To improve the lives of Homewood’s children and simultaneously re-weave the fabric of the community in which they live is the mission of Homewood Children’s Village. It is a mission that Walter Lewis, the recently appointed Interim President and CEO, takes very seriously.
“It’s imperative that the work gets done. It is important to me that people’s lives are changed and transformed,” Lewis said. “Considering the changes that are happening around us and the fact that Homewood is so prime for development, we cannot afford for this organization to not be strong and give our best foot forward. We want to be focused on what we do great. This is not just a job for me. It is the acceptance of the responsibility, the weight of it and the understanding of it.”
As the interim president and CEO, his responsibilities encompass overseeing the work the organization conducts across the cradle-to-career pipeline. He oversees staff, Public Allies CORO workers, AmeriCorps workers, Social Worker interns, and a Pulse Fellow, totaling over 40 people.
Lewis started with the organization as a volunteer. Marrying his desire to teach and passions for social justice and community activism, he says over the past six years, he has contributed to the organization’s history and to the depth of its programming. Reflecting, he notes that his vision has led to many of HCV’s flagship initiatives including the Personal Opportunity Plan and the new Scholar Advocate framework, projected to launch this year. He has been instrumental in raising funds for numerous HCV initiatives to move them from ideas to action and has pioneered and championed many of HCV’s innovative strategies for expanding opportunities for youth, including the Summer S.T.E.A.M. project-based experience, and the youth researchers project.
Prior to his current position, he served as the Director of the Office of Education for HCV. At the age of 30 he is the youngest of the organization’s previous leaders. Fred Brown previously led the organization, before being named president of The Forbes Funds.
Located in the heart of Homewood at 801 N. Homewood Ave., HCV is considered a comprehensive community initiative that partners with residents, government, schools, philanthropic foundations, and faith- and community-based organizations to revitalize the neighborhood with expectations of making it a place where children can thrive. Its aim is to not only serve the children of Homewood, but their families as well. HCV is involved in three Homewood schools; Faison, Lincoln and Westinghouse.
The group’s vision is to develop a community of learners in which every child succeeds, and its goal is to identify ways to increase their impact in the community, to accomplish by evaluating HCV progress and performance as an organization.
The idea of longtime resident, John M. Wallace Jr., PhD, senior pastor of Bible Center Church and professor and the Phillip Hallen Chair in Community Health and Social Justice at the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, HCV is patterned after the New York-based Harlem Children’s Zone founded by Geoffrey Canada. Wallace also serves as HCV board president. Aliya D. Durham, MSW, MPIA Vice President of Foundation and Government Relations YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh is vice president. Dr. RaShall Brackney-Wheelock, Chief of Police of GWU Bureau of Police is secretary.
In a correspondence announcing his departure, Brown noted that in 2017, one hundred percent of high school seniors who participated in HCV programming graduated on time. Also, elementary students improved their reading ability with the help of HCV AmeriCorps members in their classrooms. Next, hundreds of youth brought home healthy snacks and dry goods to help bridge weekends gaps of food insecurity. And adults participated in classes at the HCV Leadership Institute that helped them gain job skills, as well as knowledge about children’s health, nutrition, and development.
“I am very interested in building the best team humanly possible. Looking at what we are trying to accomplish, trying to figure out how to transform the lives of people that have often been disenfranchised and left behind by society through the educational system and other systems supposed to serve us that have not kept pace in the Black community. We are trying to tackle issues at a national and international level that people don’t have all the answers to; if they did, we would just be doing what they are saying and the problems would not exist,” Lewis said. “So if you are trying to tackle problems and challenges some of the world’s best minds haven’t figured out how to solve yet, you need the world’s best team to figure out how to do it. Then I say why not here, why not us, why not Homewood to figure out some of this stuff? To that end I am always open to the idea of bringing the best and brightest talent you can possibly find to the organization.”
Lewis, hailing from the Baltimore area, received his Master of Science degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Computational Biology after earning his Bachelor of Science degree from Cheyney University in Computer Science. He was a researcher at Brookhaven National Lab, Wistar Institute and Carnegie Mellon University for six years where his research ranged from cancer progression and genomic sequence identification to gene regulation and development.
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