When Katherine Powell was in high school, she was a straight-A student. She was well-traveled for her age, having spent time in Belize every year since birth, soaking in the culture and helping her father with his nonprofit work with manatees. Still, her parents were sure to establish roots in Sarasota so their daughter could go to Sarasota High School and be raised in a community dedicated to arts and philanthropy. Now, Powell was a senior with a bright future and only one sticking point in her plans—a math class she hated. But, even there, she made friends. One friend Powell remembers in particular, not only because this person was intelligent, kind and “always had a wonderful smile on her face,” but because one day she trusted Powell enough to tell her where she lived—under the John Ringling Bridge. “That was shocking for me to hear,” says Powell. “That someone my age was going through this in a community that I had always felt supported by.” They both graduated, but her friend’s story never left Powell’s mind. Today, 21 years old and a studying psychology and political science, Powell is also cofounder and president of Freedom Fellows Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless and underprivileged teenagers plot a successful path through their high school years and plan for their future after, whether that means scholarships and college, or building professional experience for a career that speaks to them. “The universal question is, ‘I need a way out of this circumstance,’” says Breanna Choat, Powell’s cofounder in Freedom Fellows, “and a lot of people don’t know how to create that for themselves.” Established in this past March, the enterprise has already taken on its first fellows, beginning with a trip to the YMCA group home, next door to Powell’s old high school and operated through the Safe Children’s Coalition. “I asked them if I could go in and just talk to the kids,” says Powell, “just take consensus and get their firsthand perspectives.” She met with a group of five or six, and one thing stuck out immediately. “There was no one ethnicity,” she says. “There was no one age group. There was no one gender.” She asked them who they wanted to be when they grew up, what they wanted to do. Doctor. Lawyer. Police officer. Writer. “It was wonderful to see their faces light up,” says Powell. “They had a lot of great ideas, but there was no experience to back it up, which makes perfect sense.” And that’s where Freedom Fellows comes in. 

PHOTO BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.