New director DeAndra Harrison: Delaware-based Unity Community Center to expand its outreach

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
DeAndra Harrison (left) and Karriejoi Coit are the incoming and departing directors, respectively, of the Unity Community Center, 50 Ross St. Coit is leaving the director's post to become an executive board member.

The Unity Community Center has expanded its services in recent years and is just getting started, according to the center's outgoing and incoming directors.

Located at 50 Ross St. and originally called the Second Ward Community Center, the organization changed its name to reflect a communitywide focus that will continue to increase in the coming years, said Karriejoi Coit and DeAndra Harrison.

Coit, who became the center's first director in late 2018, is leaving that post to become an executive board member and will be succeeded as director by Harrison.

Harrison, a Blacklick resident, heads a nonprofit called Actions That Matter for Youth, which, she said, most recently provided out-of-school services for economically deprived and academically disadvantaged middle and high school students in the Reynoldsburg City Schools. 

More:Delaware's Second Ward Community Center maintains service during pandemic

Coit said Harrison has the skill set needed to help the center expand its services to the underserved population across the city and beyond.

And as a board member, Coit said, she will help the center focus on "operational funding, fundraising and capital campaigns to really get the center where it needs to be."

Those goals will merge, Coit said, when the center launches a three-year effort that eventually will reach out to underserved residents across the county.

About 4% of the county's population is below the poverty line, she said, and Unity Center hopes to reach half of those people.

The effort will focus on Delaware city initially, she said.

Although most local social-service agencies aid those who seek help, Unity by contrast plans to initiate contact with the underserved, Coit said.

"We will be reaching out to different areas in Delaware ... to see what the needs are," Harrison said. "We are working on doing family engagement surveys to see who's living in the household, what is it that you need, what is it that you need help with and ... what is it that you actually need and how can we assist you. ... Being a one-stop shop, almost, to where you can get every type of resource that you need, and if we don't have it we're going to help you find it."

"We're literally going to be going boots on the ground," visiting areas where the underserved live, Coit said. "We're going to set up tents and interact with the community. We're going to go to you. You've got to go where the people are at."

One of the goals, she said, will be to collect accurate information and solid data on how resources could help the underserved move forward.

Harrison's expertise could help the underserved improve their credit and become homeowners, thereby benefiting the entire county, Coit said.

"It's doable,” she said. “But we need the support of the community to focus on this population."

Between late 2018 and late 2020, Coit said, the center's operational budget increased 1,206%. Its enrollment increased 744%, and its partnerships with individual organizations increased 53%.

The center's income comes solely from grants, Coit said, and everyone working at the center is a volunteer, including Harrison, at least for the time being.

"Hers is a volunteer position until she gets paid. We get paid through our grant writing," Coit said.

She said she also depended on grant money for the intermittent compensation she had received as director, but she continued to earn money with her consultant agency, Community Outreach Innovation Team (COIT).

Harrison said she also earns money from contracts with Actions That Matter for Youth.

One advantage Unity has, Coit said, is that its partners are active partners, participating directly in many of the center's programs and sometimes sharing some costs.

One such active partner, she said, is the Delaware County Republican Party. 

Support from the local GOP is something Coit said people didn't expect, but she sees it as evidence of concern and support for Unity's mission. 

Harrison said she has worked in education for more than 11 years after earning a dual degree from Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta.

Education is in her blood, she said.

"I come from a long line of teachers and principals and all kinds of various things,” she said. “I spent years as a publicist, and I kind of always merge somehow back into this education room.

 "You have to have the passion. ... I always wanted to have an impact. So this allows me to bring all of my personal and professional experiences and really be a community leader and actually see the impact from a day-to-day perspective,” she said. “So that's where my enthusiasm lies."

The Unity Center is a United Way agency. The center leases its building from the city of Delaware.

The center's website is swcidelaware.org.

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