Sam Cobbs: Social Innovator of the Year

PROVO, Utah – Apr 14, 2017 – As a homeless college student, Sam Cobb was humiliated while he stood in line to get food stamps. Welfare services said he would need to drop out of college if he wanted their aid, but he knew that college was his only chance at escaping poverty.

Cobbs, this year’s Social Innovator of the Year, learned through his experience with homelessness how vital education is for vulnerable youth to succeed. Cobbs is now the CEO of First Place for Youth, an organization that aims to help foster kids build skills to help them become self-sufficient and responsible adults in society.

“In 2016, one third of the kids coming through our door did not have a high school diploma or a GED. A third of them had kids of their own. Over half had experienced homelessness or had been arrested. Two thirds were unemployed,” Cobbs says.

Ultimately, this year’s Social Innovator of the Year’s mission is to help vulnerable foster youth find a safe place to live, find their first job and stay in school. Eighty-five percent of children placed in foster care are there because of general neglect, such as not getting enough food, not having enough clothes or being left alone at home without parental supervision. What makes First Place for Youth different is its extremely personal care of each youth that walks through their door, including allowing each social worker with the organization take only fifteen cases at a time.

“Sometimes before you can hold someone accountable you must hold them,” Cobbs says.

With the individual care First Place for Youth offers, in 2016 the organization helped seventy-five percent of participating children secure a stable place to live, eighty-one percent find employment, and ninety-six percent make strong progression toward or obtain a high school diplomas or GED.

“What makes First Place for Youth innovative is how we actually go about our work,” Cobbs says. “It is not what we do, it is how we do what we do in trying to understand what it is these young people need and how we ultimately can get better by providing support for them to transition into adulthood.”

Cobbs said he was thrilled to receive the award on behalf of First Place for Youth.

“It’s means a lot. It’s a level of credibility, not just for me, but for the organization,” he says. “It’s an amazing award to accept on behalf of the young people that do the really hard work of changing their own lives with our support. The staff will be tremendously happy.”

To hear more of Cobbs' story, watch his TEDxBYU talk: 

Ballard Center director Todd Manwaring presents the Social Innovator of the Year award to Sam Cobbs, CEO of First Place for Youth.

Media Contact: Alicia Gettys (801) 422-9009
Writer: Michaela Proctor