Listening to Traci Powell’s excitement as she talks about being a Parent Advocate and a mentor for the students at JC Nalle Community School in the District, it’s hard to believe that she was once reluctant to get involved in the Southeast (Ward 7) neighborhood where the public elementary school is located and where Traci lives with her husband and their three children: Kennedy 10, Camden, 8 and Kaitlyn, 3. It’s also hard to believe that Traci’s benevolence was once locked behind her personal ambitions. “I was self-absorbed,” she admits. That was before she became pregnant unexpectedly. Then, motherhood changed everything.
Traci, 39, had been working full-time as a payroll clerk but after the birth of daughter Kennedy, she decided to stay at home. At the same time, Traci’s husband announced that he was leaving his current job to pursue career training in electrical engineering, a move that would ultimately lead to a better salary and more job security. Both decisions would yield long-term benefits for the family, yet Traci and her husband were also faced with taking a financial step backward. So, they made another decision. They left the comfort of their Northwest DC home and moved to the more affordable Ward 7 — a mostly low-income and underserved community.
At first it was somewhat of a culture shock. Traci heard more police sirens than she was used to and she started to wonder whether she’d made the right choice. Initially, she kept to herself and didn’t socialize with anyone, until it was time for Kennedy to start school. Traci decided to enroll her daughter at JC Nalle since it was located in her neighborhood, yet she wanted to know what and how Kennedy was learning, and who was teaching her. After visiting the school and learning about its partnership with NCCF, Traci felt an overwhelming desire to not only take advantage of the available resources, but she also wanted to be a part of JC Nalle’s overall vision for the community.
Since then, Traci has gone from staying to herself to being a strong voice for the families represented at the school. She participates in several programs offered through NCCF, including Parent University (workshops that teach parents life-skills), and her two oldest children attend the After School Program and Saturday School. In addition, Traci’s son Camden recently completed a new program at school — Guitars Not Guns, an innovative, eight-week workshop that teaches students how to play the guitar while they learn skills to complete challenging tasks.
You can often find Traci at the school helping and mentoring students — whether she’s giving out extra uniforms, meals, or even hugs. She encourages students to excel in the classroom, to start creating a plan for college and to be mindful that the world is bigger than Ward 7.
Through her willingness to step out of her comfort zone and by taking advantage of the programs provided by NCCF, Traci has become a positive role-model and her children are thriving academically. She wants all of the families at JC Nalle to attain that same type of success, even with the obstacles they may face in their daily lives.
“I always tell people ‘life isn’t fair,’ but my advice is to always stay positive no matter what life hands you. Never give up. Try again and keep trying. Keep pushing forward,” she says. Through her journey, Traci has learned that people don’t have to be defined by where they live, and she hopes that every person she helps along the way will discover that too.