8 years old and up, to teach them how to turn their passions into profits. They also launched the Road Pilot Transportation, a transportation company that escorts wide load trucks, and they have dump truck drivers and provide CDL training. Recently, they developed an application called The Plug, which is a small business directory that helps people find small businesses in their area.
When asked what keeps him going, Powell is very frank and straight-forward. “People always complain about how there is no money in human services, so no one wants to do this work because it’s not financially appealing. My whole perspective was to change the appreciation for the field and help them to learn it and get into it so they could help others. In my family [foster siblings included] there are a lot of illnesses. Family members have fathers who are incarcerated or dead. As I grew older I saw the whole population and culture, and realized its’ not just my family and neighborhood, it’s everywhere. So, that’s what motivated me to think bigger and figure out how I can impact the problem.”
Although his desire to better the lives of others propels him forward, Powell acknowledges that there are challenges. “We don’t get grants. We make money off businesses, make money on our own, people donate. I wanted to quit so many times when we started and I started to believe what everyone was saying ‘ain’t no money in this, I can’t keep worrying about other people’s problems, I have to worry about my own’. At the beginning the hardest part was just keeping it going, now it’s just a part of life. The only thing that is stressful is the multiple businesses we produce now. So people want me to spend quality time and I can’t… they come to my events and I can’t go to theirs… I wish I could be at all places at all times. At first it was making sure we had funding, now it’s managing time as we get busier.”
Whether it’s continuing to develop the curriculum for their class at VCU in their honor’s program (Social Entrepreneurialism and Community Engagement), or hosting their annual, consistently sold-out, fashion and art appreciation show (Serene Culture), or applying to become an accredited official K-12 school- Powell and Engage the Foundation show no sign of stopping. “A year for from now we want to be in Africa. We have 100 acres in Cameroon and we want to create a study abroad component [to our program] and build apartments, schools and hospitals over there. We want to facilitate business learning programs and help those folks with some of the businesses that we’ve developed.” Powell’s hard work has not gone unrecognized. He humbly mentions that he is* going to be receiving a 30 under 30 award from iPower radio. We are sure that Powell’s desire to better the lives around him, while finding unique and innovative ways to give back to his community will take him and Engage the Foundation very far!
*At the time of publication Powell has received this award.
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