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The Community Foundation Blog

Leadership spotlight: J. David Young, FRIENDS Association for Children
By The Community Foundation / February 20, 2019
Leadership spotlight: J. David Young, FRIENDS Association for Children
In honor of Black History Month, this February we will be featuring conversations with African-American leaders and changemakers in the Richmond community. 

J. David Young is the Executive Director of FRIENDS Association for Children, a nonprofit early education and childcare center located in the City of Richmond. Before joining FRIENDS in 2012, David worked with United Way in Columbus, Ohio and in Greater Richmond. 

What drew you to the nonprofit field?

I have six siblings, and we were all raised by a single parent. We quickly learned how important nonprofit organizations were and how to access various nonprofit resources available in the community. Ironically, all but one of my six siblings have nonprofit careers! I guess the common denominator would have to be my mother and how we were raised. “In service to others before self” was a golden rule that she instilled in us real early.

What is the most rewarding aspect of this work for you?

There’s nothing better than watching a child who has struggled for a little bit — even with small things like tying their shoes — and then you see that proud look of accomplishment in their eyes when they start to do it for themselves. There’s nothing like that. I never have a bad day because I have dozens of smiling little faces and curious eyes around me all day long.

What is your proudest career achievement?

In 2021, FRIENDS will be celebrating its 150th anniversary. I cannot think of another local organization that’s been around for that long. I’m just proud to be a part of an organization that from its very beginning has helped children find a path to overcoming challenges and imagining the opportunities that are available to them. I am so humbled to be able to lead this organization as we continue to grow and build a stronger foundation, so we can continue to serve Richmond families for another 150 years.

Describe one of your biggest career challenges and how you overcame it.

When I decided to come to FRIENDS, I did my homework about the industry, and I learned very quickly about the challenges facing early childhood education. I also learned about the financial difficulties FRIENDS was going through at the time, and how three or four similar organizations had just closed or eliminated their preschool programming. It kind of worried me, but I realized that this was an opportunity to help get an organization on firm financial ground, because obviously finances played a big part in the other agencies’ decision to close.

We had to make some dramatically tough decisions. After we got past that, with the help of some of our long-time generous supporters and various other corporate and foundation partners, we were able to strengthen our financial position and strengthen our operations. I won’t say that we’re completely out of the woods, but I will say that we have made tremendous progress, and a lot of those “trees” are behind us now. It feels like I did the right thing, and we are on the path to where we need to be.

What makes a good leader?

I think a good leader is someone who doesn’t just work well with people, but someone who can also inspire and motivate them. They see your energy and your passion and your enthusiasm and your willingness to do just about anything, and that transfers over to them. A good leader also has to be able to show empathy, has to be accountable, and has to have a sense of humor. Above all, I think a good leader has to have a flexible personality.

Who has inspired you along your career journey?

Much of my inspiration has come from my mother and my grandmother, two very strong women that raised seven children by themselves — and had to deal with five of us being knucklehead boys! To me, they’re saints. But they were also very smart and very wise, wise enough to realize that, in order to raise the kind of young men that they could be proud of, we’d have to find a way to balance what they taught us with positive male influences and interactions.

What else would you like people to know?

I recently started a program called ACEing Autism RVA. It’s part of a national program that introduces tennis to children along the spectrum of Autism. It’s a six-week program open to all ages, and we provide all the equipment. The next session we’re going to have will be in March. If people want more information, contact me.

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