Trevecca Nazarene University

Empowering a community

(This article was published in the Spring 2014 issue of Micah Mandate - written by Isaiah Fish.)

Patricia Cross sits in her East Nashville office, glancing out the door to the studio where children will soon be practicing ballet.

For 13 years she has dedicated her life to directing Rejoice School of Ballet, an inner-city ballet school that serves around 100 low-income students. She is the artistic director, fundraiser, grant writer, teacher and operations director. Like many non-profit leaders, her vision for her program is bigger than she has the time or skills to grow.

Enter Iris Gordon.

Gordon runs her own successful management consulting business in Nashville. She is also a professor of non-profit management in the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice at Trevecca and director of the Center’s Neighborhood Empowerment Program (NEP).

It’s the Neighborhood Empowerment Program that brings leaders like Cross and Gordon together. The NEP and the Social Business Lab Consulting services at Trevecca offers technical services, board training and classes to non-profit ministries who could never afford to pay for such services, which are valued at a starting cost of $5,000.

“The problem that many organizations working with justice issues face is that they are filled with the heart and passion, but they don’t have the skills and resources they need,” Gordon said.

NEP serves as a bridge between non-profits and experts in a variety of fields, including law, finance, business, and the nonprofit sector.

Last year, for example, graduate students in the information technology program were able to create quality websites for six different nonprofits.

First, Gordon starts a strategic planning process with organizations that begins at the vision and mission development and continues through developing resources. Clients are walked through the legal process of becoming a 501c3, the formation of a board, and even the forming of a website and online presence.

The first thing that Gordon does is an organizational assessment, which takes a critical look at all aspects of the nonprofit.

“We haven’t had a lot of people come to us and be able to pinpoint what their issue is,” she said. “When you go to the doctor and say ‘I think I have a cold,’ hopefully he says, ‘Well, a cold can be many things. That’s just a symptom.’ Once we do the organizational assessment, we generally find that their problem is just a symptom of what the bigger issue is.”

From there, the clients work with a myriad of individuals to be developed holistically, so that they are empowered to take on the justice issues in a way that is more sustainable and impactful, Gordon said.

For Cross, Gordon’s work through Trevecca has meant training for her board and a course on using accounting software for her organization.

These are the things that Cross hopes will help her expand her dance school.

“I’m a dance teacher and a director of dance and I’ve run this non-profit successfully for 13 years but we

are just sort of at a plateau and I’d really like to be able to serve a lot more kids because this is so important to them,” she said. “To be part of what is happening with (Gordon) is so enlightening to me. It’s an honor to have someone of her skill walking alongside us.”

Debbie Murphy, executive director of the Nashville Community Outreach & Resource Center agrees.

Her organization has been working to empower Nashville’s homeless and disadvantaged for 10 years. A couple of years ago some internal changes were threatening the longevity of the organization. The NEP worked with the group to assess the issues and develop a plan.

“The commitment of the Neighborhood Empowerment Program during our challenges and obstacles enabled us to endure organizational restructuring, leadership transition, relocation and more,” Murphy said. “God used NEP services and support to build a better NCORC that will continue to serve for many years.”

Gordon is thankful for the ability to offer her skills and resources to people and organizations working on issues near to her heart.

“I’m very thankful that we can equip and empower individuals, organizations, and ministries struggling to utilize very limited resources to address social justice issues,” she said. “It’s been a full circle for me, literally. Starting out looking for opportunities to bring the two worlds together, and now having the opportunity to facilitate that engagement and seeing the fruit of it? It’s very enjoyable for me.” 

Neighborhood Empowerment Program serves several non-profits in Nashville including: 

  • Castanea: An economic and community development organization. 
  • Napier Elementary Family Resource Center: Committed to increasing the well being of children and families of the Napier community by coordinating social services that address multiple barriers hindering healthy and productive lives.
  • Stronger Than my Father: A mentoring organization building a foundation of responsibility, discipline, and hope in the lives of urban fatherless young men and enabling them to become well-balanced, mature men in their family and community.
  • End Slavery Tennessee: To create a slave-free Tennessee and holistically restore survivors of human trafficking.
  • La Familia: Educating and equipping Hispanic families for a prosperous future.