To start, do you want to introduce yourself?
My name is LaShunda Leslie Smith and I am the Executive Director of Connected Communities: EMMA & Beechwood.
How did you get here?
I have a background in nonprofit management. [Connected Communities] is the 4th nonprofit that I’ve run. And all of the nonprofits that I have run have had the same theme of startups and new initiatives. The very first one was my very own nonprofit that I started in my dining room in 2003 called Successful Pathways. It’s still around!
What is one of your happiest memories?
I think the happiest memory I probably have was taking my son to college. That was happy. I was a teen mom so I had him at 14 and just being able to see him graduate from high school and then go off to college was quite an accomplishment for me… Just being able to get him that far when both of us should’ve been statistics was pretty amazing.
How did you find your path?
I think I sort of stumbled into it. Interestingly enough, given my situation of being a teenage mom at 14, I had no intentions of going to college. My goal in life was to graduate from high school, get a job, and work, and take care of my kid. Somewhere along the way, someone planted a seed in me—a friend of mine; we were working at SeaBreeze Amusement park together and we were lamenting one evening over the fact that all of our peers were either going back to college or going off to college for the first time and we were going to be juniors in high school. That summer, it was before junior year, this friend that I had at SeaBreeze—hadn’t known her long, just a couple months—turned and she said don’t worry LaShunda. In 2 years we will be going off to college too. And I remember pausing and thinking to myself we will? Now, college was an option for me.
I’m fortunate that in my social work program they required us to do multiple internships. Just having the opportunity to explore different fields as an intern really told me what I liked and what I didn’t like. And I was always very careful note the things that I did not like. Probably more than the things that I liked. That taught me not only about the field and the profession, but if I ever became a supervisor, the way I wanted to be treated versus the was I was treated at times. That helped me to figure out what my unque ability in the world was. And that was to see things from nothing. To take a vision nand make that vision come to fruition. In my life that manifested in many ways. In my career—by starting nonprofits and helping nonprofits build. In my personal life—I like to create a lot of things, to structure events and programs that have never been done before just for fun—to feed that desire. So Ive decided I’m just gonna keep doing that until I die ha ha.
What is Connected Communities?
Connected Communities was started by a group of individuals and stakeholders in the communities and that included neighborhood associations, philanthropists, residents, etc. all came together. It originally started with the mayor talking with home leasing properties about building a housing complex on East Main Street. And from there, with numerous community sessions, input sessions, and focus groups it was determined that the community wanted more than just affordable housing. They wanted a place to live, work, and play safely in this neighborhood.
LaShunda is a finalist for the Athena Young Professional Award 2017 for her contributions in Rochester! Find out more here.
Thank you LaShunda!