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Michelle Chellee Rashad, Executive Director of Imagine Englewood If

Posted by colleenscrivner

Please tell us about your organization and the work you do in Chicago.

Imagine Englewood If is a youth development organization with a mission to strengthen and empower the greater Englewood community by teaching local youth and their families healthy living, environmental awareness, and positive communication skills. We do this by offering year-round youth enrichment opportunities for children 6-18 years old. We are talking after school, summer camps, mentoring groups, and leadership programs, all creating safe spaces for children to learn, grow, and explore.

What has your support from SVP looked like?

Support from SVP has been lifesaving! It has been extremely supportive. I was assigned three amazing coaches that have been helping me grow and scale the organization. I meet with my coaches twice a month, but then I also have one-on-one meetings with each of the coaches independently, if I need to do a specific task like restructuring our org chart, or I need to go over the budget for a program, or if I just need an executive coaching session. They are there for me whenever I call them and that is not an exaggeration — I send out SOS messages all the time and they are just a call away to offer me support and help guide me through.

What was crucial about the moment you started working with SVP in your organization? What was good about the timing of the beginning of this partnership?

In 2020, the world took a complete shift due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, Imagine Englewood If went from simply doing youth development work or running our youth programs, to providing support for entire families. In doing that great work, it exposed us to a lot more families in the Englewood community who needed support. We may have been providing families with food before, but they didn’t know we also had a youth program so there was more of a demand in enrollment for our summer schools or afterschool programs or our book clubs. By 2021, more people wanted to support our work, more young people wanted to enroll in our programs, and families were reaching out to us. I was really exhausted from dealing with 2020 but then also not sure how to handle the demand that was coming towards us.

When I joined the SVP community and was assigned advisory coaches to help us to think through where the organization was going, we were able to identify that it was time to do a strategic plan while also thinking about what other support I needed as an executive director.

A small nonprofit ED does everything: development, marketing, social media, programming. But the reality was because we were growing, my team really needed to grow too. Being able to sit down with my coaches and really think “what does growth for the organization look like” was really instrumental in helping to guide IEi’s goals forward.

Then, IEi was presented with the opportunity to help join and lead a community collaborative. It was a scary transition for me to go through because four other amazing nonprofits were trusting me to lead them. Having my advisory coaches there with me through the process, not just simply for our biweekly meetings but also for calls with lawyers, We Grow partners, and IEi’s board was great. My coaches were a sounding board and also held my hand through a very challenging time for the organization. I can say that although it was difficult, having that support makes you face the challenge so much differently. I am bolder, more confident, and prepared for the leap that Imagine Englewood if took. Since we developed the three-year plan, we have more than doubled our organizational budget and my team is the biggest it has ever been in IEi history.

I am so grateful to SVP because I became an executive director at 25 years old and I knew very little about the nonprofit sector. I knew about organizing and how to facilitate meetings and programs, but as to how to actually run an organization I had no clue. I realized that having support goes a long way. It’s one thing to ask for help, but literally having people with me along the journey who are simply there to help me has made me grow a few inches taller as a leader. It has also made me more thoughtful throughout this process and it’s really taught me what support looks like in the nonprofit sector. I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of SVP’s investment initiative and have amazing folks in my life to help me along my leadership journey.