Having an idea is one thing. Turning it into an organization is another. For David Bleckley, ’07 the idea to start his own business came to him in Charlottesville, Virginia where he had been working for AmeriCorps for about year. His goal: “to start a nonprofit that would use music as a tool to facilitate cultural understanding and fund local development.” And he knew the experience he gained in Grand Valley’s nonprofit management graduate program would help him get there.
Bleckley’s enthusiasm earned him a graduate assistantship at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and a brief internship at The Right Place.
“I tried to be as involved as possible in Grand Rapids' music, arts, and nonprofit communities,” he said.
The Community Research Institute at the Johnson Center took notice of this involvement and offered him a full-time job. The job was temporary at first, but morphed into a permanent position where he worked with state and local leaders to improve the efficiency of the nonprofit and philanthropic organizations in Michigan.
Bleckley stayed at the research institute for two years before moving to warmer temperatures. With his idea still marinating, he moved to Hawaii with his future wife and worked with GEAR UP, a state-wide college access program designed to increase college readiness and attendance for low-income students. In the two years he worked for the organization, he evaluated the program from the ground up, through its design, planning, and implementation stages. The reward for his success came in the form of a $21 million federal grant that helped to improve college access for low-income youth.
When he moved back to Michigan in 2011, Bleckley was finally ready to put his idea into practice. Armed with the same enthusiasm he had while at Grand Valley, he now had the skills and experience to start Community Voice International. After forming the board, the organization’s first project was a collaboration with the Peace Corps in Senegal, a West African country near Gambia. During the pilot project, the group recorded the music of local villagers in Thiaraguene Wolof and Thiaraguene Cognadji, and is currently in the process of marketing and selling these recordings. All the proceeds of the sale went toward improving the lives of the residents living in these villages as well as the village’s economic value.
But the project’s goal is not only to improve the lives of the residents; it is also to share their voices with the communities beyond their borders.
“I hope to move Community Voice forward, mobilizing cultural expression to facilitate development in as many communities as possible and to foster greater cultural understanding globally.”
The path from idea to practice has been long for Bleckley. And it is ongoing. The support that he has received from friends and family members, he says, has been a key factor in keeping the process in motion.
“Even though I am really passionate about my work, it is really important to still find a work-life balance.”
To keep this balance, Bleckley hikes with his wife and plays his guitar. The couple live in Dover, New Hampshire.