Who We Are

Our Mission

The Huntsville Network for Urban School Renewal, Inc. (HNUSR) is a community development corporation seeking to support and revitalize communities particularly in north Huntsville through not only the improvement of educational outcomes for children, youth and adults in those communities but by intentionally leveraging those improved outcomes to engage in community and economic development throughout the City of Huntsville as part of an Opportunity Zone.  We particularly seek to do this by engaging in academic innovation using the Comer School Development Program and CDF Freedom Schools® models in a school called Harambee Academy; providing workforce development services; engaging in community food leadership; and participating in a wide range of other activities that promote the general well-being and health of north Huntsville and surrounding communities.

Executive Leadership

CEO

Dr. Edward L. Jones
President & Chief Executive Officer

Ed is the Chief Vision Caster, establishing a vision for community impact that is achieved through the efforts of a diverse team of high-performing leaders, staff and volunteers alike; the Chief Mobilizer, leveraging the power of relationships and networks, and working across private, public and corporate sectors to improve conditions in the community; and the Chief Overseer, dedicated to shared and measurable goals for the common good – creating, resourcing, scaling and leveraging strategies for broad investment and impact.

An ordained minister in the Baptist tradition, Ed has a particular passion for social justice issues. This passion coupled with his many years of experience as a teacher and teacher educator has strengthened his commitment to community building through education. Ed believes that the number one priority in any community should be the proper education of its children and that, as a result, a viable community will not only thrive but be sustained.

Ed received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Curriculum, Teaching & Educational Policy from Michigan State University, the Master of Science degree in Inorganic Chemistry from Clark Atlanta University, and the Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Alabama A&M University.

Senior Leadership

Dean of Schools & Director of Freedom Schools® Operations

Charles Austin
Dean of Schools & Director of Freedom Schools® Operations

Charles serves as Dean of Schools for Harambee Academy and Director of Freedom Schools® Operations.  In these capacities, he is the chief administrator of the Academy responsible for the general administration of all instructional, business, and other operations of the Academy, including implementation and operations of the CDF Freedom Schools® program for HNUSR.

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Charles passion for education has been fueled by his own history of growing up and bouncing from one homeless shelter to another.  It was through the help of amazing and passionate teachers that he found the strength to deal with the many obstacles in his life. These teachers helped him to realize education as the great equalizer in life and spurred his passion for educating youth, particularly those deeply entrenched in the challenges of life.

Charles holds the Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, in Elementary Education from Alabama A&M University and is currently pursing the Master of Education degree in Instructional Leadership.

Favorite Quote:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”- Dr. Seuss.

Staff

Robert Drake
Community Liaison Officer

In this role, Robert serves as a liaison on community events, organizations, committees, political organizations and facilitating proactive relationships between HNUSR and the broader community relative to public relations and functions attended on the behalf of HNUSR.

Robert came to this position with over 30 years of experience in the communications and nonprofit field having served as a contractor with NASA TV, WJAB radio station, Habitat for Humanity and Job Corps.  He is passionate about his community and has served and still serves with a number of community organizations as a member or officer.

Robert holds the Bachelor of Science degree in Telecommunications from Alabama A&M University.

Tyler Pearson
Social Media Manager & Community Development Specialist

As Social Media ManagerTyler is responsible for developing strategies to increase the fan base on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by outlining a campaign calendar and conceptualizing tactics to increase audience participation. He actively engages followers in a dialogue in an effort to transform visitors into advocates for the HNUSR brand.  In addition, Tyler serves as Community Development Specialist where he identifies urban communities and establishes close ties with neighborhood development boards.

Tyler has worked with the HNUSR since its inception. He has a love for community service and has devoted his life to assisting organizations engaged in such work. Tyler has served the Corporation for National & Community Service through the AmeriCorps VISTA program and is a true servant leader who is particularly passionate about neighborhood revitalization and communicating that message of community uplift and development to a broad audience of current and potential supporters.

Tyler received the Bachelor of Science degree in Urban Planning from Alabama A&M University.

Essence Riley
Director of Budget & Finance

Essence is responsible for all aspects of the financial operations for the organization, providing accounting, budgetary, operational and programmatic support to all organizational programs and activities.

Essence has a vision of helping change the world through financial literacy and financial planning.  She recently interned with Monsanto in the area of Internal Audit where she compiled and analyzed financial transactions and prepared audit work papers in compliance with GAAP.  She has also interned with the Tennessee Valley Authority in Corporate Business Planning & Analysis to provide analysis and reporting of performance metrics, gap/recovery plans and initiatives as needed, among other duties.  

Essence holds the Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from Alabama A&M University.

