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Words of Wisdom from a Retiring Leader: An Interview with Candice Streett

“Nonprofit work is never boring, never single-focused and never done! The most enduring and successful efforts are the result of teamwork.”

Candice Streett has faithfully served as the Executive Director of the Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (Virginia LISC) for the past nine years.  Virginia LISC works with residents and partners to forge resilient and inclusive communities.  They do this by investing strategically in housing, retail, childcare centers and other neighborhood assets; increasing family income and wealth; stimulating economic development; improving access to quality education; and supporting healthy neighborhood environments and lifestyles.

Over the course of her 30-year career, Candice has managed housing and community development activities for state and local governments and nonprofit organizations in Virginia.  She was the Deputy Director of Virginia Supportive Housing for almost 10 years, and she also served as the Executive Director of the Virginia Housing Coalition (now the Virginia Housing Alliance) and Associate Director of Housing for the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development.

In addition to her leadership in local organizations, Candice serves on the boards of Leadership Metro Richmond and the Partnership for Housing Affordability.  Her past services include appointments to the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission, Richmond’s Affordable Housing Task Force Advisory Board and the Community Building Committee of the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg.

This week, Candice will retire.  Before departing, she was kind enough to share and reflect on her career journey and offer advice to other nonprofit leaders.   Here are some “words of wisdom” from Candice as she begins her next journey into retirement.

Thinking back on your career journey, what are you most proud of?

I’m proud to have played a small role in helping community leaders and residents realize their dreams and visions for their communities. Some of the projects that really come to the forefront of my mind are: working with the City of Petersburg and the Petersburg Library Foundation to find a way to finance a much-needed new library; designing a small business program (SEED) that has worked for eight years to inspire entrepreneurial activity in Church Hill; providing support for a grocery store in Church Hill; and building the capacity of a new nonprofit, RVA League for Safer Streets, that works to make our public housing communities safe.

Like any project, all those projects presented challenges.  But what really stands out about these projects for me is that they all required us to take a risk.  We had to have a willingness to do something innovative – to “jump out of the plane,” so to speak. I am really happy that my team and I “jumped.”

Candice presents the Innovative Safety Strategies award to Robert Morris and Paul Taylor of RVA League for Safer Streets for their transformative work with young men in Richmond’s public housing communities

In your eyes, how has Richmond changed over the course of your career?

“Neighborhoods are where jobs go to spend the night.” I put that on my email signature because I believe the biggest change in Richmond is the recognition that vibrant neighborhoods will drive Richmond’s economic future. 

For the past, decade millennials have been flocking to Richmond neighborhoods.  They want walk-ability, social connectivity, vibrant small businesses and affordable housing. For more than 25 years, Richmond nonprofits, the city, and philanthropic partners have targeted their investments and work efforts to improve the quality of life in many Richmond neighborhoods. But we can do more. I firmly believe that sustained investments in Richmond neighborhoods will yield a lasting return.

Together, with Virginia LISC and the NFL Foundation’s Grassroots program, Candice spearheaded efforts to have six football fields developed in Richmond and Petersburg during her tenure. The Grassroots program provides the resources to improve the quality, safety and accessibility of local football fields.

What do you consider your biggest career-defining moment?

Years ago, as a supportive housing developer, I was working with three cities in Hampton Roads to create residences in each city for homeless single adults. Not yet accustomed to the type of permanent supportive housing we were proposing, we were struggling to secure enough support to do one residence in each city.  One day, driving back on Interstate 64, I got a crazy idea – could we combine the efforts and finances of three cities to build one initial regional project? With great local partners, we did indeed secure support from three mayors, three city councils and HUD (who had never done a project with three separate city HUD allocations).  This was a defining moment for me. This was not something that COULD NOT be done, rather it was simply something that HAD not been done! The resulting project, Gosnold Apartments, was the nation’s first regional supportive housing residence for homeless adults and has served as a model that Virginia Supportive Housing has replicated in several communities in Virginia and elsewhere.

We need to be willing to think of new and creative ways to work with partners. No one had thought about trying to partner with three different localities on one supportive housing project, but with the right open-minded people in the room, forging partnerships like that can result in life-changing projects like Gosnold.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned leading VA LISC?

I’ve learned that we need to always listen first to those who have the most at stake – neighborhood residents. And we need to be willing to broaden the circle of partners to ensure that there are a range of perspectives to come up with the best, most creative solutions for community challenges.

Virginia LISC, under Candice’s leadership, has recognized Richmond community leaders for their exemplary work to support under served neighborhoods and residents. The Celebrating Community Leaders event has been a signature annual event of LISC’s that Candice spearheaded to shed light on the people and programs doing this incredible work.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting a career in the nonprofit sector, today?

Nonprofit work is never boring, never single-focused and never done! The most enduring and successful efforts are the result of teamwork. Find ways to participate on teams and show a willingness to develop and exercise your “partnership muscle.”

 

What one piece of advice would you give to another Executive Director in the nonprofit sector.

“Share the stage.”  Individuals who are successful in the long term are those who appreciate and elevate the talents of their team, of their community partners and of other nonprofit leaders.  Know that there is a time to stand front and center and a time to stand back and applaud loudly the work of your colleagues.

Candice Streett stops to snap a photo with friend and LISC supporter, Jim Ukrop, at Virginia LISC’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

 

What do you hope for VA LISC in the future?

I am looking forward to seeing all the new and innovative programming that my successor will direct.  I plan to be one of his or her biggest cheerleaders.

 

What do you hope for the local nonprofit sector in the future?

The nonprofit community serves as our community safety net – catching those who “fall” and providing them with needed services and assistance.  However, many nonprofit leaders – staff and board – are getting “long in the tooth,” which is a nice way of saying that many of us are approaching retirement age. That portends opportunities for new organizational and board leaders.

With this in mind, LISC has worked to encourage and develop new community development leaders with scholarships to Leadership Metro Richmond and the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program. LISC also developed a LISC board committee for young leaders seven years ago.

My hope is that our industry will find we have cultivated a wealth of passionate, committed leaders to take our places and ensure we continue to have a vibrant community safety net.

The staff of Virginia LISC.

What’s next for you?

I have described my phase as “downshifting.”  I plan to do a bit of consulting, traveling overseas, and creative writing.  With the recent gift of a fishing license, you can expect to see me sitting on the bank of the river with my fishing pole in the water, sipping wine and making notes for a murder mystery.

I will always be deeply grateful to have worked in this industry with talented and committed neighborhood leaders, nonprofit partners, and corporate and foundation visionaries.

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