Jenisa Washington in Conversation: Community and Collaboration

As we celebrate 10 years at work in Los Angeles, we’re catching up with partners to discuss what we’ve accomplished together so far and how we can do more over the next decade. In a conversation with our own Suzanne S. Brown, Impact Circle Founder and Executive Director Jenissa Washington shared her views on the power of collaboration and service to build up communities. 

Can you please tell us about yourself and your organization.

I’m Jenisa Washington, I’m the Founder and Executive Director of the Impact Circle. We are a non-profit 501(c)(3) collective of women leaders committed to social change in low-income and underserved communities. We are women, for women, about women by women and utilizing our resources, our finances, our connections, our expertise skill-set to support small extraordinary nonprofit organizations on the ground in locations that serve low-income and underserved communities, families, women, children and we are serious. [laughter]

I would totally agree, you are a serious group of women and a group that is passion driven. What I appreciated about the Impact Circle is your clarity around what you would like to support and how you want to advance the work of organizations that you partner with. Can you tell us a little bit more about the partnership between First Place for Youth and the Impact Circle?

It’s such a beautiful relationship and opportunity. My first introduction was from Mark Bradford and Allan [DiCastro].  I was invited to the opening of Art + Practice and they walked me across the street to show me the First Place for Youth office. 

As I learned of the work being done there, I was blown away.  When you think of foster care, you think about young children. But former foster youth who are older than 18 and did not have resources or access to all of the things that our children and then young adults have access to, they’re already starting at a deficit.  If we think about some of the main things that we all need—it’s not exclusive to former foster care young adults—it all begins with a roof over our head, with housing, a safe place to sleep, eat, grow, build, and educate ourselves. If our young adults formerly in the foster care system do not have that and are not supported in that way, how can we expect them to contribute their best selves, their talents, and gifts to our society. 

I was blown away that an organization had the wherewithal to think about the importance of that and about the amounts of former foster care young adults who were left out of the system and out of the opportunity to make a contribution because they did not have the basic need of housing in their lives. The Impact Circle had not been formed at that time, but I filed it into the back of my consciousness knowing that I wanted to circle back and support this work.

Talk to us about some of the work and the accomplishments that we’ve been able to achieve since the partnership was established

The Impact Circle, as I mentioned, it’s an organization that is a group of women who in their own right are leaders. They are so impactful and intentional in the way that they show up. We are an organization that is showing up as a call for action to serve. So this is really about giving in service, identifying who needs these services and then what are the areas that we want to support—education, vulnerable youth, women, women’s rights, gender equality, as well as a racial equality—which allowed me the opportunity to circle back to First Place for Youth

We were introduced to the Santa Monica location and the specific needs of the Santa Monica residents. What struck all of us about the young women at the Santa Monica location is how committed they were and are to not repeating the cycle of foster care. You can feel it and see it in their eyes. They will do any and everything to make sure that their children do not end up in the foster care system. So the ask was directly related to supporting these young women to go to school and work and have the proper childcare that was needed so they felt secure and safe going out into the world doing the things that First Place for Youth required for them as part of their life skills and as a part of helping them get on their feet. And childcare was super important to them and that’s where we saw we could be helpful and provide a grant that supported that. 

Because of the Impact Circle Foundation‘s openness and flexibility to hear about other projects it was a major contributor to the sustainability of the Santa Monica site. After the property owner gave us donation, we were able to transition and to serve those young women at the site because of the Impact Circle and we are grateful for that.

Being on that site being with those young ladies, it was so beautiful. And we’re so proud that they have the support of First Place for Youth and your leadership, Suzanne. Because we as a society cannot afford to leave anyone behind, and these ladies are so committed. With the life skills and the education and the leadership and structure that you all provide for them, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They can see the opportunities and possibilities. 

In 2019, the Impact Circle brought a Halloween carnival to our Santa Monica residents and their children

In looking to the future, whether it’s a couple of years, 5 years, however long it is destined for our partnership to continue growing, what would you say your goal is for the partnership or what would you hope to see unfold as the partnership continues.

We all have a way that we can contribute, and every one of our contributions—no matter what organization or how we do it—is valuable. There were two really incredible components in the Santa Monica location being a reality. One, the owners of that property being willing to give and be of service to First Place for Youth’s cause and an independent donor willing to financially support that. And more importantly there being a First Place for Youth that understands that there’s a whole slew of foster care youth who need support in transitioning into being able to contribute to their community, to their families, and more importantly to themselves. All of that to me is partnership. All of that is community building, and that is one of the things that the Impact Circle is excited about. It puts a little pep in our step. 

The possibility of engaging people in this novel idea that community building in partnership is like a pebble in the ocean; it doesn’t make a huge tidal wave like a tsunami or a wave that we can surf, but it does create a rippling effect. Therefore, every pebble is important, every relationship is important, every partnership is a pathway to building community, and that just makes me excited, giddy, because it doesn’t take much and we all can be accountable. 

You and I have had so many incredible conversations about the possibility of growth for the Impact Circle‘s partnership with First Place for Youth and it starts with both of our commitment and synergy around the needs of the residents of that location.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts around our partnership and goals for the future. As you know, First Place for Youth not only focuses on housing, but we focus on education and employment. Education and employment is the sustainer for our young adults – that is how our young adults can thrive and how they can move forward. Given that November is Career Development Month, we would love for you to share with us, what was your first job and what advice you would offer young adults who are entering into their career or even in the exploratory stage?

I love that question Suzanne, it’s actually super fantastic. My first job was in 10th grade. I left school on work experience to go to work at Jack in the Box. The impetus for that job was to purchase some Jordache jeans (*laughs*). My mother was very clear; she had four children and could not afford to pay a hundred plus dollars for one pair of jeans. My grades were in a place that I could request work experience, and I explained that to my mom. She said absolutely and allowed me to leave school. 

You’ll never know how you can contribute or what you can give if you are pursuing somebody else’s dream or goal.

I found myself quickly disillusioned. It was an environment that didn’t serve me, and I decided that the Jordache jeans were not worth being in that environment. So what I would say is all the experiences that we have help us understand who we are at the fundamental level, even the challenges and those experiences that weren’t ideal. They tell us something about ourselves. So for all young people, really listen to yourself. Trust yourself and discover who you really are. There’s not a job that’s mundane or unsatisfying if it’s interesting to you. You’ll never know how you can contribute or what you can give if you are pursuing somebody else’s dream or goal. So for me really the discovery of yourself is essential because then it opens up the path for you to be your most authentic self and to give from that place. 

That’s powerful advice because it highlights the meaning or self-identity. Before being able to commit to a career or to an employment that either serves something, someone or someone else or another population, know who you are first and that will lead you down the right path. I can truly attest to that.

During this stay at home mandate I did a lot of reading, and I found [Malcolm Gladwell] had so many beautiful jewels, and one of the jewels in his book, Blink, was really there is no self-made person. He was speaking very specifically about Steve Jobs and also about Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. He really speaks about the importance of community, the importance of timing, resources, relationship, and that’s the same. He also goes on to say that every single individual on this planet has something that they are uniquely suited for and what their gifts are or talents we as a society need. So when we do not support an uplift our brother and sister, we are not supporting and uplifting ourselves because we’re missing out on their gifts. 

Thank you so much Ms. Jenisa Washington. We appreciate you, we appreciate the members and Board members of the Impact Circle Foundation and we thank you for your partnership!

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