Mildred Stiger
Executive Assistant to the President & CEO

As the Executive Assistant to the President & CEO, Mildred provides executive, administrative, and development support to the President and Board of Directors, as well as the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and HR and has responsibility for the general operational aspects of the office, including general office management and project operational support.

Mildred has over 30 years of experience in government, academic, and non-profit settings providing a range of office support and management expertise, including teambuilding and problem-solving skills and interpersonal abilities.  She holds HNUSR together in all its operational aspects supporting team members in their project related needs and helping HNUSR improve its workflow efficiencies.

Mildred holds the Bachelor of Science degree in History and Master of Library Science degree from Alabama A&M University.

Sedrick Ward
Director of Development

Sedrick leads the fundraising and advancement programs for HNUSR. In this role, he identifies, cultivates, and solicits corporations, company foundations, and private startups and is responsible for maintaining long-term partnerships and providing strength to existing relationships that helps the HNUSR in funding for both immediate and long-term goals of the organization while maintaining good relations with corporate, foundation, and high-profile donors and prospects.

Sedrick is passionate about the education of inner-city youth having served as a public school teacher in Midfield City Schools in the Birmingham, Alabama area and the Atlanta Public Schools.

Sedrick received the Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education with a concentration in English Language Arts from Alabama A&M University and will soon pursue the master’s degree in Philanthropic Studies from Indiana University.

Our History

The HNUSR was founded on December 27, 2011 with the goal of providing supports to children and families in low-income communities that would help address problems of low academic achievement in Title I schools in the Huntsville City School System. The model was based on that of the Harlem Children’s Zone with the notion of providing wrap-around support services to children and families in the Huntsville City Schools Title I school zone communities. Primary in those support services at the time was developing a service based on the Urban Teacher Residency Model offered in partnership with university teacher education programs through which the College of Education would develop and provide an innovative teacher education program in collaboration with the Huntsville City School System with HNUSR as the lead partner organization providing the administrative organization for the collaboration. Also, as part of the initial offering of services, the HNUSR sponsored a CDF Freedom Schools® program in Summer 2014 through a partnership with the Fellowship of Faith Church in Huntsville. The program was very successful to the point that the church expressed interest for the HNUSR to return for the next summer and administer its already existing summer program as a CDF Freedom Schools® program.
 
In 2015, HNUSR redefined its focus in that the organization found value in having a singular focus on the CDF Freedom Schools® model as an instrument for community building in low-income communities, particularly as low academic achievement of children from these communities continued to be one of the main issues confronting these families. Because summer learning loss, in particular, has been shown to be a significant contributor to the continued academic deficiencies for students from low-income communities, the HNUSR decided to set out on a goal of creating a network of high-performing CDF Freedom Schools® in Huntsville that provide quality summer learning programs to as many students as possible through partnerships with community organizations across the north Huntsville area. In addition, the HNUSR would extend its outreach as it continued to work with these organizations beyond the summer months through after-school programs that are also based on the CDF Freedom Schools® model.
 
In 2019, HNUSR enhanced its overall purpose and became a community development corporation that was still focused on improving academic outcomes for students but in a way much more reminiscent of its founding model, which was based on the Harlem Children’s Zone model, seeking to support and revitalize communities particularly for north Huntsville through not only the improvement of educational outcomes for children, youth and adults in those communities but by intentionally leveraging those improved outcomes to engage in community and economic development throughout the City of Huntsville, particularly north Huntsville, as part of an Opportunity Zone. 
 
Qualified Opportunity Zones were created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. These zones were designed to spur economic development and job creation in distressed communities throughout the country and U.S. possessions by providing tax benefits to investors who invest eligible capital into these communities.  HNUSR, whose offices are located in a federally designated Opportunity Zone, saw a significant opportunity for growth and transformation of its targeted community by leveraging the power of Opportunity Zones and the significant financial opportunities available through that initiative.  To continue to address the problem of academic as well as economic deficiency in HNUSR targeted communities, HNUSR developed a Qualified Opportunity Fund called the Harambee Opportunity Fund with the goal of using resources from the fund to establish a development that would help HNUSR strengthen its partnership with community organizations to change the outcomes of families and children in Huntsville’s most distressed communities.
 
In the Swahili language, Harambee means “all pull together”.  As the national motto of Kenya, Harambee symbolizes a proud tradition of neighbor helping neighbor – communally lifting each other up. Therefore, HNUSR dubbed this development “The Harambee Center” to signify a community working together to achieve community uplift.  HNUSR’s vision is to academically, socially and economically empower children, youth and adults, who act as agents of change in their own lives and communities.  HNUSR particularly seeks to do this through academic innovation using the Comer School Development Program and CDF Freedom Schools® models in a private school it will create called Harambee Academy; by providing workforce development services to youth and adults; and by engaging in community food leadership.
 
