Some people are born to lead, and Erica Harris’ parents would put her in this category. As a child, Harris says she orchestrated grand plans and engaged others to take part in the fun. These days, she is at the helm of Lighthouse Child & Family Development Center, a nonprofit organization she joined in 2008.
The organization, which has grown to collaborate with two churches, is focused on empowering the families of 75 young children it serves.
“The Lighthouse program is working,” Harris says. “Lighthouse families increased their household income by more than $5,100 and decreased household debt by more than $8,000 annually. The success of our children and their families becomes the success of our community.”
Harris says she is most proud of expanding the Lighthouse program, establishing community collaborations along the way.
Prior to joining Lighthouse, Harris worked as business and project manager at advertising agency Noble, where she maintained financial records for two divisions and orchestrated strategic planning and idea sessions for Fortune 100 companies.
“I chose to leave the private sector and return to nonprofit work in 2008 because of my desire to positively impact the lives of others,” says Harris, whose résumé also includes jobs at the Missouri Career Center, Ozarks Area Community Action Corp. and Community Partnership of the Ozarks.
Dana Carroll, early childhood deputy director of Community Partnership of the Ozarks, says Harris “could have taken the corporate world by storm and would be well on her way to her first million dollars,” except that she is more motivated to make a difference in the lives of children and families.
“I have watched as she developed programs, stood for abused and neglected children and cheered for young parents as they struggled to make a better life for their families,” Carroll says. “She stands before corporate giants and convinces them to believe in her dream.”
As a student at Missouri State University, Harris’ leadership abilities – and her community-minded spirit – were evident. She served as a captain of the women’s varsity swim team and was a charter student member of the Academic Integrity Council.
More recently, Harris, a member of Junior League of Springfield – was on the committee that launched Isabel’s House-Crisis Nursery of the Ozarks, and she is chairwoman of the early childhood subcommittee for Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Community Focus Report.
Her motivation, regardless of the task at hand, is simple.
“I do what I do because I love it, because it’s the right thing to do, and because our community needs it to be done,” she says. “I believe in the work being done at Lighthouse, and I believe in our community.”Click here for full coverage of the 2011 40 Under 40.