Sogunro Brings Manassas to the White House | Community Spirit
City of Manassas Neighborhood Services Manager Kisha Wilson-Sogunro received an important phone call last week - from the White House.
Organizers of the President's Champions of Change program invited her to their weekly panel and networking discussion. Ten Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community activists from around the U.S., were being recognized for the work they are doing to better their communities.
Sogunro thinks the invitation resulted from the city's recent Virginia Municipal League President's Award, the latest of 11 state and national awards the city, its community partners and volunteers have accumulated in the past five years for their neighborhood revitalization projects.
She accepted the invitation in typical "Kisha" style - by asking for more.
Sogunro asked if she could bring with her the four AmeriCorps VISTA members who are living in Georgetown South and working with residents to revitalize that community.
And the White House assistant said yes.
"I was extremely appreciative," said Sogunro, who took Kimberley Jenkins-Bailey, Mignon Broughton, Kenisha Salvary and Jesus Tlatelpa with her to the White House on Dec. 15.
The Manassas group joined up to 75 others in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for a four-hour panel, Q & A and networking session. One Champion of Change panelist was Timothy Solano, a child abuse victim who overcame substance abuse, homelessness and incarceration to become an executive board member for Habitat for Humanity International. Solano admitted: "When you're making speeches about cleaning up your neighborhoods, I was the guy you were talking about."
Kenisha Salvary, 20, who graduated from Osbourn High School, was moved to tears. "I related to his story of survival and the challenge of single parenting. We need to bring these success stories to GTS where people my age can hear them."
Mignon Broughton, who recently published her own story of struggle, Hidden
Voices: Revelations of a Young Soul [Godzchild Publications], took heart in Solano's message as well. "Don't let your struggle stop you. Keep your focus. Be confident. Model that for others, and they will learn to meet their goals."
Another Champion of Change panel member was Rev. Dr. Judy Talbert, who works closely with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and was recognized for dedicating 36 years to helping at-risk and challenged populations, including the homeless, ex-offenders, members of gangs and persons with HIV-AIDS.
"It was encouraging to hear that I don't have to leave my faith at the door when I'm working," said Kimberley Jenkins-Bailey. "What we are doing in GTS matters and is making change. We are planting seeds and watering for the future. My role is to use my time wisely now and do the best I can."
"It was an energy boost," said Sogunro, who talked one-on-one with Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. "Manassas is on the right track with capacity building and I'm eager to do so much more. We heard story after story of people who turned their lives around and now they're working to make their communities better. We need a strong hand, but also offer that hand to lift people up."
On Jan. 16, the City of Manassas, Manassas City Public Schools and the Boys & Girls Club of Manassas will launch a pilot youth transportation project that will connect youth in Georgetown South to the club for after school and early evening tutoring, mentoring, computer lab, athletics and other programming. If successful, the pilot will be expanded to other areas of need throughout the city.
Sogunro is also recruiting community partners and volunteers for the Big Day of Serving Manassas on May 5 in the Bristoe Station neighborhood - moving the successful 1 By Youth model to the next area in need of revitalization.
"Engaging youth drives change," says Sogunro. "We also have a great untapped influx of veterans returning to our neighborhoods. These vets have the skills and abilities we need to build strong neighborhoods. We need them in CERT-Fire Corps and Neighborhood Watch. We need them on the boards of our community associations."
As soon as she returned to her office, Kimberley Jenkins-Bailey taped up her quote of the day. It reads, 'After you go to the White House, life will never be the same.in a good way!'"
To sponsor, partner or volunteer with City of Manassas Neighborhood Services in their 2012 initiatives, call 703-257-8240 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Champions of Change program, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions.