Karla Frye has been connected – by proximity, by partnership, and eventually, as an employee – with the nonprofit Community Women Against Hardship since its founding in 1988.She worked for the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists (GSLABJ) at the time, and CWAH co-founders Betty Lee and Gloria Taylor held planning meetings in the GSLABJ office.
Her first exposure to CWAH happened during one of those planning meetings for the first People’s Campaign Against Poverty – a holiday fundraising campaign partnership between the St. Louis American and CWAH.
“I always kind of had my eye on them, and knew about them, seeing them in the paper year-after-year,” Frye said.
Later, she left St. Louis to become an ordained minister. After working as a journalist, a teacher, and running her church’s nonprofit, she settled on social services work, and found her way back to St. Louis. At the same time, she began to volunteer with Community Women in the early 2000s.Through her own nonprofit, the Coalition for Healthy African American Relationships and Marriages, she ran workshops with CWAH clients.
Now that Frye is the chief operating officer of CWAH – and will soon take over most of the duties of the nonprofit’s founder and current CEO, Gloria Taylor – the Coalition for Healthy African American Relationships and Marriages is “more or less on hiatus,” Frye said. Though that group still hosts speakers and events, most of Frye’s efforts are directed towards CWAH.
As Taylor moves toward retirement, Frye has been taking on more and more responsibility within the organization. “It’s been an exciting six months,” she said, “And we have already seen some of the transformation we envisioned in our strategic planning and succession planning.”
That transformation for a group like CWAH is no easy thing. Its multi-pronged services include educational programs, parent outreach programs, career training, a food pantry, and a free clothing boutique.
Karla Frye, however, will be able to use her years of experience in varied career fields to handle the varied nature of running CWAH. Her expanded role, she said, “Has been a blessing, because somehow I’ve always managed to make the connections between all of that.”
CWAH started succession planning last year.
“We looked at the operations, which is the main part of what she had been doing for years, with one staff person. So really, what she was doing was a job for two, and maybe three,” she said.
Taylor is scaling back her role to focus on outreach and program development.
“She hopes to become a consultant for other nonprofits and community organizations,” Frye added. She will help other organizations with start-up, management, and community engagement.
Frye is making some more changes at CWAH, by increasing the educational programs offered – from cradle-to-college, and career services that make connections for youth, streamlining operations, and serving new needs in the community as they come up.
“While there’s so much good that is going on, one of the challenges that we see is the fact that there’s more need now,” Frye said. “as I drive through the community, I always see possibilities. For instance, when I see people who are searching for food, it makes me think about the fact that there’s hunger and food deserts, but boarded up grocery stores at the same time. There’s so much need, and that’s a challenge because we know we can’t do everything, we just want to do what we do well.”
Frye’s and the organization’s overarching goal is simple: to bring more of the low- and middle-income families they serve towards success, which may mean home-buying, taking classes, a scholarship for college, or a new job.
“What we’re pushing is success for families. So as they deal with each of their issues, they set goals, and meet them at whatever level would mean something,” Frye said, “So success is defined as the family identifying their own strengths and weaknesses, and then goals that come out of that. We look at how our programs fit the goals they’re trying to achieve.”
Streamlining programs, and keeping the focus on success for families, is more urgent now than ever, in an age when there is uncertainty around federal funding for nonprofits. Often, the “big nonprofits” as Frye puts it, get the bulk of volunteer and donation support, while “mom-and-pop nonprofits” get left behind. Community Women Against Hardship, however, won’t let that happen.
“We have a definite niche,” in the community, Frye said, and “As this changes, we need to see how we can be more effective and continue the successes that we have.”