For this change-maker, home is where the heart is — even long after you leave.
“If you would have told me when I moved out over 33 years ago, that I would be back working in the place I grew up in, I would have never imagined this is where I’d be for the next chapter of my life,” says Cynthia.
Today, Cynthia serves as Chief Operating Officer for the Columbia Heights Village Tenants Association (CHVTA), a nonprofit organization that services nearly 1,000 Columbia Heights Village residents. CHVTA also provides additional support to Ward 1 residents in the Columbia Heights area. The organization is also a fiscal sponsor of the Mutual Aid Movement DC (MAMDC), of which she also serves as one of the six lead organizers.
Her ties to Columbia Heights (a neighborhood in Washington, DC) are strong, as this is where Cynthia’s first chapter began. Raised by a single mother, she and her family were among the very first tenants in the Columbia Heights Village residences.
As a young adult she moved out and moved on to pursue a storied career for federal government agencies including the Department of Justice and the IRS. Fast forward to 2002 she became a successful entrepreneur and executive for a federal government contractor for almost two decades. Though she never planned to pivot to the nonprofit sector, she says this is where she’s meant to be.
“With the unprecedented inequalities in communities of color, we need more educated professionals that truly care about improving the quality of life of the people that live there. One of my most important goals is to continue highlighting racial injustice, even in the grant and public funding arena,” says Cynthia. “I’m definitely the happiest I’ve ever been. I was able to help the lives of more people in this last year than in my entire life.”
Meeting the Need
Improving quality of life for residents of Columbia Heights and the surrounding communities is all in a day’s work for Cynthia. From delivering produce boxes to food insecure families in the region to distributing PPE to those facing a high COVID-19 risk to providing seniors with enrichment activities in quarantine, Cynthia and her MAMDC team of 129 volunteers work tirelessly to meet the ever changing needs of the community.
It’s the power of the greater community, says Cynthia, that makes it possible to help so many people.
“Our CHVTA and MAMDC team is connected with a lot of different resources throughout the city that are also doing great work,” she says. “From bed sheets to hygiene products, we work together to provide people with basic necessities.”
Sometimes that necessity is as fundamental as a safe place to call home. Cynthia and her team recently secured a new, safe residence for a domestic abuse survivor and her four children.
“She called me the next day to say her kids woke up with a whole new demeanor,” says Cynthia. “Nothing can top that feeling.”
Changing Donor Expectations
Cynthia also prides the organization on being able to distribute funds based on donor requests.
“When we receive donations, we’re almost always able to distribute 100% of the funds to where the donor intended,” says Cynthia. “Some people want their money to go to food insecurity, some want to help with COVID challenges. People want to know their money is going to plant a good seed. And we can do that.”
Working with the great CHVTA & MAMDC leadership, donations make an impact in countless ways across communities — summer camps and school supplies for kids, Thanksgiving baskets and meals for families, burial assistance, and more.
According to Cynthia, the work is truly never done, and there are a lot of setbacks along the way, from grant rejections to logistical challenges. However, that only makes her want to work harder.
“I never want to let one organization, agency, or person deter me from this work,” says Cynthia. “I’m motivated by the smiles…the people. This work changes lives, and that motivates me for the future.”