Usher may be one of contemporary R&B greats, but he is also a person
who cares and wants to help others. And he’s been doing so with his
Usher’s New Look, which he founded with his mom when he was just 20
years old in 1999. Among the various social services it provides, New Look
mentors disadvantaged children and adolescents and is dedicated to
bridging the gap between despair and success for young people globally.
And the person making things run is president and CEO Yvette Cook. Cook has made a successful career in the nonprofit sector. Before coming on board at Usher’s New Look, Cook was Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer for the United Way of Greater Atlanta. Cook, who received her BA in Public Affairs and Political Science and a MA in Mass Communications from the University of Denver, is also a Leadership Development Graduate from the Center for Creative Leadership and holds a Certificate in Professional and Personal Coaching from CAPP Institute.
Under the tenure of Cook, who is only the second president of Usher’s New Look, the organization has thrived. “Usher’s New Look has been hosting leadership academy sessions in five cities since 2010: Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York. 100 percent of our high school academy students graduate high school, and 98 percent go on to college or a career,” she says. And the organization is expanding. “The latest development includes academy expansion into Washington, DC. In addition, we have expanded our general student engagement through our one day Powered by Service leadership training into Baltimore, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Cincinnati, and Lakeland, Florida,” says Cook.
The youth who have taken part in the organization have been exposed to real-world educational and career opportunities. “During this past summer, UNL College students received real world experience through internship opportunities with corporate partners like, GE, Goldman Sachs, City of Atlanta, DTE Energy, Froedtert Hospital, and ABC Family Network. Academy graduates are attending premiere schools such as USC, UGA, Northwestern, Wake Forest, Howard University, Morehouse College, Vanderbilt, and Syracuse,” says Cook.
And Usher is very involved in the charity that bears his name. “As our Board Chair, Usher is extremely committed to New Look and our students. Since inception, he has consistently served in a variety of capacities: board member, mentor, advocate and supporter,” says Cook.
Cook says they still have some major goals ahead for 2016: “In 2015, we certified 4,200 students, and in 2016 we plan to certify close to 5,000,” she shares. “Long term, we want to certify and serve more students. We want to see more underserved teens complete high school, graduate college, and actively engage in a rewarding career. We are working to develop socially conscious, civic-minded leaders who will positively impact their local communities around the world.”
Of course, there are challenges in growing a non-profit. “Based on the success of our current program model, one of our biggest challenges has been meeting the demand of entering into additional markets,” Says Cook. “The need to empower underserved students with our curriculum exists across all markets. We provide interpersonal and soft skill training that students aren’t taught in regular schools. We teach them critical thinking skills, we empower them to take an active role in shaping their future, and we help them develop their personal blueprint for college and career success.”
So how does a non profit manage capacity building issues? “I suggest setting realistic, achievable goals for growth, and maintaining a certain level of flexibility to ensure that during the growth process, the organization is maintaining its relevancy. Then, identify organizational priorities and stay focused on the end goal,” offers Cook.
Community support and involvement has been one of the most rewarding aspects for Cook in running a nonprofit. “The altruistic support from the heart of the community has been overwhelming,” she says. “We have an extremely committed and dedicated board who not only offer expertise in their fields, but also possess a pure passion to serve youth. I am truly surprised at how many people want to volunteer. It gives me hope.”
There are many positives to working in the nonprofit sector. “Every day I have the pleasure of waking up and spending the day doing what I am most passionate about. I love my job,” says Cook. “Every day I get to see someone’s life transformed because of something we’ve done in the nonprofit sector. Every day I get to give someone a bit of hope for a better future. I get to serve others, and that’s my passion.”