Small Business Story: Anna’s Place NOLA

The CoverWallet Small Business Scholarship encourages entrepreneurship in students by asking them to take on the perspective of a local small business owner. Students share their perspective on the opportunities and challenges faced by a business in their community.

Student: Miki N. Onwudinjo, Tulane University Law School

Small Business: Anna’s Place NOLA

Small Business Story

I love working with kids! It pains me that the education and childcare industries are often over-looked or brushed aside when budget cuts are made and essential programs are eliminated. One of my favorite local businesses is a small non-profit organization in the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana; Anna’s Place NOLA. During my first month at Tulane University Law School, I met a representative from Anna’s Place. Her nervous but subtly determined gaze was darting all around the main quad in search of meaningful eye contact. I was perusing the many tables looking for an opportunity to give back to anyone in need. The lady smiled when my interest lingered on her bare table. I quickly scanned its contents and silently read the brightly-designed brochures. We exchanged pleasantries and she hit me with a plea I could not deny. “We need more student volunteers of color.”

As a student of color myself, I am more than aware that there are several establishments in various industries that are racially homogenous without a speck of color. Growing up, I’ve always made it my business to penetrate some of these companies and organizations to show that people of color are more than capable. Anna’s Place is significant because they understand that our kids are tomorrow’s leaders. They have been running a smooth operation since 2010 offering weekend and summer programming to disadvantaged kids ages 5 to 15. If not here, these kids would otherwise be on the streets, in unfamiliar homes or imprisoned in juvenile detention centers. Without this haven, the guardians of these amazing kids would not be able to maintain their second and third jobs to keep food in the fridge and prevent late rent payments.

I volunteered at Anna’s Place for a few months during my first semester while balancing a difficult rigorous course load. Almost every Saturday morning after a raucous evening on the famed Frenchmen Street, I woke up for those kids because no one else wanted to. Some days, volunteers did not show up. I helped with life skills classes. I monitored detailed dance routines during visual arts lessons. I broke up fights and quelled disputes with one stern look. Even with four hours of sleep a night, it was their smiles, laughter, and smug satisfaction after completing craft projects that kept me coming back. Kids just want to be seen, heard, praised, hugged, and liked. At least I can do that much without relying on opening my wallet.

After speaking with a few directors and frequent volunteers, I learned more about the non-profit’s struggles, needs, goals and accomplishments. Yes, businesses primarily need money to function. Without a stable infrastructure and support staff, a business also fails. If minority children have only white college students leading them every day, how are they supposed to envision what their future might look like? Who is going to tell that little Haitian girl that she can become a biomedical engineer? Who is going to tell the young Mexican boy that yes, he can become a concert violinist? Growing up, I never had a person of color as my camp counselor, my teacher, my boss or my anything. I want those children to know that they can be everything. Anna’s Place works with what they have and I wish I could give them more, such as new playground equipment, a renovated bathroom, a child-safe kitchen, better quality food and a handful of young adults who are not trying to satisfy a sorority volunteer requirement. Of all the things that Anna’s Place desperately needs, all I can give them is some of my time.        

New Orleans is a vibrant mini metropolis brimming with creativity, blinding colors, mesmerizing music, and entrepreneurial opportunities. When Hurricane Katrina decimated the city and its economy in 2005, the black population struggled and lost the most. I came here because I wanted an opportunity to study law in a city that needs extreme legal reform. I want to use my legal skills to create a clinic to start, fund and guide minority-owned businesses or businesses with a high minority-clientele. Moving forward, I will reach out to Anna’s Place and other minority-focused organizations to offer my legal and financial assistance once I am certified and qualified. How Anna’s Place runs might not be my business, but it is a small local business that deserves love, attention, help and care.