Annette Cousins is the centerï¿½s co-director with Mary Lou Decossaux. Casey Templeton Photo
That woman is crazy!"
Thus declared Annette Cousins' father, Taylor, when hearing about Mary Lou Decossaux's Neighborhood Resource Center plan in 2002. "I felt bad," she says, perched on the ledge of a raised garden bed marked "Rutabaga."
Cousins met Decossaux through the Living Wage Coalition and directed her to the Greater Richmond Small Business Development Center, then run by Cousins' father. The idea of a fledgling nonprofit starting out by purchasing a large building seemed foolhardy to him.
Stamped With Success
Annette Cousins laughs about it now. "People dream about possibilities but stop because the practical realities get in the way," she says. "Mary Lou isn't swayed by any of that."
Cousins grew up in Mechanicsville, but her education with the School of International Studies of Long Island University sent her to work with abandoned and orphaned children in India and Costa Rica.
She returned to Richmond in 2002 and volunteered on the NRC's fund-and-board-development committees while working with the Girl Scouts to organize troops in underserved neighborhoods. She joined the center full time in 2005.
With Cousins and Decossaux working together, the growth spurt began with Montessori preschool and kindergarten classes. Five children who graduated from the preschool program now attend Richmond public elementaries and are testing exceptionally well.
The NRC's services grew into a lending library, computer lab, recording studio, GED classes, career center and after-school programs for children.
Like the vegetables and fruits of the garden, the NRC is homegrown. No federal agency or church mandated its existence. Cousins says, "The neighborhood built and sustains it. More than half of our 12-member board, as the bylaws require, are Fulton residents. Our focus is on the quality of resources, versus doing as much as we can as fast as we can."
Next steps: a second floor for more classrooms, alternative health clinics and expanded services. The present economic downturn, however, has put a capital improvement plan on hold.
"Which is good, in a way," Cousins says. "We want to make the best use of what we have," which includes by year's end or in 2011 opening its café to the public. "This gives us time to prepare for the future."