When Andrea Copeland studied social work in college, she knew her future would be in macro-level work, navigating through complex systems that affect large communities.
“I’m a policy nerd,” she says. “I want to make sure the policies we create and implement positively impact populations that we’re trying to target. My biggest goal as a non-profit leader is to ensure that my work does not adversely impact or punish communities of color. Ultimately these families are navigating challenges that result from systemic issues they had no control over.”
Andrea has worked in many facets of social work: child protective services, juvenile justice, foster home licensing, substance use intervention, homeless prevention, workplace literacy, and child welfare network-level management. She’s now the Grants Manager for Community enCompass, a non-profit in Muskegon County, Michigan, dedicated to creating new and affordable homeownership opportunities in the community.
Rehabilitation as a Gateway to Transformative Change
For over 30 years, Community enCompass has been providing affordable housing solutions and rehabbing neglected, vacant properties in the community. “We literally find the worst houses on the block, rehab them, and sell them to create opportunities for quality, affordable homeownership. Our goal is to create opportunity for neighbors that couldn’t normally afford a market-rate property to finally own a home. It is an incredible program.” Andrea emphasizes that lack of housing can play a huge role in someone’s ability to gain access to health care, mental health services, as well as their interactions with the court system and other institutions.
“We are very transparent about connecting the lack of affordable housing to the impact on communities of color,” she says. “Our goal is to offer a variety of housing options at multiple price points so families can stay in our neighborhoods where the development is happening. This impacts our neighbors, the folks living right down the street from us in our everyday lives, so we are creating solutions for everyone. ”
The populations served by Community enCompass Muskegon range from families living in their vehicles to individuals exiting jails or prisons to young job seekers affected by COVID-19 to adults who want to create stability through homeownership.
“When we hand a set of keys to a family, we’re fighting back against a massive system,” Andrea says. “These keys open doors to new possibilities, new relationships; they literally open doors to new hopes and dreams. I get goosebumps when I see the journeys of these families and the lives impacted by the work we are doing. And we’re just getting started!”
Holding People to a Higher Standard
Andrea’s advice to other changemakers is not to shy away from having a standard of excellence in everything they do. “There’s nothing wrong with holding people to a higher standard, especially when you’re advocating for communities that are often overlooked or systemically oppressed.”
“I want women who look like me to understand the impact of bias for professionals of color,” she says. “I’ve been in so many spaces where my advocacy was too challenging; I was told I was asking too many hard questions; I was highlighting uncomfortable truths or inefficiencies that non-profit executives weren’t ready to address. In those scenarios, I was always made to feel like I was doing something wrong by bringing attention to oppressive systems.
Advocacy will always be challenging and uncomfortable to navigate. In the end, we are advocating for children, families, and communities that need their voices amplified at every level of policy creation & implementation. I have a responsibility to them in everything I do.”
Family Inspires Her
Andrea draws strength and support from family members, including her mentor, sister, and daughter.
“I would say my sister is probably the biggest source of inspiration for me. She’s that person who’s always driving me and encouraging me to keep the fight going. And also reminding me of the two little girls that we once were, and how what we’re doing now is impactful to little girls that look like us.”
Having a daughter with autism brings perspective to Andrea’s personal and professional lives, as she understands the challenges of raising a special-needs child. “Her autism doesn’t define who she is, but it does impact her experience in the world, especially as a little Black girl who will be a Black woman. She keeps me on my toes. But you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”