By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
In just one year, Port City United has formed a dedicated team and developed relationships throughout the community, established Community Resource Coordinators in schools to work with students and families, and created connections within neighborhoods that have helped to deescalate situations and bring solutions from within the community to help prevent violence.
They have also established a 24/7 call center, PCU Connect, that provides resources and support to anyone who calls in. Since it went live in late June, they have received more than 2,500 calls and helped people get connected to things like food assistance, housing, mental health resources, employment and education opportunities, and any other community support you can think of.
Rashad Gattison is the PCU Connect Supervisor and has been integral in building this resource. Not only does he spend his days within the center working with his team, he also brings the center to life – providing assistance within neighborhoods, partnering with community groups, and even creating events like the upcoming Fresh Chance Friday that will provide residents with information on employment resources and career opportunities, and help those who may need record expungements – which can often be a barrier to gainful employment.
For this month’s public service profile, I asked Rashad about his role and the important work of PCU. That conversation is below…
Tell us about your background and what led you to PCU.
I have lived in Wilmington most of my life and am a proud alumni of E.A. Laney High School. After high school, I went on to play collegiate basketball and earn my bachelor’s in Business Administration. I moved back home to Wilmington after college and connected with one of my old coaches Marrio Jeter. Little did I know that he had the keys to unlock my life’s passion.
I started working at Communities in Schools by way of New Hanover High School. As I worked there, I learned the importance of not only having a positive male staff presence in school but the importance of having a black male in school. Communities in Schools allowed me to have an opportunity to shape young people’s lives and help them get on the right track to be successful, law-abiding citizens. My journey then led me to the Brigade Boys and Girls Club – an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up. My brother was also in a director position at another club in Wilmington, and I thought it was extremely cool that two brothers were in those positions.
Though I was able to help the community from a school standpoint and an after-school standpoint, I knew I needed to do more in the community instead of the four walls I worked behind. I made outreach a big portion in both jobs, but it all came to fruition when Cedric Harrison created Support the Port. You ask, “What brought me to Port City United?” It is simple. Port City United encompasses all my previous jobs and puts it all under one entity. I am allowed to help the community and go into poverty-stricken communities and offer the sustainability with some of the resources we broker through the call center and outreach division of PCU. I can also feed my passion for helping school age kids with the Community Resource Coordinator division of PCU.
What are a few successes you are proud of in the past year with PCU?
PCU Connect: First, I am very proud of the work that we did with Wilmington Housing Authority in getting those residents connected to stable assistance while they were displaced. We were able to make a big impact in a very short period of time. I was extremely proud of my team for their extremely hard work and diligence. Secondly, we have received 2,500 calls within 6 months and were able to partner with some great organizations to make the holidays special for more than 50 families. Lastly, I am proud of this Fresh Chance Friday event that we are hosting on January 27, 2023. It is an opportunity for us to personify some of the resources that we broker and offer the community opportunities to help improve and sustain their life.
PCU as a whole: I am extremely proud of Steve Barnett and his mediation and outreach team. Beyond the numbers, the impact that he and his team are making on their participants is immeasurable. Our community has felt the impact of the PCU mediation team without a doubt. Jarett Gattison and his Community Resource Coordinator team are also doing an incredible job. You can feel their presence when you step on a school campus. I have had so many teachers and principals come up to me telling me how much they appreciate PCU and that is a great feeling.
Have there been any eye-opening moments with PCU Connect that you didn’t expect?
I think how much something like PCU was really needed. We have been able to help people with so many things – from a ride to work to assisting some with furnishing their homes. We have played the role of some sort of therapist and Santa. We have worn so many different hats in the last 6 months and have been able to guide so many citizens to resources that can help them become more sustainable.
What is Fresh Chance Friday and what is your goal with the event?
Fresh Chance Friday is an event we will be hosting to help citizens, including those who may have been previously incarcerated, find gainful employment and discover legal options for record expungement. We have community colleges, workforce development programs, mental health advocates, community resources, and prospective employers joining us to help educate, enroll, and/or hire those who are willing to take the first steps in helping themselves. It is an opportunity for us to bring to life the resources that citizens call us about.
What difference do you hope PCU will make for our neighbors?
I want to see this program keep growing because it is making a difference. I would love to see PCU expand so we can cover a larger square footage of the city and be in more schools, especially all the high schools. I don’t think people really understand the impact of having the support of a caring adult and just having that go to person when things get tough. With the Connect Center, I hope to take our work outside of our building even more and be out in the community. Answering the phones is a big part of the job but building face-to-face relationships with residents can be even bigger. It’s important that we continue to build more trust in the community.
Rashad and the entire PCU team are doing really great work inside our community. I see them jump in to help in nearly every situation that involves residents in need, and I am proud of the impact they have made in only a year’s time.
PCU Connect is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 910-798-4444. All calls are confidential. If you’d like to learn more about the work of PCU, visit their website at PortCityUnited.com.