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Lake cabin a retreat for director

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Steven Foster recently returned to his Omaha residence after a video shoot in Los Angeles. He got in his truck for the familiar drive to Portage Lake, where his father had purchased a cabin in 1958.

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Somewhere outside of Park Rapids his cell phone rang. He answered it and heard a familiar voice.

For the past 10 years, Foster has coached an inner city basketball team in Omaha, sponsored by the organization, "Hope," that he co-founded. On the other end of the phone call was one of his players.

"I looked at the number and saw it wasn't 444, so it wasn't the courthouse," Foster said, his eyes rolling in relief.

Foster smiled and lowered his voice to mimic the player's, "'No, man, I just wanted to tell you that I love you.'"

When Foster arrived at his cabin, he received another message of love. The world's youngest rapper, Little Maxso was in Foster's latest video shoot and had sent him a card, because he missed him. Along with the card there was a photo book of the rapper's latest endeavors with multi-platinum rapper 50 Cent and his group, G-Unit.

Since Foster's been back to the area, he's received another call of thanks from American Idol winner, Reuben Studdard.

"I sent him some of my barbecue sauce and he called to tell me how much he enjoyed it," Foster said.

Profits given to Hope

While attaining a degree in education at the University of Nebraska, Foster perfected the recipe for his own brand of barbecue sauce. He named his product, Grandma Foster's. Over the years, the sauce has found a market in Nebraska and Park Rapids.

Grandma Foster's can be found at J&B Foods South, Carters Red Wagon Farm Market, Compa?eros and the Dorset House.

"He has two kinds, original and Cajun; we use the original," Jeannette Dudley, owner of the Dorset House said. "It's a sweeter sauce and we use it on our chicken and BBQ burger."

All profits from the BBQ sauce go to the Hope organization. With the money, Foster purchases uniforms for the basketball team, takes them out to eat and even on a fishing trip.

"That's a pretty big deal for them because they usually don't get out of a six-block area," he said.

The Hope organization acquired its name because of its simple mission, to give hope to those without hope through love, understanding and expectations to succeed in life, legally.

"People say, 'how can people shoot people? How can people car jack or walk into a place and put a gun in someone's face?" Foster said. "A person that is hopeless has no fear of consequence. And that's the scariest person to be around."

Foster has been in many tense situations. When he first began mentoring in the area, his car was vandalized and things were stolen, but he kept returning.

"I think it took about two years for them to start to trust me," he said.

Now Foster is a father figure to the players on the Hope center's basketball team, even though many are affiliated with gangs. Foster said the center has a rule that requires gang members to drop their colors before entering. But, that doesn't mean what happens in the street stays there.

For example, he said, during a practice, two boys got into a fight. One of them was heavily involved in a gang. Foster soon discovered the gang member's buddies had shot at the other boy's grandmother's house.

Foster broke up the fight and directed the boy affiliated with the gang to leave.

"The language was tough, the one boy said to the other, 'I'm coming back and I'm going to cap you,'" Foster said.

After the boy left, the director shut down the center. No one was allowed to come in and no one was allowed to leave. A tense 45 minutes passed. Foster headed toward the front door and told the director to open it. The director refused. He told Foster there were two cars waiting out front and that he had called the police.

Foster demanded that he open the door anyway; the director reluctantly agreed. Foster walked out the front door and approached one of the cars.

"I stick my head in their car and it smells like dope," Foster said. "I told the boy that he's not going to cap anyone."

Foster explained the ramifications of life in jail for committing premeditated murder.

And then said, "That's pretty stupid, isn't it?' And he replied, 'Yeah coach, yeah.'"

Fifteen minutes later, both boys were released to the street, breathing.

"It doesn't make sense to fight fire with fire," Foster said. "You fight it with love."

Reader's Digest and Idols

When Foster isn't trying to instill hope in those who have none, he's a field manager and producer for Reader's Digest videos.

The videos are tools company representatives use to show kids how to sell magazines and make money for their school.

For every magazine a student sells, 40 percent goes to the school and for every chocolate or gift sold, the school gets 50 percent back to spend however they want.

Foster began working on the videos about five years ago, after complaining to his friend that the videos they had weren't very good. His friend was the vice president of the company and put Foster in charge.

Foster said the previous video appealed more toward adults and he thought it should be aimed toward a younger audience.

"I thought we had to get the kids more excited about it," Foster said. "And it is challenging to write a script for an 8- to 18-year-old."

Foster has found using sports and pop icons is a good way to get their attention.

Last year's theme was teamwork, and he said the kids loved it. Foster utilized sports figures like Pittsburg Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, Holly McPeak from the pro-volleyball circuit, Wayne Simian from the NBA champions, Miami Heat and ESPN announcer Dan Patrick.

The success of last year's video left a daunting question: How would he top that?

Foster decided he'd have to, "step it up." His motto birthed this year's title, "Step Up to the Challenge."

Talent for this year's video includes: American Idol two winner, Reuben Studdard, American Idol contestants Kelly Caldwell and Ace Young and Little Maxso.

Foster said, Little Maxso was going to produce and release a song next fall called, "Step it Up."

Foster showed Maxso and his writer the video from last year and they agreed to alter lyrics to the song, to fit Foster's project. In turn, Foster put together a music video for promotional purposes.

They filmed Maxso on the Hollywood walk of fame for about four hours and covered seven different locations.

"He must've sung the song 15 to 20 times at each place," Foster said. "But it turned out really well. In fact, I plan to have it playing when the kids walk in to hear about how the fundraiser through Reader's Digest works."

Foster is also a sales representative for Reader's Digest at about 200 schools in the Omaha area.

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