by Aisha Ahzar
As the executive director of IMPACT Silver Spring, a non-profit organization that has become a socially progressive powerhouse in the area, Ronnie Galvin believes that “community organizer,” not social worker, describes his role more aptly.
“If a beloved community can’t happen here, it can’t happen anywhere,” Galvin says.
He moved to Silver Spring two years ago from Atlanta after getting an impromptu offer from Remberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, when they met during a tour.
At the time both Galvin and his wife, Dr. Yanique Redwood, were working for The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the largest children and family foundation in the country. As it happened, Redwood got a transfer call as Galvin was thinking about Rodriguez’s offer.
Visiting Silver Spring, they liked what they saw and made the move with their two teenage children. “Since then, it’s been beyond my wildest imagination,” he says.
IMPACT Silver Spring was founded in the mid-90s to reach out to underrepresented groups in a thriving multi-cultural suburb that is more urban than suburban. The group has launched leadership and skill-building programs to help low-income residents join social networks and become community leaders. “In many ways,” Galvin says, “IMPACT taught folks how to live in a multi-cultural setting.”
Galvin’s road to Silver Spring included stops in Miami, where he grew up, and in South Carolina, where he played football at the Citadel Military College and took a job in textiles at Milliken & Co. Not entirely happy, he went back to school and got a degree in theology from Emory University in Atlanta.
It was while at Emory he realized he wanted to be a community organizer.
Soon after joining IMPACT he took over as executive director when his predecessor, Frankie Blackburn, left to join another group, Neighbor Up America.
“Frankie left some really big shoes to fill, but Ronnie is doing a great job of building on the work that she started,” says Lanita Whitehurst, the group’s resource development director. “No matter what the challenges, he inspires you to keep plugging away because he seems so convinced that anything is possible, you start to believe it, too.”
With more families facing economic challenges in the wake of the recession, Galvin shifted the group’s focus. “Ronnie is the visionary of our economic empowerment program,” says operations director Kate Lasso.
Galvin conceived the Family Asset Building Network and is working extensively on the Neighborhood Opportunity Network in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services. These programs work with struggling families, especially in the Long Branch neighborhood, to help them gain more financial stability.
“What Ronnie has brought to IMPACT,” Whitehurst says, “is a more intentional focus on building residents’ economic empowerment and self-sufficiency as a precursor to being fully engaged participants in the public discourse.”
Galvin was one of the first people at IMPACT to see the value of the work done by the Long Branch Athletic Association, which provides youth sports programs.
“Ronnie saw that it would be a wonderful way for us to talk with families, to get to know families, through working with kids,” Lasso says.
There’s still a lot to do, Galvin adds. “All over the world, there are places where people are already living out the community that we’re trying to build here. I’m only as effective as what I’m able to learn from my neighbors.”
Featured photo: Ronnie Galvin presides over the March 24 Impact Awards with style and spirit. Photo by Eric Bond.