At 34, Candince McMillian ’98 has accomplished more than she could have ever imagined. Now she’s using her talents and passion to make a difference in her New Orleans neighborhood of Central City. A community center she’s building is set to open in January 2013.
Growing up poor and raised by her mother and grandmother, McMillian remembers in an article in The Times-Picayune that education “was discussed as a thing to get.” McMillian’s mother, a secretary for 30 years, worked tirelessly to ensure her daughter would have that opportunity. In 1998, McMillian graduated from Sweet Briar College and went on to receive a master’s degree in philosophy from Tulane University.
Today, she is a licensed contractor and real estate agent and has flipped several houses — initially to improve her financial situation, then to create livable, federally funded Section 8 housing.
“I saw places where landlords were collecting Section 8 rent, and their tenants were in houses where the plumbing didn’t work,” she says in the article.
When she first moved back to New Orleans at 20 years old and bought a house in Central City, McMillian saw crime and drugs as the main problems.
“Now, I understand they’re the consequences,” she says in the story. “I think joblessness and lack of opportunity are the main problems.”
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, McMillian decided to become a full-time contractor and help rebuild the city. While neighbors had shunned her at first because she didn’t seem to fit in, they now began letting her into their lives. They started asking for her help with job applications, to use her computer, or to work for her. Soon, McMillian was organizing field trips for local children. Fifty-five kids showed up the first time, when she invited 3-to 17-year-olds to Skate Country.
“They had something to do, and they got to be kids for that one day,” she recalls in the article.
Her newest project, a community center named “Exodus Place,” will ensure that children in Central City get to be kids every day. The building she bought for $55,000 will house three affordable apartments upstairs and a 2,000-square-foot community resource center downstairs with free dance lessons, gymnastics and karate for children. It will also have after-school tutoring and job-training programs, as well as computers, printers and washing machines.
And, the article adds, “It will have successful role models to serve as mentors.”
For more information on the project, contact McMillian at [email protected] or (504) 232-8089.