Empowering Individuals Empowers a Community

Alliance Civic Engagement Steering Committee member is living proof of success of human services

Carlette Daniels not only believes that empowering individuals can empower a community—she’s living proof that it’s true.

Several years ago, Daniels, a single mother, was struggling financially. She connected with Alliance for Children and Families member Child & Family Services, Buffalo, N.Y., to apply for a low-interest auto loan through the Ways to Work program. The program, which is a national model operated by Alliance sister organization Ways to Work Inc., provides small, short-term loans to low-income families with challenging credit histories.

“I was able to get my car on the road and obtain a much better job because I was able to travel further, which allowed me to repay the loan in a timely fashion,” Daniels says. “All of a sudden good things started happening.”

This firsthand experience with how human service programs give individuals the footing they need to become economically self-sufficient encouraged Daniels to give back. She maintained contact with Child & Family Services’ Ways to Work office, and staff at the organization encouraged her to become involved as a volunteer.

In addition to becoming a member of the Child & Family Services Ways to Work Loan Committee, Daniels began facilitating life skills workshops for children aging out of foster care.

It was through her experience on the loan committee that Daniels first became acquainted with the Alliance. When one of her colleagues on the committee proposed she join the Alliance Civic Engagement Steering Committee, she jumped at the chance to help develop and guide the Alliance’s civic engagement program.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to give back and become involved on a national level,” Daniels says. “I wanted to hear what’s going on in different states, and hear how other organizations are getting people engaged in the community.”

Authentic Experience Reigns

Daniels says her community-centered perspective is one of the most important ways she contributes to the Alliance Civic Engagement Steering Committee. It’s a perspective she demonstrates daily in her own community.

In addition to her service with Child & Family Services, Daniels co-founded G.I.R.L.S. Sports Foundation, a nonprofit organization that uses participation in sports to promote self-esteem, healthy lifestyles, and teamwork among girls ages 4 to 18.

“I personally have a strong passion to help young ladies because of my struggles and my successes,” Daniels says. “The mission of the organization is to empower these young women to become better members of society.”

Civic engagement concepts seamlessly are incorporated into both Daniels’ organization and her personal philosophy.

“Civic engagement means being actively involved as an individual, and then being actively involved in what you want to accomplish as a whole community,” Daniels says. “I think it first has to start with the individual because when individuals see how they can empower themselves and how they can empower others, it becomes a success story.”

Similarly, Daniels says sharing her personal story is a valuable way for her to support the committees she serves on. Having received services from an Alliance member organization, Daniels has insight into the challenges faced by struggling community members, and she understands how those services can provide a launching pad to self-sufficiency.

Laurie Schaller, senior loan counselor/contract compliance specialist at Child & Family Services says the organization has benefitted in many ways from Daniels’ input. “She has helped us with referrals, and her biggest strength is her ability to come up with fresh ideas. Carlette truly believes that the one loan someone receives can help them break out of the poverty cycle.”

Many Layers of Involvement

When it comes to civic engagement activities, Daniels says it is not just about engaging individuals in the community, but engaging other organizations in the nonprofit community. She also notes that there is no “I” in “team.”

She says, “Nonprofits sometimes miss out on opportunities to collaborate and miss the idea that there could be so much more success if you bring in other people and don’t limit your resources to people within the organization.”

In order to seek out the best available resources and ideas for how to utilize them to help meet the community’s needs, Carlette says it is critical for nonprofit organization board directors to be active players in their hometowns. In addition, the work of the board should not start and end with quarterly meetings; being a board member should be a daily commitment.

That’s exactly why Daniels is such a valuable member of the Alliance Civic Engagement Steering Committee, says Linda Nguyen, director of civic engagement at the Alliance. “Carlette brings her knowledge of programs, nonprofit leadership, entrepreneurship, and a good sense of community assets and needs. Her local experience also provides a unique, outside-the-CEO perspective. She sees the world from a unique vantage point.”

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