GSE Alumnus Chris Lake Opens Nonprofit to Assist the Group | Graduate Faculty of Schooling
Chris Lake, GSE alumnus and executive director of his nonprofit Community for a Cause
What steps have you taken in your career path since graduating from Touro College Graduate School of Education (GSE)?
After completing my master’s degree, I enrolled at Purdue University on my way to board-certified behavioral analyst and am now completing my final observation lessons. I also worked as a principal in several early childhood education classes, providing home services to children with autism in all five boroughs of New York City. These experiences highlighted the diverse needs of children with disabilities living in our city and how many of these services are inaccessible to underserved populations. I felt it was imperative to start my own not-for-profit, Community for a Cause, with the aim of giving children with special needs a voice to improve their quality of life and ensure they are equipped with the essential skills they need for an independent life and life needed for progress in their life.
Can you tell us about Community for a Cause? What specific needs do you address and why are you passionate about giving back to the community?
My nonprofit organization’s main areas of focus include raising funds to purchase smartboards for handicapped accessible classrooms, providing training seminars for parents of children with disabilities, teaching parents about natural ways to detox their children from lead exposure, and helping parents do so Testing their water for lead and toxins in Long Island and in the counties. After finishing my first year of apprenticeship, I started opening my nonprofit Community for a Cause. It was during my first teaching experience that I met a student who had lead poisoning and realized that this was a major problem for children living in poor neighborhoods in low-income housing. Six months later, Flint’s news would spread nationwide. My passion for improving the lives of children in the Big Apple led me to research what it would take to start a 5013c as I felt that my own organization could make the most impact. I also realized the importance of social media in advocating change and used this to successfully update the standards of the National Institute of Health. I also began organizing visits to lawmakers in hopes of changing policies and drafting and enacting new bills essential to updating New York City’s standards for child lead testing.
How has GSE shaped your career? Are there any skills you learned in class that you are using as an Executive Director at Community for Cause?
GSE has shaped my career by teaching me key techniques that I need for my research due diligence. Without this competence, I would not have been able to participate in the legislative process, as I first had to gain a better insight into the pending issues and the existing regulations. First, I started researching lead poisoning in general, its symptoms, and possible treatments. My process then broadened as I began to understand what steps would be required within the political landscape to bring about meaningful policy changes not only in relation to lead poisoning but also to prevent all forms of sexual violence. In fact, during the coronavirus pandemic, my nonprofit was instrumental in helping both the New York Senate and the New York Conventions draft laws that would better define consent to sex crimes.
Can you share how your nonprofit is making a positive impact on the community?
Community for a Cause has multiple branches, each with a slightly different agenda, but all of them are closely related to our mission – to protect and care for the vulnerable people of New York. Our focus on preventing lead poisoning in children is what drives us to put in place legal safeguards, create awareness-raising initiatives and focus on ongoing research into more effective treatments. The Homeless Aid has saved hundreds of pounds of wasted groceries from NYC restaurants to donate directly to those in need. Our Storm Relief Department helped us donate food, clothing, and toiletries to help hurricane-hit people in the U.S. and abroad, while the Peacebuilding Department worked with multiple district attorneys to promote gun buyback programs to reduce gun violence. In addition, our Sexual Violence Department has been advocating the passage of laws on sex crimes as well as the creation of laws defining consent in relation to sex crimes.
What is some important advice you would give to other people considering starting their own nonprofit? Any dos and don’ts that you need to be aware of?
First and foremost, if your goal is to make money off of your nonprofit, you should consider starting a business instead of a 501c3 as your motivation should be to address a problem and / or make a positive change. Second, find some good partners who can help you along the way as it takes an overwhelming amount of work to get your nonprofit off the ground. Collaboration is a powerful tool, and it can be better to share credits and get the job done than just putting your name in shining lights. Many in this area take the latter route and end up achieving very little because it is better to have a team on site. Don’t get discouraged and always think about your “why”. Chances are you will encounter unexpected challenges, from partner disappointments to personal events that delay the schedule, to low attendance at events. When you prepare mentally for hurdles to arise along the way, you are ready to take the crucial steps to overcome them. Don’t let these obstacles get in your way. Just analyze the situation, learn from everything, and move on.