By Saraya Wintersmith
Congress Heights Community Training and Development Center (CHCTDC) Executive Director Monica Ray has come a long way from her small-town beginnings. The North Carolina native says she grew up poor, but learned from the examples of tremendous work ethic that surrounded her. Now, at 42, she is one of the few women at the head of a D.C. community development corporation. She writes grants, balances budgets and presides over her organization’s unique three-pronged approach to community development. Through hard work and good financial management, Ray and her organization are leading the charge to identify those in the neighborhood in need, prepare them for work and help them become whole people. Believe it or not, she didn’t find her passion for this kind of work until she came to Washington, D.C. after graduating from Fayetteville State University.
Ray had planned to come to D.C. in order to work and attend law school, but when she went to work for Phinis Jones, she fell in love with her job and pursued community development. “I knew it was something that I really wanted to be a part of,” says Ray. “I was intrigued that we were able to find a person in our neighborhood, and within a year, we could dramatically change that person’s life. I wanted to be able to look back and say I had a hand in changing a street or a block.”
Since 1994, when CHCTDC applied for its non-profit status, Ray’s organization has been assisting D.C. residents through, real estate, human capital and business development.
“We’re an organization headquartered in an area that’s unfortunately known for all of its chronic ills – low employment, low home ownership, low high school graduation, high crime – our organization exists to change all of those facets. We hope to be a part of the community that can boast all the opposites of what we’re typically known for right now.”
Last year, CHCTDC trained 480 adults. Of those, 78 percent went on to employment – no easy feat in a slowly improving job market. Ray says the most astonishing part of CHCTDC’s annual statistics for 2013 are the unique groups of people they successfully reach, including 290 ex-offenders. “We train some of the hardest to place populations and we do a very good job at it.”
Ray believes women bring a different perspective to development. “We are very sensitive to the human capital piece of development,” she explains. “Often times, as developers, we become almost consumed with the bottom line and making the deal work from a financial perspective.” Ray says her unique ability to balance the bricks and mortar with the human capital is part of what makes her organization successful.
Ray says she’s excited about her next phase in her leadership goals, which will involve helping alleviate the rampant homelessness in the District and aggressively training the company’s internal leadership for succession so that the organization can sustain and continue to grow.
Monica Tahlisha Ray, changing her neighborhood one block at a time.