Alternate content for script
Randy Ford, Storytelling Strategist 02/01/2023

When Sean Spear interviewed to join Community HousingWorks (CHW), he told the board of directors that his priority was to foster an inclusive organization that better represents the communities and residents it serves. Based in San Diego, CHW has 45 development communities throughout California and is now expanding to the Houston area.  
"I feel very fortunate that the board didn't get nervous about it," says Spear, who was named CHW's president and CEO in 2020. "I think sometimes people can be afraid to have those conversations. They can be very challenging for sure. But if you have a network that is similarly minded and a board that wants you to live into those values, it's about the groundwork you build." 

Sean Spear speaks with two men of color at a Community HousingWorks event in CaliforniaSpear's focus on inclusivity is "contagious," says Sochiata Vutthy, who started at CHW as an intern 18 years ago and was named chief operations officer in 2022. She sees the organization's diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) mission as an opportunity to help more people. "We've been more intentional in terms of who we serve and the diversity of population and demographics that we serve, so that's been really huge." 
For Spear, creating that impact first requires looking internally at how to apply the organization's DEI standards to every aspect of its operations, including procurement. "Who do we buy copy paper from? Who do we buy our pens from? We are figuring out when we can maximize the opportunity for BIPOC businesses and expand economic opportunity," Spear says. 
Next, CHW built a coalition of like-minded organizations, including partnerships with the National Black Contractors Association and Urban Corps of San Diego County. Through a joint job fair in southeast San Diego, which has a large Black population, 22 recruits became apprentices with local construction firms. Half of those apprentices were later hired by the firms. They represent the next generation of construction workers helping build their own neighborhoods, which Spear can appreciate, having started his career as a city planner in the same Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood where he grew up. 
Sean Spear stands with a small child at the organization's annual gala eventSpear, CHW's first Black president and CEO, also talks of how his paternal grandparents had to move to a new area after they "encountered undesired strife" in their hometown. As they resettled, "they encountered not-for-profit organizations willing to support their education and the chance to change the trajectory of their families' lives for generations to come. I am a beneficiary of this," he says. "For so many of our residents, this generational story of an organization helping people build a future resonates… That is the same kind of support that CHW strives to provide to our residents, our staff and our BIPOC-owned business partners today. It is the basis of our informal motto, 'We Build Futures.'"

CHW has a responsibility to help people build those futures, Spear says. "We have more than a billion dollars in gross assets. We're doing tens of billions of dollars in construction-related work every year," he says. "So how can we actually put that to work and make meaningful change around social justice and opportunities for people to better their lives beyond just moving into our developments. How do we end up being an economic engine for change?"

Vutthy, a Cambodian American, says Spear is one of those leaders who doesn't just talk about being inclusive but sets an example. "I sit in meetings, and if he hears everyone but doesn't hear my voice yet, he will ask me, 'What do you think about this?'" she says. "He gives me the permission to think outside the box and allows me to voice those thoughts and opinions freely." 
Spear's vision for CHW aligns closely with NeighborWorks America's race, equity, diversity and inclusion (REDI) priorities. NeighborWorks' REDI strategy includes three pillars: creating an equitable and inclusive workplace; intentionally seeking a diverse workforce; and identifying innovative community engagement opportunities. 
Sean Spear stands with a member of the community in front of a CAT machine for a groundbreaking to build more affordable homesIt includes building a workforce pipeline that gives opportunity to new voices, according to Lisa Hasegawa, regional vice president for NeighborWorks' Western region. "There is a great need for more people of color to see themselves in the community development movement and to see long-term careers for themselves in the field," Hasegawa says. "I think Sean can be a connector to the next generation." 
Support from the NeighborWorks network is instrumental in helping "all of us as organizations that are trying to make community change for the better," Spear says. "Our goal at the end of the day is to hopefully not just put a roof over somebody's head, but actually come alongside them, support and uplift those households." 


Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
 Security code