Letesha Nelson has spent her career helping her community and says that her new position as the executive director of the Goodman Community Center “speaks to my heart.”
“It’s something that I’m almost called to do to serve in a community based organization,” Nelson explained. “Kind of reminds me of how I grew up … my mother and father both worked for Social Development Commission in Milwaukee, which used to be a big nonprofit there that really did all of the things that Goodman does. And so for me, it feels like being home. It feels like giving back to an organization that gave to me.”
GCC is the largest neighborhood center in Madison and works to strengthens lives and secure futures through a variety of programs that they host on Madison’s east side. The organization houses a preschool, 4-year-old kindergarten, afterschool programs for all ages (including countywide Girls Inc.), an alternative high school, an older adult program, food pantry, and fitness center.
Nelson was selected from a pool of candidates after previously serving as the executive director of Children and Family Enrichment at Idlewild in Memphis, Tennessee. Born and raised in Milwaukee, she has a deep connection to the Wisconsin area both as a resident and as a service worker.
“That is home to me. A lot of my family’s still there,” she said.
Nelson began her work in service to the community in 2004 with the Girl Scouts in Milwaukee. She spent over a decade working in various positions, eventually serving as Chief Operations Officer.
“If it had not been for the Girl Scouts, I don’t believe that I will be where I am [today],” she said. “They taught me grit and dedication and commitment. They taught me how important it is for me to be myself and be true to myself.
“And during the 17 years of being with Girl Scouts what I learned is that I built myself on that first experience, learned from it, grew from it, and allowed people to bring me along with them and pour into me,” Nelson added. “Now, here I am and I get an opportunity to turn that back to young women and young men, and my fellow co-workers.”
As the executive director of Children and Family Enrichment at Idlewild in Memphis, she helped the non-profit provide resources and programming for underserved families.
Not only has Nelson worked in the field of community enrichment, but she also has first-hand experience when she was younger receiving many of the services provided by Goodman. As a single mother of four, Nelson worked to navigate motherhood while simultaneously working to complete school online.
“I had so many dreams for myself but had little ones who were my priority,” she remembers.
“It was during this time that I found myself utilizing services with the community of Milwaukee for housing, food, health care as well as programs for my children to participate in to expand their horizons and keep them out of trouble,” Nelson continued. “These programs were accessible to low-income families and often had stigmas attached to them. Regardless of that, I knew that in order to get my children where they needed to be, I had to ask – setting aside pride and shame and remembering that I need to focus on the future for them and myself,” Nelson added. “And they can all say their momma has her degree, as well, despite the statistics around being a single black mom of four in the inner city of Milwaukee.”
Nelson plans to begin her term as executive director of the Goodman Community Center by connecting with local community leaders, with area schools, with other organizations around Madison and with those in the community whom Goodman serves.
“It is going to be very important for me to see who my peers are in the community to connect to. I really want to connect with the Madison School District. I really want to connect with a lot of the people who are served by Goodman Community Center,” she says. “I want to get to know them and understand what their basic needs would be and then how we can expound on those things.”
Nelson also noted that she hopes to improve the scope regarding adult education and encourage more volunteer leadership.
The Goodman Community Center announced Nelson’s appointment on December 21, 2020, and that she would be replacing Becky Steinhoff, who has stepped down after over three decades of leading Goodman.
“I have no doubt Letesha is the right person for this job,” Steinhoff said in a statement. “Her mix of compassion, strength and willingness to roll up her sleeves and get the job done is exactly the right fit for Goodman. I know she’ll be a great leader for this organization, and I am confident she and the talented Goodman team will continue to do tremendous work in service of our community.
Nelson will officially start on Jan. 25.
“Now we have to find a new path to forge at Goodman that is going to be beneficial for that community as a whole. We have to keep doing the things we’ve been doing great, and then find out what those gaps are so that we can help fill them,” Nelson said.