By Jacob Hertzinger, Summer Research Intern

When applying to be this year’s summer research fellow I set one goal for the summer: to be around incredibly passionate people in the hopes that I could discover my passion. To be completely honest when I accepted the opportunity as a Davidson Nonprofit fellow I was a little nervous that the summer would be a combination of endless Zoom seminars and busy work. However, I was happy to find that the Next Stage team really does live by their six core values – and that those principles aligned with my own values. Next Stage believes in the work they do, obvious from the incredibly passionate people that I was able to call my coworkers.

Since most reflections are riddled with cliches; I’ll start by offering one of my own. This summer has flown by, which has proved to be the most exciting factor in my summer with Next Stage. I spent the summer researching community-based organizations in Charlotte and looking at the ways these organizations grew out of neighborhoods, often becoming critical players in the health and activity of each community.

My two biggest takeaways from my summer Fellowship are as follows:

I understand the value of nonprofit leaders. 

I came into Next Stage with the bias that altruism should be the only factor that nonprofit leaders should espouse, but this summer changed my perspective. My internal bias had factored in a price reduction for nonprofit executives because I wanted to believe that all charitable donations go directly to services for the community. But after reflection and research, I have realized that nonprofits should take lessons from corporate America. The models developed by companies work extremely well, so why should we expect nonprofits to run smoothly while societally rejecting the most obvious way to run a successful business? Nonprofits need top talent in order to run strong, efficient organizations and to help the greatest amount of people. Next Stage has shown me that nonprofit organizations can’t be run as effectively if their business model is based on a “mom and pop” locality.

Community organizations are at the heart of community history. 

The impact of community-based organizations (CBOs) is obvious in the creation of positive communal benefit, but it seems these places also have another important task within the communities they serve –  the preservation of history. This summer I was tasked with a research project to better understand the history of Charlotte neighborhoods, along with the community organizations that exist in each community. I found that the neighborhoods with numerous, active and inclusive CBOs had a more extensive archive on their neighborhood history. It seemed as if the more active the community was in the creation of CBOs the more they were engaged in the shared history of their communities. All neighborhoods that had extensive history maintained a central community organization that wasn’t limited to just neighborhood associations. Churches, amusement parks, military camps, nonprofits, and even schools were foundational to communities – and responsible for the preservation of history. This history is often under threat in Charlotte because of the incoming wave of gentrification transforming many areas, but the communities with strong CBOs and history tended to be revitalized rather than rebuilt, emphasizing the importance of maintaining community spaces.

I feel much more confident in my research ability after this summer and leave Next Stage with a sense of accomplishment and gratefulness and I can’t wait to see what this research inspires in the future. At Next Stage, I found a group of incredibly passionate people, and I can say I am closer to finding what I am passionate about.