In becoming a community development corporation, HNUSR changed its business model from one that had been unsustainable, if it was to achieve the tremendous social mission of changing the entire north Huntsville area, to one that is more sustainable.  This business model is a market-based strategy that has proven successful for top revenue-generating nonprofits in Huntsville, but which no other nonprofits in Huntsville targeting services to low-income communities and individuals have used.  In using this model, Opportunity Zone investment and community food leadership will be used to engage in community development for the targeted areas and as an entrepreneurial venture for the nonprofit.  HNUSR will purchase property, build a school, called Harambee Academy; community farm; farmer’s market; and Smoothie King® franchise, and provide services within an Opportunity Zone.  It is through the Opportunity Zone investment initiative where HNUSR sees its greatest potential to financially support this development and achieve the ambitious outcomes it has set for the community.

Whom We Serve

We focus on the Opportunity Zone (green shaded area) where 90% of the funds in a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) must be spent.  The Madison County Opportunity Zone has the following characteristics:

  • 37% poverty rate
  • Family median income of $37,437
  • 70% of grades K through 8 children attending public schools in the OZ do not meet academic content standards in reading, mathematics and science.

The Madison County Opportunity Zone encompasses 10 census tracts: 2.01, 2.02, 13.01, 14.02, 15, 21, 25.01, 30, 31, and 106.22.

We also focus our solutions on 11 other low-income census tracts in north Huntsville not included in the Opportunity Zone (pink shaded area).  This area has the following characteristics:

  • 29% poverty rate
  • Family median income of $42,650
  • 79% of grades K through 8 children attending public schools in this area do not meet academic content standards in reading, mathematics and science.

The census tracts represented in this area are 3.01, 3.02, 5.01, 5.02, 5.03, 6.01, 6.02, 7.01, 7.02, 12, and 13.02

The entire HNUSR Zone covers 41.66 square miles. 

We are working to provide
all children with the opportunity
for a good education.
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3521

MEMBERS WE HAVE

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75842

PEOPLE IMPACTED

#

854700

TOTAL AMOUNT RAISED

#

11000

TOTAL VOLUNTEERS

PARENT AND FAMILY INVOLVEMENT

Parents and family members are the most important partners in their children’s education. The CDF Freedom Schools program offers parents and family members the support and skills they need to help their children succeed. Caregivers are required to demonstrate their commitment to the program and to their children’s education and development by becoming actively involved in the daily CDF Freedom Schools activities. Parents, family members and community members are invited to serve as read aloud guests during Harambee; assist in the classroom, on the playground and during meals; plan and chaperone field trips; and support the children’s social action and community service projects. Family members also participate in weekly workshops where they learn about the educational and social development of children and gain the necessary skills to empower themselves and their families to succeed.

SOCIAL ACTION AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

The social action and civic engagement component of the CDF Freedom Schools model teaches youth to engage in community service and social justice advocacy. Children learn to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they become more responsible members of their communities. Servant leader interns encourage the children not only to explore the problems facing their communities, but also to become active in working toward solutions.
Each year, thousands of children and teens from CDF Freedom Schools sites nationwide participate in CDF Freedom Schools National Day of Social Action. Participants take part in a variety of actions including visiting and writing letters to elected officials, joining together for marches and rallies and other public education activities. Children learn that they are not citizens in waiting but can make a difference right now.

INTERGENERATIONAL SERVANT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

The CDF Freedom Schools® program is a servant leadership incubator for two generations – the children served and the college students and recent graduates who teach and serve them. Training coordinated by the CDF Freedom Schools national office prepares the young adults to provide an enriching experience for the children they serve. The Ella Baker Child Policy Training Institute promotes principles of servant leadership by fostering an understanding of the connection between effective programs and public policy, and the importance of community development, political advocacy, and coalition building. The strong ethic of service is evident across generations, as community leaders support these servant leaders while they teach and mentor the younger children.

NUTRITION, HEALTH AND MENTAL HEALTH

The CDF Freedom Schools programs will provide two nutritious meals and a snack each day the program is in operation. These meals meet USDA nutrition standards. CDF Freedom Schools programs serving distressed children and families will also incorporate therapeutic interventions and health and mental health services. The Ella Baker Child Policy and Training Institute promotes principles of personal responsibility and the development of healthy lifestyle choices.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS, PARTNERSHIPS AND STRONGER COMMUNITIES

HNUSR builds meaningful relationships and partnerships within the community that strengthen our collective commitment to children and lead to sustainable change.