Alumni Spotlight, Terrance King, National Children’s Center
Terrance King is the Chief Operating Officer for the National Children’s Center, a nonprofit that works to provide comprehensive and innovative services for children and adults with developmental disabilities. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with Terrance about his experience helping further develop Early Learning Center programs like Baby Bloomers Urban Farms and his experience in the Center’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program.
CPNL: The nonprofit sector is vast with so many important causes to champion, what led you to pursue a career in your particular field?
Terrance King: Now that’s a great question, especially because I did not intentionally pursue the position I find myself currently in. I always say timing in life is everything. So, the way I came about joining the National Children’s Center (NCC) was through a volunteering opportunity hosted by the Center’s Baby Bloomers Urban Farm program five years ago. The CEO of NCC had posted an announcement on Facebook asking for volunteers to help work on the garden. At that time, I had a daughter who was a sophomore in high school, and I thought this would be great community service project for her. While I was there, the CEO and I started having a conversation while I was helping to plant seeds. If you asked her to recall the moment, she would probably say that she was planting the thought of me joining the team. I had been working in the corporate world for 30 plus years and was looking for something different as well. Five years later, here I am. So, I wouldn’t say it was something that I pursued, but it was just the perfect opportunity for me at the right time. I am blessed, honored, and happy to be working on the issues that I do with the people that help make it possible.
CPNL: Your work with the National Children’s Center aims to help provide educational development and life skill opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. How do programs like Early Learning Center, Transition Services, Adult Vocation Services, and Residential programs help prepare people for success?
Terrance King: We seek to help provide everybody the ability to live, grow, work, and thrive. When you look at our Early Learning Center, we begin engaging with people during the earliest stages of their lives, starting at ages from 8 weeks to 5 years of age, because you can build strong connections with the children and their families during this time. In addition, from a nutritional perspective, early intervention and education are essential in helping target food insecurity in young children and their families.
We also work on helping to provide people with next step solutions as they continue to grow into adulthood by providing residential support for people 18 years and older. Our community-based homes and apartments offer developmentally and physically disabled men and women the individualized services and supports needed in order for them to live independently within the community. They all want to have the opportunity to live and work and have relationships, and that’s how we support them. We also help them through the process of applying for a job by providing coaching services and taking them to interviews. For example, we had a gentleman who worked at Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, which is a coffee shop that is run by people with disabilities. The smile on his face and the joy he experienced from being able to earn a living like everyone else really helps put everything into perspective.
CPNL: What is the 3E framework (Engagement, Education and Empowerment), and how is it used in programs like the Baby Bloomers Urban Farms to help address the socioeconomic dipartites experienced by locally underserved communities?
Terrance King: The Baby Bloomers Garden and our Early Learning Center are located in Southeast DC, where residents experience high disparities. We intended to provide these families with the opportunity to actively engage in learning about the nutritional side of the garden program. We have a commercial kitchen run by Chef Nelson, who engages with the families by providing healthy cooking classes. He also educates our parents and families on how to bring the farm to the kitchen table using nutritional food and vegetables, incorporating healthy dietary values and cooking into everyday life. This level of engagement and education is super important in empowering our families and their children because it helps enhance nutritional literacy and the benefits of physical activity for the entire family. Additionally, since the pandemic we’ve been providing our families with healthy food resources so they can learn how to utilize food properly at home. April is the first month we are opening up the garden this season. We want to make sure families have these resources all year round.
CPNL: What is one significant challenge you have faced as a leader in the nonprofit sector?
Terrance King: The obvious are the financial challenges that come with working in this space, especially in regard to finding funding to help move your organization’s mission forward and accomplish what you are seeking to achieve. But personally, especially as we experience the real-life repercussions of the 2020 pandemic, I would say staffing and support have been a huge challenge in the nonprofit sector as we transition back to in-person work. We have all heard about the Great Resignation that has occurred since the pandemic, which has resulted in challenges in finding, maintaining, and managing the support and staff necessary at all levels. This challenge is exacerbated when you look at it through the lens of competition, as nonprofits have to compete with the corporate sector, which may have a lot more resources and incentives it can afford to offer to bring people on.
In addition to recruitment, another challenge is making sure you find and retain great people who want to support and grow with our organization for a long time. They are the key that allows the organization motor to keep running and make things move. I am a big believer that when you get good people, it’s important for organizations to recognize their work and impact. Instead of doing exit interviews, organizations should really be working on conducting stay interviews, allowing organizations to get a chance to listen to their employees’ needs and if the organization is doing enough to meet them. Thankfully, my organization has been very fortunate to be able to manage the ups and downs of talent retention and has not had to close down any of our centers. We’ve been able to continue providing services to our community.
CPNL: How has the Certificate Program helped you in your career?
Terrance King: Good question. I have been searching for an executive certificate program for a while because I believe in professional development. I consider myself new to the nonprofit sector, so this Nonprofit Executive Certificate Program was beneficial because when you look at the course work and the abundance of information presented in the sessions, the faculty made sure to cover all topics ranging from A to Z. This included topics like financial management, advocacy, talent management, and organizational development, which were significant because that is what we are currently working on throughout our organization. Being exposed to all these resources and formulating a toolkit that I can use in my day-to-day work was the most valuable part of the program. The last thing I will say is that, as I reflect on my 2022 Summer cohort, I realize how lucky I was to have peers from such a diverse range of regional and international nonprofits doing such important work. It was great connecting with a diverse and talented group of individuals. The networking opportunities were among the best things I gained from the Certificate Program.
CPNL: What advice would you give to professionals who are considering participating in the Certificate Program?
Terrance King: My advice is to stop considering whether to do the program and move forward and just do it. Looking back, I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunity to participate in a program like this earlier. I also firmly believe that what you put into something is what you get out of it. If you decide to do the program, make sure that you participate and be open-minded to new things to get the most out of your experience. Everybody has a different level of knowledge and understanding of their needs, so I would go into it with the purpose of building new relationships and networks that will last you a lifetime. I understand that some people might be hesitant to join because of the program’s cost, but I firmly believe that the price is well worth the time you invest into the program and yourself.