United Way of New York City is partnering with a Jamaica small business owner to expand on her mentorship during Black History Month to Black-owned businesses across Queens and the city that has struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When UWNYC launched its Together We Thrive: Black Business Network in February 2021, Dawn Kelly, the owner of the Nourish Spot, located at 107-05 Guy Brewer Blvd., was among the first to join the initiative to help mentor entrepreneurs struggling through the economic shutdown.
“I’m very grateful Thrive selected me to help expand the program,” Kelly said. “It allows me to mentor more young people, women and minority small business owners to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams during such difficult times when so many were forced to close down during the pandemic.”
The Howard University alum beat out more than a million entrepreneurs when she was recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as its Microbusiness Person of the Year for 2019. Growing up in South Jamaica, she always dreamed of having her own business and began to work towards that goal after she was laid off from her successful career in public relations for a financial service firm in 2015. She decided to use her savings to fund the Nourish Spot with a menu that reflected her passion for the healing power of nutrition, with smoothies, salads and juices made with a selection of locally sourced fruits and vegetables.
Kelly’s friends had tried to discourage her, fearing the neighborhood would not support a health food business. She opened the Nourish Spot and found many of her permanent employees from local nonprofits and participated in the NYC Summer Youth Empowerment Program. Her employees and interns have a special experience working for a Black woman-owned business as well as learning about ways to prepare healthier foods.
“Throughout the pandemic, we were able to stay open due to my young staff,” Kelly said. “The staff, all former interns, are paid a fair wage. Everyone in my store makes at least $15 an hour.”
Guidance from the Together We Thrive Program not only helped her keep her staff employed, but her neighborhood also nourished, and it now promotes her to the marketplace to other Black-owned businesses in Queens, embodying their community’s resilience and creativity. Together We Thrive is a coalition that provides access to capital, networks and technical assistance to support the survival, success and sustainability of Black-owned businesses.
“As we celebrate the work of historic figures during Black History Month, we also have to uplift the contributions of current visionaries who are the product of their ancestors’ hard-won efforts,” said Stefanie Alleyne, senior manager of small business and workforce development at Together We Thrive. “As the saying goes ‘we are our ancestors’ wildest dream,’ and Dawn truly exemplifies that in how she developed her business and uses it as an opportunity to provide healthy options to her community. The businesses in Together We Thrive all serve as resources not only providing products and services day-to-day, but they also provide a deeper level of economic and social support.”
Alleyne added that Kelly has become a resource “for so many people by sharing her story,” and many of the businesses they are supporting have great stories of their own.
“It just energizes us every day,” Alleyne said.
“Just the opportunity to help these struggling businesses is a blessing,” Kelly said. “Together We Thrive is all about goodwill, making the community better. It’s just a win-win for everyone involved.”