Propeller Entrepreneurs Talk Business | New Orleans CityBusiness

Venture: Dryades YMCA Daycare


Entrepreneur: Sheila Matute

Propeller Program: 2022 Impact Accelerator

Focus Area: Education

What have been your greatest successes in tackling the disparities in education?

We have a program that has been long standing in the community providing wraparound services in partnership with other service providers in the New Orleans and Central City community. It’s also fidelity – we are here to serve the community, we’ve been here and we’ll continue to be here. We worked during the pandemic, we were one of the centers that didn’t close – we closed initially for a month but reopened and have remained open since then.

How did you pivot your services during the pandemic?

We were conscientious about making sure the families and children were safe. Although we have an open door policy, we restricted access to the classroom to only children and staff. We followed the guidelines and best practices that were put out by the health department. We continued to ask questions so that we could communicate effectively with parents. With respect to their HIPAA rights, we communicated about children’s health so we could maintain the health of other students. We also had virtual services for students at home; We sent home activities and provided learning support to parents so that students could complete activities with their teachers virtually.

What are you most excited for this school year?

We’re excited about the new children that are coming in and the fact that we are not as restricted as we were this time last year. It’s an uncertain time with the monkeypox spread and higher COVID numbers. But there has been a lot of education and professional development for the teachers but we’re dealing with an extreme teacher shortage. We are hiring, though. I’m mostly excited to continue providing the services to our students. We’re energized by the state’s first early childhood conference ever and we’re ready for the children to be back in the classroom.

Venture: Sankofa Native Plants Nursery

Naish Williams and Ronnie Johnson

Entrepreneurs: Rashida Ferdinand, Naish Williams, Ronnie Johnson

Propeller Program: 2022 Impact Accelerator

Focus Area: Water

What services does your business provide and why are these important?

Rashida: Sankofa CDC aims to address racial disparities in access to healthy food, health care and nutrition education by removing barriers to healthy living. Solutions to systemic issues of racial inequities and socio-economic marginalization must prioritize not only promoting health choices in the community, but also creating infrastructure for a healthy economy while addressing all the social determinants of health. Our economic development work involves the development of sustainable infrastructure projects – including the Wetland Park on the Florida Avenue Corridor and the Lower Ninth Ward MainStreet project, Sankofa Fresh Stop Market on the St. Claude Avenue Corridor – to improve public spaces and restore environmental balance in our community with resources that support economic development of the Lower Ninth Ward area.

Sankofa CDC is currently working to restore 40 acres of space into a wetlands habitat along the north side of the Lower Ninth Ward. This green infrastructure project is transforming land on the Florida Avenue Corridor that was formerly used as a landfill with illegally dumped trash and invasive overgrown vegetation into a space that restores wetlands habitats. Located adjacent to the Bayou Bienvenue – Wetland Triangle, this green infrastructure project will reduce stormwater overflow along the Florida Avenue Corridor in the Lower Ninth Ward through a retention pond system that captures rainwater runoff. The growth of native plants form more wildlife habitats in the area, resulting in a tremendous increase in the amount of wildlife that has returned to their homes in this location, with a 90% increase in bird population over the past two years. Our Louisiana native tree and plant nursery provides the Wetland Park with the trees and plants needed for its restoration and wildlife habitats. The nursery also supports other green infrastructure projects throughout the city by offering native plants that are needed for these projects.

Wetland ecology-focused STEM programs at the Wetland Park provide hands-on outdoor recreation and education to support our collaborative efforts to address global warming and environmental justice needs in our community. We also offer an intergenerational fishing program, through which elders who grew up fishing in the Lower Ninth Ward pass on their knowledge to youth. We are working in partnership with Louisiana Green Corps’ workforce development training program where young adults can learn about green infrastructure and construction practices to develop job readiness skills.

Name one way your business has had to adapt during the pandemic.

Rashida: We focused on expansion of our food pantry services to reach four times the amount of people in need of food pantry disaster relief services. We also started delivery services and provided disaster relief services. We suspended some of our programs to focus on food distribution services. We were committed to keeping our team employed as well as safe, we secured two Paycheck Protection Program loans to support employment for our staff, with some team members working remotely.

As a food service organization, we continued to operate our food pantry and expanded our services to reach all people needing food relief in the Greater New Orleans area through our partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank. We also started a delivery service for pantry participants and people needing disaster food relief. We followed CDC, WHO, and City of New Orleans Health Department recommendations to help guide our safety measures as well. We adopted screen shields, enforced mask wearing, and distributed food through protective barriers. We also were able to work with numerous volunteers who wanted to support food access and community services during their time off from work during the pandemic period.

The Wetland Park remained open during the pandemic to provide a space for people to have a safe, outdoor space to decompress mentally and physically. Many people were cut off from their social networks and with feelings of anxiety. Many families visited the Wetland Park during the pandemic on a regular basis as a space for both play and stress relief.

Our long-term goal is to continue to build healthy water and land ecosystems in our communities, as we restore the Wetland Park and the adjacent Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle both to the healthy earth spaces they once were.

Propeller is a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs grow their nonprofits and small businesses to tackle social and environmental disparities in New Orleans. To learn more, visit

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