Dorson Community Foundation has seen some recent and propelling changes, one of which includes the onboarding of its first full-time Executive Director, Natasha Scott. The Foundation has been operating with an all-volunteer staff and no real funding for the past 25 years and still managed to make some impact in and around Essex County, NJ. Scott grew up around Dorson, sees the potential of the Foundation and has made it her mission to implement the change needed to catapult Dorson into a more sustainable organization.
Here is everything you need to know about Natasha and her vision for our organization.
What is your personal philosophy?
"If not now, when?" I ask myself this question in moments of hesitation, fear, self-doubt, over-analyzation. It prompts me to act, rather than overthink and to seize opportunities before they are lost.
What three traits define you?
Adventurous, generous, and open-minded. Adventurous because I’m an avid world traveler, having backpacked Thailand and road-tripped Australia via campervan, among many other destinations. I also like to think of myself as a risk-taker in my personal and professional lives. Generous because I’ve been blessed with my privileges in life and thus, I like to give back to others or share resources whatever they may be with people around me who can benefit. Open-minded because I love to meet new people, learn about new cultures, and accept people for who they are; our individuality is what makes us so beautiful.
Growing up, what did you want to do or what did you want to become?
Two career aspirations have always remained constant for me: to become a writer and an entrepreneur. Writing has always been a passion of mine; first it was fictional short stories, then screenwriting, and now long-form personal essays. I still aspire to complete a screenplay one day and/or publish a collection of essays.
I’ve also always known I wanted to be my own boss. Both of my parents are business owners, and so I guess it’s in my blood. Since I was young, I’ve always maintained multiple side hustles and come up with ways to make money on my own. From running an online jewelry store to podcasting to essay editing, I’ve started up several small businesses over the years.
How would you describe your journey to higher education?
My journey to college was a breeze. I am the product of two immigrant parents who are both college graduates. My dad was the first in his family to graduate from college and my mom worked full-time while attending college as a full-time student. They both struggled and succeeded under pressure in order to ensure an easier path for my brother, sister, and me.
As the youngest of 3, I got to watch my older siblings go through the college admissions process. I was also very fortunate to attend a private college preparatory high school that drilled college readiness from day 1 of high school. We also had two College Counselors on staff. So needless to say, I had all the support in the world during my college process. I recognized this privilege early on and knew my experience was unlike most other students who looked like me.
What was it like growing up around Dorson Community Foundation?
I can’t remember my life without Dorson. Some of my fondest childhood memories are traveling with the Angels of Grace praise dance group founded out of Dorson back when I was in middle school. I also remember spending every Saturday morning in business and computer class learning how to type or about stocks and bonds with former DCF instructor, now Board Member, Leslie Daley.
Growing up in Dorson meant long nights, getting home late after my mother would drop home every kid in class who didn’t have a ride; and early mornings, stopping at Dunkin Donuts with my mom to pick up snacks for business class. Growing up in Dorson also allowed me to have a whole circle of friends who shared my racial identity, outside of my school friends in the suburbs. Having friends with that shared identity, allowed me to find salience with my race from a very early age, despite being raised in a predominantly white environment.
When did you know you wanted to be an advocate for college access in inner-city communities?
I remember being in the Dorson SAT Prep Program when I was a high school sophomore and sitting next to seniors from East Orange Campus who were struggling with the math section. They were struggling with concepts they were learning for the very first time, while my level of understanding was leaps and bounds above theirs. I quickly recognized there was a massive inequality in our education and the privilege I possessed with coming from a two-parent, college-educated household and attending private school.
As a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, I volunteered as a teacher’s aide at West Philadelphia high school and finally got to see firsthand the hardships found in urban schools -- the lack of resources, the over-policing of children, the lack of support for teachers. It was then I started to feel as if I can and should make a difference in the field of education.
After college, I volunteered at Dorson, managing the SAT Prep Program and mentoring juniors and seniors through the college admissions process. Too often I was meeting students completely and utterly confused about the college process. This prompted me to put together a pamphlet of tips and tricks to the college admission process. The "pamphlet" eventually turned into the 55-page book I self-published called The College Admissions Bible, which was a user-friendly guide to applying to college. It was picked up by several Essex County school districts and was really my foray into the world of college access.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My mom, and founder of Dorson Community Foundation, is obviously my biggest inspiration. She is the most selfless person I know. She started Dorson simply out of a desire to provide inner-city students with a safe space to be creative, gain enrichment, and find mentorship. I’ve watched over the years how she’s personally touched the lives of countless students, many of whom are grown adults today who always come back to the community to give back or to say hello and give thanks to Mama Scott.
What led you to the decision of assuming position as the Executive Director at Dorson Community Foundation?
I really believe in our new Dorson Scholars Program. After years of providing open registration, a la carte programming, I was anxious for a new chapter of Dorson where we could transition to a more sustainable and higher-impact cohort-based model. This model will allow us to better nurture relationships with students and provide consistent support year-round throughout their four years in high school. I knew launching a program like this was ambitious and would require my undivided attention, time, and efforts to make it a success. Thus, it was a no brainer for me to assume this new role and help position the Foundation for a new era.
What is your goal for Dorson Community Foundation?
My goal for Dorson Community Foundation is to establish the organization as a powerhouse in the field of college and career readiness in Essex County. I’m on a mission to transition Dorson from all-volunteer based to a fully staff-run organization, which will allow the Dorson Scholars Program to become a sustainable staple among college prep programs in the county. As our model gets perfected over the years, I believe it can eventually become a national model for college and career preparation and bring impact to inner-city communities around the country.
What advice do you have for college bound students who may not have the necessary resources or guidance?
Ask for help. It’s impossible to accomplish your dreams without any guidance or support. You have to learn early on in high school how to articulate your needs, put pride aside, and simply ask someone for help. Whether it’s an adult in your school who you trust or a close family friend, find someone who’s been through the college process before you who can provide you with guidance and accountability throughout the process. You’ll need someone who you can work with on editing your college essays, finalizing your college list, and basically holding your hand through this daunting process so you don’t feel like you’re tackling it on your own.
Natasha has a dream for the Dorson Scholars Program and the Foundation, but she can’t fulfill that dream alone. We need your support.