As executive director of Connected Communities, a nonprofit dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty and revitalizing the Beechwood and EMMA neighborhoods, LaShunda Leslie-Smith makes it a priority to get out into those communities as much as possible.
“I am in a lot of meetings, every week, every day, and if at all possible I make sure that they are at some business in the neighborhood that we support,” Leslie-Smith said. “It’s important for us to be a part of the process of driving economic dollars into the neighborhood.”
These days, a lot of those meetings take place at New City Café, which opened last June at 441 Parsells Ave. in the Beechwood neighborhood. Part of 441 Ministries, New City Café has a mission of teaching young men and women life skills while filling a need in the community.
“I’m mission minded and mission oriented, and this is not just a coffee shop that sells great pastries and great gourmet coffee in the middle of the hood,” Leslie-Smith said. “They are also mission minded, so they employ young people who live in the neighborhood here at the coffee shop and they’re teaching them how to be high-end baristas, which is a transferrable skill. So it’s a social entrepreneurial opportunity for us to support in this community.”
Leslie-Smith said she spends about 60 percent of her time out of the office.
“Beyond patronizing restaurants in the neighborhood and coffee shops, et cetera, I also meet in people’s homes, in their living rooms, wherever the community is, that’s where we are,” she said. “We have to get out and really engage our key stakeholders because they are the ones that really are the ultimate champion for change in their neighborhood.”
While not every young professional is able to get out of their office that often, Leslie-Smith sees a desire among the younger generation to not be chained to a desk all day.
“No one wants to be stuck in an office 9 to 5 Monday through Friday,” she said. “So just engaging with people and to see the sun shine … my office unfortunately doesn’t have any windows, so that’s also why it’s really necessary for me to get outside of that office and just engage with real people. And it motivates me to do the work that I’m doing.”
New City Café
Where: 441 Parsells Ave.
Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.