Serve & Connect: The compounding effect of living in caring, connected communities
Amy is a mother of three in North Columbia, South Carolina. North Columbia was once a neighborhood that provided opportunity and security for its residents, especially residents of color. By the time Amy was raising her three children, however, it had become one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods. Amy would not let her children sleep in the front rooms of their home because she was afraid a stray bullet would hit them.
In despair, Amy considered taking her own life.
Then she went to an event sponsored by Stand Together Foundation Catalyst Program participant, Serve & Connect. The Catalyst Program is a selective six-month management and leadership development experience that aims to accelerate the work of America’s highest-performing nonprofits. Serve & Connect helps police and citizens work together as one community to address the root causes of crime and promote public safety so all residents can thrive. After listening in at several meetings, Amy volunteered to host events for other mothers. She also helped develop and organize Serve & Connect’s Empowerment for Peace Walk, which highlights local youth leadership and encourages law enforcement and community members to choose cooperation over conflict.
Serve & Connect Founder and CEO Kassy Alia Ray told Stand Together Foundation’s March 2022 Catalyst Summit that when people like Amy learn that someone cares about them, they are better able to care for others. Caring compounds cooperation in the community. Indeed, Serve & Connect developed out of Kassy’s own understanding of the power of community to promote healing. After her husband, Greg, was killed in the line of duty, Kassy and her son were surrounded by loving friends, family, and Greg’s colleagues from law enforcement.
Greg’s death came at a time of increasing divisiveness in the country. In particular, there were growing divisions between law enforcement and the people they serve. Kassy knew her husband and his colleagues cared deeply about the communities they served. She told Stand Together Foundation’s Catalyst Summit that kindness was Greg’s “superpower.” Even though she had lost her “stability and her future,” she felt called to promote healing.
Serve & Connect was born out of that calling. The organization offers an alternative to divisive discourse and one-size-fits-all solutions that negatively impact both citizens and law enforcement. It achieves this mission by facilitating sustainable police-community partnerships that improve community safety, resilience, and well-being and by convening intentional engagements to identify problems and develop collaborative action plans.
As part of its efforts, Serve & Connect hosts a block party series in neighborhoods that have been long-neglected. The series brings together law enforcement and citizens to share meals and music. Serve & Connect’s Community Closet program works directly with neighborhood leaders to identify and support people impacted by poverty. During the 2021 holiday season, Community Closet helped a mother recovering from substance use to move into an apartment with beds for her children, new kitchen appliances — and even the yellow Crocs the mother specifically requested for her oldest daughter.
“We don’t believe in ‘us’ versus ‘them,’” Kassy told Stand Together Foundation’s Catalyst Summit. “We believe that together we are better and that when we work together, we create a better tomorrow for us all.”
The Stand Together Foundation Catalyst Program has equipped Serve & Connect leaders with new tools to deepen its impact and expand its reach. As part of the Catalyst Program, Serve & Connect has access to principles-based management coaching, leadership development programs, operational support, and a community of entrepreneurial peers, influential philanthropists, and business leaders. That means more communities can become the safer, stable places people like Kassy, Amy, and their children need to live happy, fulfilled lives.
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Learn more about Serve & Connect. Learn more about the Catalyst Program.