SB UNC Hard Work Earns Accolades, 2017 Nonprofit of the Year
by Dianne Anderson // —
Whatever the goal, a good rule of thumb is to factor in twice as much money and twice as much time to clear the hurdle.
For the United Nations of Consciousness, the opposite is true.
Last week, Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes honored La’Nae Norwood, executive director of United Nations of Consciousness, for her rapid outreach into the grassroots community within the 47th District. UNC was among 100 nonprofits selected for special recognition statewide.
In 2015, Norwood started UNC with an idea that sounds simple on the surface. She wanted to create a local bond and draw African American parents and kids into her plan. She asked what they needed, and was prepared to help them where they stand. It also involved a lot of sweat equity.
She feels UNC took on wings because it filled a gaping hole. Mostly, the impact was in the spaces that nobody wanted to touch.
“But if you’re not working in places like that, how effective or impactful is your work?” she said. “This is the work that people said couldn’t be done, the youth and families nobody wanted to respond to because they are always in crisis.”
Every day, there is high demand, and helping the community requires a strong commitment. At the same time, she sees strength in many local families that do not receive accolades, even though they are doing great work.
She said part of building an effective program has been pushing the boundaries of capacity as an organization, providing relevant services, getting parental volunteerism, and working on a tight budget.
They dug deep and out of pocket to fund street cleanups, trash bags, snacks. They convinced the community to grab a broom, and roll up their sleeves. Over time, those consistent small cleanups helped them get to know the parents, listen to their concerns, and make the connection.
From there, teamwork happened. Parents chipped in, they volunteered on field trips, and made donations. The city stepped in with support for the community center, and gave her a chance as a new nonprofit. The city unified school district also offered generous donations.
“We pivoted to change very early,” Norwood said. “We were coach-able fast learners, and we aligned ourselves with some of the right people and organizations.”
Mostly, she finds that health, including mental health and public health, and economics, are the biggest issues facing the community.
Anne Shirrells Community Center is also a safe zone, and she regularly holds gang intervention. Young men talk about not being able to provide for their family on $10 an hour, even if they could get hired with less than perfect backgrounds.
“We meet with people [with] most of their lives in high-risk behaviors. The number one thing is how am I going to feed my family and take care of my children? I’m a felon,” she said.
Since starting, the organization has served over 3,000 youth and disadvantaged families. The community center sees about 100 local kids daily, some coming from the Delmann Heights area, but kids trek in from all over the city.
Summer camp is over for now, but the center will start again late August with regular after-school programming. Until then, the doors will stay open, providing background services to parents and kids, as the nonprofit plans their Fall programming.
For the adults, she said entrepreneurial education and micro-business development is the focus for the coming year. Because infrastructure is no longer brick and mortar retail, she said a smartphone these days is enough to get started toward self-sufficiency.
With a little guidance and free online tools, anyone can sell on major sites, like Amazon and Etsy. Young entrepreneurs drop ship all the time and pulling a profit, and even Uber drivers make a living, she said.
“It’s a mobile app, that’s the infrastructure now,” she said. “What are the possibilities?”
Soon, her partners at the University of Southern California will help her into Phase 3 of her Adopt a Community Project. Through the program, local participants that demonstrate interest and drive will receive training, and seed money with resources.
She said that cultivating small business owners that live in the community is also important because it increases job opportunities.
Norwood, who overcame her own share of adversities growing up, said she doesn’t mind that young women and mothers look to her as a role model. She tries to inspire them to stay encouraged, even though there are always bumps in the road.
“So they can feel like, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,'” she said.