Take Chances & Don’t Underestimate Your Worth — Be brave and do something different. Be bold and move outside of your comfort zone. After 14 years, I developed the courage to apply for Leadership Tampa. I was accepted and excited to start walking into my purpose as a leader. This professional development program will not only optimize my personal performance and develop a greater influence but also assist me in leading my team through change and sustainability.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Celeste Roberts.
Celeste Roberts is dedicated to helping others — especially young people. Her passion is helping children and teens mature into adults with strong life skills. In 2007, she co-founded The Skills Center (TSC), a sports-based youth development & education non-profit organization that intentionally utilizes the power of sports to create change through academic success, life skills and mentoring for youth ages 3 to 18. As President and CEO, Celeste provides the leadership, vision and strategic direction for the organization. Her goal is to improve the educational outcomes, economic prospects and life options for young people through the power of sports.
After years of creating a model of success that’s more than just a career, Celeste is taking her dream to the next level with The Skills Center Collaborative. The innovative joint venture will level the playing field in education, health and employment for underserved youth in Tampa, Florida. The $13 million project includes a new facility with 3 gyms, a health and nutrition demonstration kitchen, a job training and education room, co-working offices and event space. The building, scheduled to open next Spring, is expected to create 180 jobs, serve 3,500 young people, and produce an economic impact of more than $25 million to East Tampa over five years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I never imagined I would do what I’m doing. I graduated college with a degree in business administration, and stumbled upon my passion when I created a college prep program for disadvantaged young people called ‘Do the Right Thing,’ and it changed my life. From that moment, I knew I wanted to help the next generation prepare for college, their careers and the future.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
When we created the organization, I kept thinking about leaving a legacy. The Skills Center will exist beyond me and those working hard on the current programs and initiatives. Organizations, especially those with dominant competitors, often operate independently and in silos. What makes The Skills Center different, especially being a non-profit, is that we want to help as many youth as possible. With a collaborative approach, we are joining our resources with other minority organizations and individuals to maximize our impact.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you first started? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I do not have a funny mistake, but I did have a naïve mindset when I started. I thought of the nonprofit industry as a loving environment with individuals who lead their organizations with their hearts. What I noticed early on is that the most successful leaders in this space operate their nonprofits not from the heart, but with business acumen. The lesson learned was the only difference between a for profit and a nonprofit is the IRS tax status. From that moment forward, I understood that in order to meet our mission, my mindset had to change. While my heart and passion is what drove me and continues to drive me to do what I do, as a founder and entrepreneur, I needed to also operate as a business.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
There are two mentors who have helped me throughout my journey. Chloe Coney, is the founder of the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC of Tampa), an organization that creates opportunities for people to build prosperous futures and vibrant communities. Watching Chloe start CDC 28 years ago, I developed the confidence to create an organization and grow within my space. Diana Baker is former president of United Way and my first boss when I moved to Tampa in 1996. She has been such a great role model as a powerful female executive. I love her courage, confidence, communication and critical thinking skills.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Take Rejection as Redirection
Someone once told me, “you will receive more no’s in this industry than yes’s.”’ The way you frame your disappointment will either defeat you or promote you to something greater.
I applied for continual funding from a donor who provided direction to “think big and outside the box.” We presented big and bold ideas. Later, unexpectedly, we received a call from the executive director at the organization notifying me we would not receive funding because our idea was too big and outside of the box. I felt blindsided and we couldn’t appeal. It created a financial hardship on TSC as we needed the funding. Instead of staying upset, we accepted the feedback and revised our business model. It was not easy, but we persevered, and now we are working toward a social enterprise venture to create sustainability for the organization.
- Take Chances & Don’t Underestimate Your Worth
Be brave and do something different. Be bold and move outside of your comfort zone. After 14 years, I developed the courage to apply for Leadership Tampa. I was accepted and excited to start walking into my purpose as a leader. This professional development program will not only optimize my personal performance and develop a greater influence but also assist me in leading my team through change and sustainability.
- Recruit Long Term Advocates
It’s important to work with donors, partners, companies and staff who believe in your cause just as much as you do. We are fortunate to have partners who have been with us from the beginning. And many of our former students come back to support the organization. In August, WNBA hopeful, Trinity Baptiste, shared her time and skills and led TV’s first all girls basketball camp.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
The Skills Center Collaborative is a game changer! While many companies see similar organizations as competitors, we are working together to offer more programs to help more students and make a bigger impact on the youth in East Tampa.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
We are disrupting a flawed system in order to inspire long term positive change.
According to four recent assessments in Hillsborough County and Tampa, expanded youth services are needed to help students prepare for college and enter the workforce. Now’s the time to take action and make a difference. We want to be part of transformational change that addresses racial barriers, inequalities and health disparities to level the playing field. Our programs in youth education and workforce readiness give the students the tools they need to succeed.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
As a female nonprofit CEO, I believe that women are often not heard or are overlooked in the field for developing viable solutions to social problems in our communities. This is further illustrated in the limited funding and leadership opportunities that are available — for women especially — in sports based youth development.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Simon Sinek’s book and TED Talk, Start with Why. It’s based on the simple, yet often overlooked notion, that people cannot support a product, service, movement or idea until they understand the ‘why’.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d like to think we’ve already started one. The Skills Center may have started locally in Tampa, but the focus is international. Soon we’ll partner with a similar organization to expand the concept into Canada.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry Truman
We started The Skills Center to address systemic challenges, racial barriers, inequalities and health disparities in the education system. As a non-profit we rely on our donors and partners. Through these relationships we are able to expand into more markets beyond the success we have built in Tampa.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!