By: Brandi Hunter-Davenport

The power of community, economics, partnerships, and opportunities demonstrates how the right mix of people can bring forth change.

JEVS Human Services, a change agent, is an entity that understands the significance of each of these pieces and their collective impacts which can result in sustainable transformation for their community members.

Working in partnership with various corporations and businesses, such as Cisco and their Network Academy, JEVS is connecting real-life opportunity to their students and creating pipelines that put practice into play and provide financial opportunity for those they serve.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Nandi Jones-Clement, JEVS’ Senior Vice President of Business Development about their work, her own influences as an HBCU graduate of Lincoln University and her role as a newly appointed member to Lincoln’s Board of Trustees. Below are a few highlights from our discussion which began with her experiences at Lincoln University as that time in her life laid the groundwork for both her personal and professional development.

Why did you choose to attend one of the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)?

I was interested in attending Spelman College in Atlanta, but my father was adamant that I consider Lincoln University. He reminded me that Lincoln was a stop on the Underground Railroad. He also highlighted the greats such as Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, Stokely Carmichael – each Lincoln alums. He kept pushing until I agreed to visit the campus. And I’m glad I did. When I stepped on Lincoln’s campus, I felt connected in a way that I can’t put into words. I was home. In a country where we are 13-14% of the total population, and many of us have grown up in communities where we’re in the minority, being at an HBCU provides you with a sense of connection with a community that reminds you of the rich legacy from which you derive and the brilliance you hold as a people.

What do you think you gained by attending an HBCU?

Together, you celebrate culture, literature, the arts. Lincoln’s environment added to my self-esteem as we were constantly reminded of who we are and the power we possess as a community. At an HBCU, black and brown people are not afterthoughts – we are the first thoughts. HBCUs remind us that being scholarly is in our genetic makeup.

I hear the pride and love coming through when you talk about Lincoln, one of the state’s two HBCUs. (Pennsylvania’s other HBCU is Cheyney University.) Governor Wolf appoints you to Lincoln’s Board of Trustees. How insanely cool is that?

This was definitely cool and I was absolutely excited. Yet, there was a moment of hesitancy. When I first considered the opportunity, I was a bit overwhelmed with several other commitments and priorities in my life. I knew I would need to make some adjustments if I moved forward, and I had to give everything some real thought. I had a conversation with my classmate and friend, Philadelphia Councilwoman Cherelle Parker that helped me finalize my decision. I am thankful for her counsel and am honored to be a member of Lincoln’s Board of Trustees. I’m now chairing the Planning & Development Committee and am excited about the road ahead.

How would you encourage people to connect or find a way to support HBCUs?

From an employer perspective, there is always the Office of Career Services, and they are more than willing to have conversations about positions and openings you may have. HBCUs have a wealth of talented individuals who can fill those openings. Beyond this, consider connecting with the Alumni Association and other community engagement volunteer opportunities. Maybe consider becoming an adjunct professor or tutor. Speak to classes. There are all kinds of ways people can contribute that don’t have to be time or labor intensive. You can also click that donation box on the school’s website too. There are lots of ways to show your love for HBCUs.

Talk about your thoughts around companies like Cisco being intentional in connecting with HBCUs and making that intentionality a part of their strategic planning efforts?

I think it’s wonderful that Cisco is doing outreach and making a financial commitment to HBCUs. A lot of companies are seeing that there is a risk when they are not engaged with diverse candidate pools and in making those connections. There is something to be said for an organization having a high diversity, equity and inclusion score – not just from a business perspective, but a company culture perspective. If you don’t have a diverse team, then the ideas, products and services aren’t going to be diverse, meaning you are bypassing multiple segments of the population.

As you know Cisco is one of Triad’s client and we’ve worked a great deal with them in regard to their Network Academy. Talk a bit about JEVS’ work with the Cisco’s Academy.

In 2018, we signed on to offer Cisco’s Networking Academy to our users. It was an exciting move as IT is another area of opportunity for a career. The academy provides low-cost access to the certification test, allows students access to professionals, globally, in the IT space and boasts a robust portal of resource materials to help them be successful. What we have found with our students is that there is a level of foundational work we must do to prepare them for the rigor of the Network Academy and that’s not an issue.  JEVS encounters people from all walks of life and communities, and we are intentional about providing the supports and resources needed to help each of them be successful. I’m looking forward to providing a link between Lincoln and Cisco as well.

If you can, share a few other organizations and businesses currently partnering with JEVS

We work with the Philadelphia Water Department, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, CVS Health, Congreso and the Sunday Morning Breakfast Program. We also work with Clarion University’s Pharmacy Program. And we recently submitted a proposal in partnership with the national OIC for work in the apprenticeship space, particularly targeting underserved and non-traditional populations.

Why is it important these opportunities be presented through organizations like yours?

The benefit of working through JEVS and organizations like us is we have a reputation for being a go-to agency for people in need. JEVS has the knowledge and resources available, and we are a connector, bringing those resources and people together. In a given year, we service 25,000-30,000 people. During the pandemic, we’ve been able to adjust our services so that we can continue to provide those services and support. As a part of a large national consortium of Jewish organizations, we have partnerships all over the country, which helps to amplify our voice. Whether we are providing social services or academic support and educational opportunities, JEVS continues to be a force for helping people.

If someone wants to connect with JEVS, what’s the best way for them to do?

Anyone looking to volunteer can definitely speak with me, but our Volunteer Coordinator is Ranee Shipley and she’ll be happy to put you to work on behalf of our causes. Another way you can connect is through our mentor-mentee program –Three Cups of Coffee. We also provide support with college preparation and are always looking for additional boosts there.  

Anything else you’d to share?

We had to ask ourselves a question: Are we getting people out of poverty or are we in the poverty maintenance business? Jobs offering minimum wage aren’t likely to change the trajectory of a person’s life. How can JEVS help people make changes that will have generational effects for the long-term? We realize that everyone isn’t meant to attend college, but there are trades and credentials that can be attained that will lead to higher wages and a path of mobility in the workforce. We are excited to be a part of this solution for many.

Triad Strategies appreciates Ms. Jones-Clement and the time she gave us for this insightful discussion. We look forward to sharing more about JEVS and Cisco’s work.