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A group of high school sophomores and their mentors write down their ideas while they brainstorm as they participate in an innovative program called YEAH (Young Entrepreneurs at Haas) held at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. YEAH is the only university-based youth entrepreneur program of its kind to support middle and high school students year-round. Many of the students in the program will be the first in their families to go to college. the program operates solely via private funding from donors, sponsors and foundations. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Chili Davis was a three-time All-Star and three-time world champion who made millions during his baseball playing career. He just finished his second season as hitting coach for the American League West champion Oakland Athletics.

Regrets? Maybe one. A 3.7-GPA student in high school, Davis didn't attend college. "A missed opportunity," he says now.

It's one reason he is supportive of Young Entrepreneurs at Haas (YEAH), a program offered through UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business that serves at-risk middle school and high school students. The students are taught business practices and principles, and shepherded through the college preparation and admissions process. Davis has chaired two fundraising golf tournaments for the program and donated items for auction. Another reason for his interest: His sister Olive Davis is the program's middle school director.

"Being a young black male growing up in South-Central L.A., we really didn't have a lot of people out there helping you get set up for college in your junior or senior year," Chili Davis said. "To see the opportunity (YEAH) is offering kids a chance to go to college, it's one of those programs you don't hear enough about."

Founded in 1989, YEAH has an enrollment of about 250 students per school year, all from public schools and with average GPAs. According to Executive Director Jennifer Bevington, every senior in their program over the past five years has graduated from high school and at least started college.

The program is privately funded. Last December, Haas alumnus David Eckles gave YEAH a $1 million gift, which has been split -- half going to an endowment and half to help staff members track and support YEAH graduates through their college years.

"I like the image of a pathway," Bevington said. "What we're trying to do is map the pathway for students to college, a place that can be imposing and scary."

High School Program Director Lucas Abbott works with a group of high school sophomores, including Amy Lam, 16, of Oakland, as they participate in an
High School Program Director Lucas Abbott works with a group of high school sophomores, including Amy Lam, 16, of Oakland, as they participate in an innovative program called YEAH (Young Entrepreneurs at Haas) held at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. YEAH is the only university-based youth entrepreneur program of its kind to support middle and high school students year-round. Many of the students in the program will be the first in their families to go to college. the program operates solely via private funding from donors, sponsors and foundations. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

YEAH high school program director Lucas Abbott said 29 of 73 applicants were accepted into this year's sixth-grade class, and they hit the ground running. Students from the four participating middle schools meet twice a week on their own campus, where volunteers teach them basic financial literacy as well as computer programs such as PowerPoint, Word and Excel. In the spring, they explore microbusiness concepts then produce a product such as picture frames or key chains, which they can sell on campus. Proceeds are donated to charity.

"It's all community involvement," Abbott said. "Giving back is really integral."

The high school program begins with a two-week session for incoming freshmen at the Haas Business School.

"They actually roll out a case study in those two weeks, representing to a panel of judges," Abbott said. "It's really fast-paced."

"By the second week, the kids are doing a PowerPoint presentation, very composed," Bevington said. "Their parents are like, 'Is that my kid?' "

During the school year, high school students meet one Saturday a month at Haas. Freshmen work on a corporate case study, and sophomores research and develop a business plan. Juniors and seniors work on SAT preparation and college research and application. All YEAH students are required to perform 20 hours of community service every year.

The college application process, Abbott said, "is just so complex now, and these kids are typically first-generation (college students), low-income kids who have very limited, if any, resources at home or in their communities. So we're trying to get them out here and really enrich their lives and get them excited about their future, educationally and professionally."

YEAH's four staff members -- Bevington, Davis, Abbott and coordinator Tiara Johnson -- are supported by more than 100 volunteers, including program graduates who contribute thousands of hours every school year.

UC Berkeley junior Palwasha Khatri, a YEAH graduate, now volunteers as a program manager establishing curriculum and supervising sessions for current students.

"When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn't know what I would do," she said. "I joined the program, and it turned out to be really great. In 10th grade, we did a (marketing) case competition for BART. It really excited me. So now I want to go into marketing."

Chili Davis has no formal marketing training, but he spoke so highly about YEAH that it inspired A's public relations director Bob Rose to volunteer.

"I try to do what I can and have my name attached to it," Davis said. "The more people I can tell about it, I will."

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.