Filter By

Community Leadership: Renaissance West Community Initiative

Community Leadership is a series of posts that highlight Community Quarterbacks from each United Neighborhoods geography. A Community Quarterback is a lead partner agency embedded in their community and dedicated to engaging residents, building local leadership and coordinating services among the funded nonprofit partners.

William “Mack” McDonald has worked at Renaissance West Community Initiative for almost eight years now, joining as their Chief Operating Officer in 2016 to later serving as the Chief Executive Officer.

Renaissance West follows the Purpose Built Community model, which uses a holistic, place-based approach to improve health outcomes and increase racial equity and economic mobility. Through cradle-to-college education opportunities, mixed-income housing and housing stability services, community wellness efforts and economic vitality strategy, communities like Renaissance West are able to help their neighbors take advantage of opportunities that come their way and make progress along their socio-economic journeys.

Renaissance West was one of the first two partner communities in United Way of Greater Charlotte’s United Neighborhoods initiative, launched in 2017. Through United Neighborhoods, United Way works alongside the community quarterback to convene and provide funding to nonprofits whose services address the needs identified by residents.

“It was exciting to see that United Way understood that an effective way to deal with some of the issues the communities deal with, is place-based work,” McDonald said, “I thought it was courageous, but also visionary, to take that chance to invest in this work and to start channeling resources into under-resourced communities. So for us, because we were kind of already doing that, it was a vote of confidence that United Way really supported our work.”

McDonald first learned about Renaissance West when United Way’s President and CEO Laura Yates Clark, Renaissance West’s CEO at the time, told him he might be interested in the work she and her staff were doing in the community. 

“It connected with some personal passions of mine; I had lived and grown up in neighborhoods that are similar to how Renaissance West used to be, so it was exciting to be able to contribute, because so many people and opportunities came my way to help me along my journey,” McDonald said. 

“It seemed to me that I was almost tailor-made for this opportunity at the time to come back and help build something that was going to impact people’s lives in a positive way.”

In Renaissance West, it’s not just about what services they provide to meet residents’ needs, it’s about how they do their programming as well.

Renaissance West is a mixed-income community with a large focus on fulfilling basic needs through partnerships with nonprofits who specialize in those services. Their main focus is on economic mobility, particularly through education. Renaissance West established the Harold Levine Child Development Center to support children from infancy to pre-K, which currently serves over 100 kids with plans to expand. 

“The reason we’re doing that is to make sure that our children go into school, ready to learn. It’s proven that a child that’s had some type of formal group education is easier acclimated to a classroom education. And it’s great if they can already read, identify numbers and are able to do simple math,” McDonald said.

Children can then attend the Renaissance West STEAM Academy, a pre-K through eighth grade school on Renaissance West’s campus. 

“There is a direct correlation between education and income; the better education that you have, the better possibilities you have for income. We’re dealing with economic mobility, so the end game is income. We want to make sure that we give our children the greatest possibility to earn income,” McDonald said.

“Our aim is to break the cycle of poverty by offering multi-generational support. So there is the educational base for students, and for adults, we provide services like financial literacy, workforce development and job fairs to boost incomes and skills, fostering community growth and empowerment.”

The “secret sauce” to Renaissance West is their life navigation program. This program supports  residents by providing them with a life navigator, someone to help with professional development and growth and will also help them create a plan for family success. After a plan is set, the life navigators and the rest of the Renaissance West team will help residents work through their plans, almost like an accountability partner. 

Goals for Renaissance West Community Initiative over the next few years include stabilizing their programming and refining it to make sure that they are maximizing outcomes for the community. McDonald and his team will also pay attention to the rapid growth in their corridor, making sure they are supporting new neighbors as they join the community, while continuing to support the Child Development Center and the STEAM Academy on its journey to excellence. 

“Mack is one of my Charlotte heroes. Under his leadership, Renaissance West has become the reality we could only imagine 10 years ago,” Clark said. 

“He has committed much of his career to improving outcomes for children and families and we see it in everything he touches. I am grateful to count him among United Way’s partners.”

Learn more about the work United Way is doing through United Neighborhoods today.