This is a guest post by Austin Purtell ’20.
Do you know how to run a business? Neither did Samantha Sammis (CofC Honors ‘11) who graduated with degrees in sociology and religious studies. What started out as simply playing basketball with local kids in the Charleston area led to the creation of an asset-based community development program in the Eastside called Loving America Street. This nonprofit endeavor encompsses running a laundromat, teaching coding classes, hosting play hours with the local kids, immersing volunteers in the neighborhood, and more.
In addition to having Loving America Street be an Honors Engaged partner this year, on September 30th, Sammis visited the Honors ELLC to share her story and her experience with nonprofit entrepreneurship.
Coming out of college, Sammis had no background in business. She was simply inspired by a social issue to make a change. She wanted to emphasize that as long as you have a passion you can do anything – the required skills and knowledge can be learned along the way. The most important and unappreciated skills, she said, are the soft skills. These are things like intuition, building relationships, empathy, and networking. If you have these, you can Google the rest.
The reason Sammis established Loving America Street as a 501(c) 3 in 2014 was because she was receiving donations and needed a bank account to hold the funds. Although she didn’t know what she was doing most of the time (self-proclaimed), in 2015 she managed to transform a dilapidated laundromat that was threatening to be removed back into a community asset. Laundry Matters now services the Eastside community and houses Loving America Street’s bible studies and coding classes, and serves as a community watering hole. They employ two local residents and offer free laundry to the homeless as well.
As for future plans, Sammis wants to eventually buy the laundromat instead of leasing it to provide rent security. Of course, she continues to think of ways to improve her community in whatever ways she can. According to Sammis, living in the Eastside makes a world of difference; when you’re an actual part of the community rather than looking in from the outside, you are much more effective because you form connections and truly listen to the voices around you.
Her last bit of advice for the Honors ELLC students was this: people are the priority. And not just the people you’re trying to help, but also people who can help you. While doing it alone can seem impossible, working with mentors and friends is the key to success.