Geraud Staton’s entrepreneurism began at 13 years old, when he started selling 5-cent Blow Pop candies for $1 to his school classmates.
The money Staton earned selling candy went toward purchasing a car at 16. After high school graduation, he worked at a putt-putt golf course, then enlisted in the Air Force.
When he left the military, he worked different lower management jobs, in malls to furniture stores. He became a private investigator, then worked for FEMA and private investment firm Blackstone.
This summer, during a professional development program for nonprofit leaders, Staton described how his upbringing and various jobs made him crave independence and creative freedom in his career. He also discovered a strong calling to serve others, so he started The Helius Foundation in Durham in 2014 to provide mentorship and resources to entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities.
“It’s about independence, being self-sustainable,” Staton shared about his career path. “I found that whenever I saw the most trouble in the world, it’s because people had no control. And Helius is primarily about giving control back to people.”
Staton, executive director and founder of The Helius Foundation, is one of seven Durham nonprofit leaders that are part of the new Duke-Durham Unity Fellows professional development program. The fellowship, created this year, supports the leadership development and work-life balance of Durham nonprofit leaders.
Fellows participate in the six-week Leadership Triangle “Transforming Leaders” course, which helps Triangle business leaders develop their leadership style, pinpoint their values and create a leadership action plan.
Fellows also take part in separate, nonprofit-focused group discussions led by Julie Wells, who has 24 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector and is currently executive director of Durham nonprofit Partners for Youth Opportunity. Nonprofit group sessions cover themes such as organizational identity, strategic plans, budgets and cash flow analyses, fundraising, annual operational plans, board development, and staff development and organizational culture.
“Fellows were chosen to be here because the work that their organization does is important and it needs to exist in Durham,” Wells said. “This group is ready-made to be transparent, to trust each other and to share their failures.”
Here are the 2017 Duke-Durham Unity Fellows:
Adam Barnard, Partners for Youth Opportunity
Reynolds Chapman, DurhamCares
Syretta Hill, StepUp Durham
Olive Joyner, Housing for New Hope
Rob Shields, ReCity Network
Geraud Staton, The Helius Foundation
Michelle Young, Project BUILD
The goal of the Duke-Durham Unity Fellows program is to further help nonprofit leaders hone their leadership skills, not only to stabilize and sustain their own organizations, but to improve the stability of Durham’s nonprofit sector as a whole.
The Duke Office of Durham and Community Affairs (DARA) provided a $1,000 scholarship to each participating nonprofit leader in order to cover part of their Leadership Triangle “Transforming Leaders” tuition; Leadership Triangle provided an extra $600 in scholarship assistance. DARA also granted $5,000 toward materials and facilitation for the Duke-Durham Unity Fellows, and ReCity Network, a social impact hub and co-working space, provided a location for meetings.
“Ever since the Duke Office of Durham and Community Affairs was founded in 2008, one of our focuses has been capacity-building in the nonprofit community,” said Phail Wynn Jr., Duke’s vice president for Durham and Community Affairs. “The Duke-Durham Unity Fellows gives us the opportunity to explore resource-sharing and potential mergers within our nonprofit community.”
The fellows began their professional development journey in August, when the seven nonprofit leaders met and shared their career path stories as well as examined their personal leadership traits. They started the Leadership Triangle “Transforming Leaders” program in September, for which they completed homework and readings, heard from speakers, joined small group discussions, and frequently met with a peer coach. They participated alongside leaders from Duke Raleigh Hospital, American Tobacco Campus, UNC-TV, Research Triangle Park and other Triangle institutions.
“I’m interested in when nonprofit leaders have ‘Ah-ha!’ moments and what that means to them, and how that’s going to shape their leadership down the road,” said Jes Averhart, Leadership Triangle’s executive director. “This is the first time that Leadership Triangle has partnered on an initiative like the Duke-Durham Unity Fellows, and I think that we are creating a potential model for other communities to look seriously at nonprofit leadership development.”
The seven fellows graduated from Leadership Triangle’s “Transforming Leaders” program at the December Thrive Leadership Summit at the Raleigh Convention Center, where they received a plaque and a pin. The fellows will continue to meet as a group and one-on-one with Wells to further develop their organization’s sustainability plan. There are also plans in the works to add new fellows to the Duke-Durham Unity Fellows program in 2018.
Staton with The Helius Foundation said he appreciated the time to step back and look introspectively at his leadership skills and his nonprofit’s goals.
“The organization is very new, but every little thing that you do or say starts to make a difference,” Staton said. “Every day, I come in and put out fires and solve problems. … This (fellowship), one of the things that it’s going to do is let me look at the landscape as opposed to being in the middle of the fires and put them out that way. I get to see and move ahead.”
– Story and photos by April Dudash