Chris Lake, GSE alumnus and Executive Director of his nonprofit, Community for a Cause
After graduating with my master’s degree, I enrolled at Purdue University on my path toward becoming a board-certified behavior analyst and am now completing my final observation hours. I also worked as head teacher in multiple early intervention classrooms, as well as provided home-based services to children with autism across all five boroughs in New York City. These experiences highlighted the varied needs of children with disabilities living in our city and how many of these services are not accessible to underserved populations. I felt it was imperative to start my own nonprofit, Community for a Cause, with the goal of giving children with special needs a voice to improve their quality of life and ensuring they are equipped with the essential skills needed to live independently and progress in their lives.
Can you tell us a bit about Community for a Cause? What specific needs are you addressing and why are you passionate about giving back to the community?
Some of my nonprofit’s areas of focus include raising funds to purchase smartboards for special needs classrooms, providing training seminars for parents of children with disabilities, guiding parents on all-natural ways to help their child detox from lead exposure, and assisting parents with testing their water for lead and toxins in Long Island and across the boroughs. I began working to open my non-profit, Community for a Cause after finishing my first year of teaching. It was during my initial classroom experience that I met a student who had lead poisoning and realized this is a huge issue for children living in low-income housing in poor neighborhoods. It would be six months later that the news of Flint would come to national attention. My passion for wanting to make a difference in the lives of children in the Big Apple prompted me to research what is needed to start a 5013c as I felt I could make the largest impact through my own organization. I also realized the importance of social media to advocate for change and used this to successfully update National Institute of Health standards. I also began to set up visits with legislators in hopes of changing policies and drafting and passing new bills vital to updating New York’s standards of testing children for lead.
How did GSE shape your career? Are there any skills you learned in the classroom that you leverage as Executive Director at Community for Cause?
GSE has shaped my career by teaching me key techniques needed to complete my due diligence when it comes to research. Without this skill, I wouldn’t have been able to play a part in making legislative progress as I first needed to gain greater insight on the issues at hand and what regulations were already in place. Initially, I started to research lead poisoning in general, its symptoms, and potential treatments. My process then expanded as I began to comprehend what steps are required within the political landscape to create meaningful policy changes on not only lead poisoning but also to prevent all forms of sexual violence. In fact, during the coronavirus pandemic, my nonprofit was instrumental in helping to able to get bills drafted in both the NY Senate and the NY Assembly that would better define affirmative consent regarding sex crimes.
Can you share how your nonprofit is having a positive impact on the community?
Community for a Cause has several branches, each of which have a bit of a different agenda, but all are closely tied to our mission – to protect and provide for the vulnerable populations of New York. Our focus on childhood lead poisoning prevention is what prompts us to pursue legislative safeguards, create educational outreach initiatives, and zero in on continuous research towards more effective treatment methods. The homeless relief branch has rescued hundreds of pounds of wasted food from NYC restaurants to donate directly to people in need. Our storm relief branch has helped us secure donations of food, clothing, and toiletries to assist people affected by hurricanes both in the U.S. and abroad, while the peace promotion branch has partnered with multiple district attorneys to promote gun buyback programs to reduce gun violence. Additionally, our sexual violence branch has fought to lobby for the passing of sex crime bills, as well as the drafting of bills to define consent regarding sex crimes.
What is some key advice you’d give to other people considering launching their own nonprofit? Any dos and don’ts they need to be aware of?
First and foremost, if you’re goal is to make money from your nonprofit, you might want to consider opening a business rather than a 501c3 as your motivation should be helping to address an issue and/or making a positive change. Second, find some good partners who can help you along the way as there is an overwhelming amount of work needed to get your nonprofit underway. Collaboration is a powerful tool and it may be better to share credit and get the work done, than to have only your name appear in shiny lights. Many in this space go the latter route and end up getting very little done as it’s better to have a team in place. Lastly, don’t get discouraged and always remember your “why.” Chances are high that you will encounter unexpected challenges from partner letdowns, to personal events that delay timelines, to low attendance at events. If you prepare yourself mentally that hurdles will spring up along the way, you will be ready to take the vital steps needed to overcome them. Don’t let these obstacles stand in your way. Just analyze the situation, learn from everything, and keep moving forward.