PHOENIX — Valley entrepreneur Justin Bayless was once just like the kids playing in the recreation room of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley.
"I play basketball at the Boys & Girls clubs as a kid after school," Bayless said, while sitting inside the Ed Robson Family Branch, Friday morning.
He even landed his first job at the club serving as a referee for games.
"Somewhere in my house I have my first paycheck from the Boys & Girls Club from like 1997," he laughed.
"Boys and Girls Clubs had a special place in my heart, and within my family for a long time," he said.
Bayless attended St. Mary's High School here in Phoenix and graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA.
After working on Wall Street for Morgan Stanley, Bayless helped his family run a successful tele-medicine business which they eventually sold to a Fortune 500 company.
Now he's giving back in a big way donating $500,000 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley to create the Bayless Entrepreneurship Program, expanding the club's already established, AZYouthforce Academy.
Established in 2018 the academy teaches high-school aged students business fundamentals and partners them with internships at large corporations.
The Bayless program will teach kids in often undeserved communities skills they're not normally exposed to.
"Schools don't teach us how to start and run our own business," Bayless said.
And with new technology advances taking off daily, Bayless says now is the prefect time to establish a business to capitalize on what's new and next.
"We thought about as a family how can we help influence the next generation to give them a leg up on where we think the world is going," he said.
"I think ownership and business fundamentals, understanding how do you run, operate and become successful in your own business is extremely important in this new world," he said.
Vivian Pelayo is a recent graduate of the AZYouthforce Academy and is now studying architecture and business at ASU. Pelayo now serves as an ambassador for the Academy communicating with local high schools to recruit new students.
"If I had to explain to someone what the program is, I would say it’s a success program," she said.
She did her internship with Bank of America and says it opened her eyes to a whole new world.
"We had a lot of great chances to meet up with big members of the Bank of America board," she said. "Those parts were a little scary but at the end I was like wow, that's great because you never know what this could lead to in the future and networking," Pelayo said.
Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley, President and CEO Marcia Mintz is excited to say the least for the $500,000 donation.
"This gift from the Bayless family is truly a transformative gift for us," Mintz said.
"This entrepreneurial program allows kids to think... 'This could be me. I have a chance to do this,'" she said.
"Having the opportunity to learn what it’s like to run your own business, be your own CEO, and really make a difference in the community, I think will have a tremendous impact in the future," Mintz added.
"We don't expect every kid to come out of the entrepreneur program and start a major business," Bayless said.
"But what we would love happen is have entrepreneurs come out of it knowing the basic mechanisms of what it takes to start the business, grow the business, and ultimately start to get capital under their business so they can become successful and independent."
The AZYouthforce Academy will accept its first class into the Bayless Entrepreneurial Program in April.
For information on how to apply for future slots, visit azyouthforce.org/apply