by Carolyn Bick
Sure she had botched her pitch – her one and only chance of securing some funding – CHAMPS Resource Service Center founder Danielle Jackson walked off-stage Thursday night, to the encouraging cheers of audience members and fellow entrepreneurial competitors. So imagine the long-time Rainier Beach resident’s surprise, when she found out she had won first place and $2,500 in the area’s fifth annual “Sharks at the Beach” event at the Emerald City Bible Fellowship in Seattle, Washington.
“People were saying I was beating myself up, because I felt I did a horrible job up here, but I do great work,” Jackson said, sincerity and joy lacing her words to the audience. “I really do appreciate that you guys recognized the work that I do in this community is the air I breathe. It’s my life. I love helping people of poverty. I will continue to do this work, as long as I am standing vertically.”
Jackson competed that night against four other entrepreneurial groups to win funding for her nonprofit, Changing Habits and Motivating Personal Self-Esteem (CHAMPS) Resource Service Center, which helps connect low-income families with everything from housing and medical care to basic necessities, like clothing and backpacks. Hosted by local religious aid organization, Urban Impact, in partnership with Seattle Pacific University, the Rainier Beach-based competition is styled after the television show, “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to judges, in order to win start-up capital for their business ventures.
“All the Urban Impact teams are local neighborhood folks – aspiring entrepreneurs who are really either looking to further their business or launch their social enterprise idea,” event emcee and Urban Impact Chief Operating Officer B.J. Stewart said, as excited voices echoed down the hall from the presentation space, before the event. “We believe that by investing in local small businesses … it will lead to a thriving economy, and that thriving economy leads to local jobs, and those local jobs circulate money in the neighborhood.”
Misty-eyed and grinning, Jackson posed for pictures with her fellow contestants, as well as emcees and judges. The devoted community leader and church-goer has come a long way: 20 years ago, she said, she was “part of the problem.”
“I was dealing drugs. I was just running havoc,” Jackson said in a phone interview, before the event. “I was a single mom, and I was in survival mode. I did have some job experience, but because I lacked education, it was hard to get well-paying jobs that would help with the bills.”
But after a friend convinced her to come to church, Jackson realized that her calling was to help her community. All she was doing, at that point in time, was hurting it, and she knew she couldn’t continue.
Jackson started a family center – CHAMPS on a small scale – inside South Lake High School in 1999, but in 2001, the school was torn down. Undeterred in the face of the need she saw in the community, Jackson joined Urban Impact. Despite the love she had for her job, Jackson knew she needed to do more. She recalled walking down Rainier Avenue, posting flyers, when she was caught in the middle of gunfire – on two separate occasions.
This didn’t stop her, though.
“Me and another friend started having prayer walks, where we would pray and post flyers in the community, to let people know what we were doing,” Jackson said.
In 2009, Jackson left her job – then employed at Bellwether Housing, a low-income housing program – and restarted CHAMPS. Between 2009 and 2012, she and CHAMPS members brought clean, new clothing and underthings to community gatherings. They helped connect families to computer training at the library, and find jobs. They found impoverished community members housing, and hosted social networking bloc parties. Though the organization went dormant again from 2012 to 2017, Jackson felt compelled to try again, an impetus born of the desire to help her community.
Jackson said she plans to put the $2,500 towards CHAMPS’ first official fundraiser. She doesn’t want the nonprofit to go dormant again.
“We have to aggressively let the community know who we are, and what we are doing,” Jackson said.