SAN FRANCISCO Former foster child Antwone Fisher and the San Francisco 49ers Alex Smith make an odd pair.
One is a screenwriter who grew up in foster care and reform school. The other is an NFL quarterback who grew up in a tight family, with a mother, father and three siblings who are never more than a phone call away.
Nevertheless, the two stood together last month at San Francisco's Bambuddha Lounge to kick off the Alex Smith Foundation, which will aid foster children's transition to adulthood.
A number of famous guests attended the kickoff, including about 20 of Smith's teammates, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, 49ers head coach Mike Nolan, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Jed York, the son of team owners John and Denise DeBartolo York.
Smith's foundation will be run primarily by his older sister, Abby, and projects include fund-raising, job training and raising awareness about the lack of resources for foster children when they are released from the system.
No one knows more about a foster child's plight than Fisher. He was born in prison and bounced around foster homes for 14 years before being placed in reform school. His story became well-known thanks to the 2002 movie "Antwone Fisher," directed by Denzel Washington.
"I didn't do anything wrong," said Fisher, who wrote the movie's screenplay. "But there was nowhere else for me to go. I didn't really like (reform school), but it was better than getting beat up on the street."
Now Fisher, 45, is married with children, living in Southern California and writing screenplays. He has completed 11 of them and sold 10, despite the fact he's dyslexic.
After a day of writing, Fisher's adolescent daughter reads his passages back to him, so he can spot mistakes.
"I tell her, 'you got to help out the family,' " he joked.
Fisher and Smith met through Smith's mother, Pam, who works for the health department in the San Diego area. Pam Smith helped start a high school for foster children in the rural community of San Pasqual (San Diego County). Alex Smith visited the San Pasqual Academy's eight-man football team and was struck by the stories he heard.
"I'm not that far removed from them in age and I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would be like to live in their shoes, without any support," Smith said.
Smith was invited by his mother to attend the annual meeting of the Welfare Directors Association in Monterey, Calif., in October. The luncheon took place two days after Smith's first NFL start against the Colts when he was sacked five times and threw four interceptions in a 28-3 thumping.
"I think it provided some perspective for him," Pam said.
Smith had instant rapport with Fisher, who sat at his table and spoke to about 1,000 people who attended the luncheon.
"He's only 22, but he seems so sincere and that's what struck me the most," Fisher said. "He grew up with a great family; he grew up with great opportunities. He's the quarterback of the 49ers. For a guy to have all that and to think about kids that have nothing, it says a lot to me."
With foster care, there's a lot for Smith's foundation to confront. Things haven't changed much since Fisher tried to make it on his own.
"It was like 'Oliver Twist,"' Fisher said. "The only people I met while I was out there, they were all criminals. It was almost as if (the criminals) were waiting for people like me."
The Navy saved him. Fisher joined the military, received psychological counseling and learned life skills. He served for 11 years.
In California, a quarter of former foster-care children are incarcerated within two years of leaving foster care. Over half will be unemployed within the first 18 months and another 25 percent will be homeless at least once.
Altering these statistics is a huge challenge, especially for someone who already has a job. A cynic might say that Smith should master being a quarterback first before tackling social issues.
Pam Smith counters by saying that her son was relentless in his offseason preparation, which squares with the assessment of the coaching staff.
"No one says he can't do both," Pam Smith said. "From a mother's perspective, it will make him a better person and that's important. You just don't leave that on the sidelines."