Upon first meeting the Jamaican-born and convincing articulate Rahsaan Bernard, you’ll find yourself drawn into an engaging conversation with one whose unwavering focus and self-confidence belies his youthfulness.
Now the charismatic father of three brings his love of family, community and youth to the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) in Southeast as the center’s recently-appointed executive director.
And from all reports, the decision to have him take over the helm of the fast-growing nonprofit has resulted in a win-win situation — particularly, but not exclusively, for those who reside in Wards 7 and 8.
“I am humbled and extremely excited to serve as the leader of this amazing organization especially because this is such a special time for THEARC,” said Bernard, 39, who first came aboard as a consultant and then as the development director for Building Bridges Across the River [BBAR], the umbrella under which THEARC was established, before assuming his current position.
“Even before taking this job, I was responsible for keeping my eye on the mission and securing contributions from our various funders,” he said. “Now, I’ll need to consider not only the dollars coming in and our budget but also the productivity of our team. Nonprofits are often impacted by the political climate of the country especially if their funders include the federal government. And while that’s not an issue for THEARC we still must realize that with a new president in the White House, we’re currently in an environment of great uncertainty.
“Being organized, focused and mission-driven will therefore remain among my top priorities,” said Bernard whose academic degrees include a bachelor of science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and an MBA with a concentration in strategy from Bowie State University.
THEARC, a 110,000-square-foot campus located east of the Anacostia River in the District’s Ward 8, currently serves as the home of nine nonprofit organizations — collectively providing high-quality educational, health, cultural, recreational and social service programs for free or at a reduced cost.
The new executive director, who came to the U.S. at the age of nine when his mother took a position at one of the country’s leading accounting firms, says projects have already begun that will both increase the number of participants who regularly pass through THEARC’s doors and add to the total of buildings on the campus — therefore allowing more programs to be offered.
“By November we will have 14 nonprofits, four schools and over 200 full-time employees on our grounds. Patient visits are expected to surge from 4,000 to somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 due to the expansion of our children’s health services,” he said proudly.
“THEARC has become a significant contributor to the revitalization of Ward 7 and 8 communities, opening our doors almost 12 years ago to provide increasingly-requested and sorely-needed services to those who reside east of the river. But others in the District as well as those who live in bordering Prince George’s County have also discovered that we are a real gem — they too are availing themselves of our services and the magnetic effects that come.”
Bernard arrives early each morning, often before most of his staff members. His office, at least for the moment, has but a few pieces of furniture with photos of his wife and their three young children on the walls. He says he likes it that way since he spends very little time there.
“I expect THEARC to soon become the envy of the entire District — a beacon of light and hope for parents, families and children who have dreams but been unable to see a way to make them come true,” he said. “The accomplishments of the children who are involved with the Boys and Girls Club, who are thespians in our theater program, who are budding photographers or learning the skills of dance are phenomenal.”
“Every young person I’ve met is bright and talented and their involvement here continues to both change the trajectory of their lives and close the achievement gap. This place has become like a family for many residents. And having someone at the top who looks like them, I believe, serves as an inspiration for our youth.”
“I want to change the narrative that has far too often become associated with our children so they can they can begin to think and dream big,” he said.