Students of "Generation Great" play games in Carroll Cooks' facility. (Photo courtesy of Bri Davies)

GENERATION GREAT: How I arrived at starting my nonprofit

You’ve heard me talk about my kids and their successes, as well as the profound impact they’ve had on me … but I’ve never really talked about the business aspect of my nonprofit. So, here it goes.

My experience with my nonprofit taught me that running a business is an interdisciplinary pursuit. Within weeks of designing my organization, my idealism was met with the harsh realities of running a business — liability insurance, directors and officers insurance, legal waivers and a blown budget. Networking became critical as I met with business and community leaders who helped me devise an end product that was well structured, low cost, manageable and replicable.

But let’s rewind for a minute. How did I arrive at starting a nonprofit? Believe me, it was never in my plans!

Only a few months prior to Generation Great’s founding, I had met Carroll Cooks. He exuded vibrant magnetism as a 65-year-old, ex-convict turned community reformer after spending three decades in prison. He housed his foundation, No Youth Left Behind, on a neighborhood corner, acquired donations and counseled youth to avoid his mistakes. We worked side by side for months to build his tutoring program, which involved daily meetings, long hours and life stories. We became true friends.

Much like the youth, I was drawn to his example. He broadened my perspectives as he enmeshed me into this community. He awakened in me fierce responsibility and devotion. He taught me his guiding principles: you come to the inner city primarily to show youth that other possibilities exist for their lives, and you can’t reach everyone, so don’t get discouraged. 

His guidance would serve me well. When Cooks died, the center closed, the children dispersed and the energy on the street evaporated. He was gone, but his vision didn’t have to be. I knew I was going to do whatever it took to keep his legacy alive.

I initially looked into saving his nonprofit, No Youth Left Behind, but that proved to be unfeasible. But, I did have the $1,500 of scholarship money that Cooks had awarded me and my coworkers, a program outline and a core of volunteers. Could I pull together the rest? 

My first thought was to tap into the local elementary schools where lots of the kids I knew attended. Surprisingly, all of them had an “after school program” to help with homework. So, I arrived at the local community center, ready to rent space three days a week. The first question out of the coordinator’s mouth was, “Do you have liability insurance?” I stumbled over my words, “Um, no, I’m sorry … Do I need it?” Turns out, yes, I did! It was a lease requirement.

Things had just become much more complicated. If I needed liability insurance, I needed to be able to raise money. And if I needed money, I had to make the donations tax-deductible so that people would actually donate. That left me no other option but to found my nonprofit, Generation Great. Once I was officially a 501(c)(3), we could rent space at the community center. 

We tutored the Oak Park youth now within walking distance of Cooks’ abandoned center.

Luca Procida, ’19 (far left), Bri Davies (middle) and Naomi Turnbull, ’20 (far right), work with students on the first day of the summer program. (Photo courtesy of Davies)

The next step was raising money. I have some pretty funny stories about how I earned some funds, my favorite being this one: A few years ago, I sat down in my seat on a plane, ready to fall asleep to make the five-hour plane ride go by as quickly as possible. I woke up about an hour later to do some work for Generation Great.

I was looking at pictures on my phone of the kids that I tutor, when the guy sitting next to me leaned over and exclaimed, “How cute!” 

We spent the next three hours talking about my program and my kids — a conversation I’ll never forget. He was a businessman who lived in Wisconsin, and my service work was near and dear to his heart because his wife did lots of similar volunteer work. We landed, and as I walked off the plane, he handed me a $500 check to fund my program! I was so stunned that through me rambling about my kids for a few hours, he wanted to support me and donate. 

The hardest stages of the business aspect of my nonprofit definitely happened initially when I was trying to get it up and running, and now that I’m opening a second venue, I’m experiencing some of the similar challenges — though to a lesser extent.

I’ve forgotten how long and complicated the process of filling out paperwork, getting a background check, finding more volunteers and pairing each youth with a tutor is. Now more than ever, things have become more complicated because of COVID. I have to figure out how to do all of this virtually! I haven’t yet sent out paperwork to the families because my background check still needs to come back, but when I do, I’m sure it is going to be a hassle. But, it will all be worth it once I meet the 30 new kids that we will be tutoring. I am beyond excited to get to know all of them, and even though the business process can be a little frustrating, I still love it.

Cooks’ lessons inspired me to found my nonprofit, and now thanks to him, look how far Generation Great has come! Even now, when I struggle with a child’s heartbreaking circumstance, I think of his words and find the resolve never to be discouraged. Though Cooks cautioned me that I can’t reach everyone, I hope he knows that he reached me.

Sacramento Country Day senior Briana Davies launched the “Generation Great” blog in 2019 after starting a tutoring and mentoring program by the same name. Country Day students can earn volunteer credit as tutors by enrolling in SCDS’s “Generation Great Elective.” Founded in 2018, Generation Great is a nonprofit public benefit corporation with 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status. For more information, visit Briana’s website: 

— By Bri Davies

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