Urban League focuses on social and human capital

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Individuals enrolled with the Urban League of Central Carolinas in Charlotte to get national certification training on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems also work as apprentice assistants to certified technicians who contract with the Urban League to provide HVAC maintenance for churches, nonprofits and residences.

That maintenance program generates revenue the Urban League uses to provide scholarships for others who enroll in certification training.

The program is one of a handful of social ventures the Urban League has developed and now aims to grow with $200,000 from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation through its Neighborhood Builder program that also will provide leadership training for an emerging leader at the Urban League.

The social venture initiatives “are about building capacity for the agency,” says Patrick Graham, president and CEO of the Urban League of Central Carolinas.

Operating with an annual budget of nearly $2 million and a staff of 10 people working full-time, plus 12 part-time teachers for its after-school programs and 10 contractors for its national certification programs, the Urban League serves roughly 5,000 clients a year through its workforce, education and outreach programs.

The workforce programs include job-readiness, life-skills and financial-literacy training; national certification training in HVAC, broadband and fiber optics, Microsoft specialist and customer services.

Education programs include after-school programs at 12 schools in Mecklenburg and Union counties, with technology training at elementary and middle schools to enhance the core curriculum, and broad band and fiber optic certification, Cisco certification, and leadership development and mentoring at high schools.

In addition to a voter campaign in 2012, outreach programs include a bank the Urban League launched in November 2012 in partnership with Carolina Premier Bank that is geared to “underbanked and unbanked” customers and provides lending to minorities.

The Bank of the Urban League of Central Carolinas already has made loans totaling over $1.7 million and is negotiating another loan for $1 million, Graham says.

The Urban League, which receives two-thirds of its funding from private foundations and individuals, and one-third from government, plans to use the funds it will receive from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation to add a development position to increase giving from individual donors.

It also plans to add a job developer who will work with companies to advocate and find jobs for its clients.

And Shannon McKnight, the Urban League’s director of development and communications, will receive training as an emerging leader through the Neighborhood Builder grant.

Graham received similar training in 2006 as director of emergency and financial assistance at Crisis Assistance Ministry, which that year and again this year received a Neighborhood Builder grant.

Graham says his social venture work at the Urban League reflects lessons he learned from that training, and from his doctoral work in history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

His dissertation focused on the migration of blacks to the North from the South during the Civil Rights movement and the institutions they created to address racism in the North.

As a child growing up on Long Island in New York, Graham attended the Martin Luther King Center, which had been founded by migrants from the South, and which he later served as executive director.

Recognizing that minority communities traditionally have lacked access to capital, Graham says, he has worked at the Urban League to find ways to “generate income and provide a means to build financial literacy and capital that would make the community more independent.”

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