Client Testimonials

Polk County Financial Empowerment Center

Keys to Success

Read how Nicole Wilson and her son have unlocked the door to homeownership - and a better life  


Everything changed for Nicole Wilson once she entered the doors of the Evelyn K Davis Center  and learned that her dream of homeownership could become a reality with the utilization of the Polk County Financial Empowerment Center (PCFEC). In January 2023, Nicole crossed the threshold into her first house. Just weeks before, Nicole’s 21-year-old son was also able to open the doors to homeownership by listening to his mother’s advice.  

“Save. That’s what I [taught] him....and that’s what he did,” Nicole said. “He’s not broke, because he knows how to budget, and that really does stem from what I learned.” 

Nicole ensured everything she absorbed from the PCFEC was passed on to her children. She had learned a great deal of information from sessions with a nationally certified financial counselor through the PCFEC. 

Alongside her son, Nicole laid the foundation for a dream she had harbored for years. 

“Being a homeowner was just something that was far-fetched to me, even though it wassomethingthat I always wanted,” Nicole said. 

PCFEC's services put people in a position where they can buy a home themselves as well as spread their new knowledge to future generations. This was carried out with the PCFEC’s assistance to one client – Nicole – resulting in two purchased homes so far.  

PCFEC assisted Nicole every step of the way. Once she began collaborating with her financial counselor using this free public service program, Nicole learned countless financial tips, including how to budget and handle her credit score – a process she had not focused on before. 

“If you’re interested in purchasing a house, this is the place to be because the services are free, which is a big deal when you’re already trying to save money,” Nicole said. “It may seem small to some people, but just those first steps of actually doing something really turned my life around.” 

The Evelyn K Davis Center and Polk County Financial Empowerment Center are proud to have helped Nicole realize her potential.

Stopping the Floodwaters

Denise Cavil felt like she was drowning in debt until she walked into the Polk County Financial Empowerment Center at the Evelyn K Davis Center (PCFEC). With the help of her financial counselors, Denise has been pulled out of the water and has a fresh start to life.

“It’s like the floodgates of knowledge have been opened,” Denise said. “The water was up to my neck. There was a lifesaver called Evelyn K Davis Center that pulled me out of that drowning pit.

"In September 2022, Denise and her husband found themselves stuck. They were sinking deep into debtand Denise was being pulled in many directions as a minister and caretaker for her husband and parents.She was considering filing for bankruptcy when Denise remembered the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC). She had attended classes several years ago and knew she could count on being helped.

“I didn’t think there was any hope for us,” Denise said. “Things had piled up onme. I had been [to the EKDC] before -I knew there was help. It came across my mind:I need to see if I can work with someone at the Evelyn K Davis Center.

Denise began working with a financial counselor at the PCFEC. Together, they analyzed Denise’s situation and juggled her money around to pay off debts one at a time. However, Denise was soon out of money. The PCFEC encouraged her to call the credit union.

"[Denise’s PCFEC advisor] followed up with me. All questions that I had, he gave me good tips to ask, they guided me through the process, and I got just what I needed,” Denise said.She and her husband got a HELOC loan (Home Equity Line of Credit). At the same time, she was still visiting her PCFEC counselor who taught her to check interest rates, loan coverage, and more helpful tips. “I don’t make enough to pay for financial advisors and [have] never even been financially savvy, so that’s where light bulbs have come on in my mind about money management,” Denise said.Today, Denise’s head is above water again.

She can breathe a sigh of relief that her financial crisis has ended, and she is working with the PCFEC to build the life she wants. Denise recommends the PCFEC’s services to anyone who can relate to the sinking sensation 2022 found her in. “Anyone that feels like nobody cares, like they don’t have any options, [and] young mothers,” Denise said. “I would recommend it to especially those that have beenforgotten.”Today, Denise is swimming uninhibited towards a completely debt-free life. “I’m at a good place,” Denise said.The PCFEC is proud to have thrown her the life preserver she needed.

Small Business Solutions

A Star Struck Des Moines

After defying African social norms to start a modelling agency, Jeneba brought her dream to Iowa with the EKDC’s Help

Jeneba Wanjah does not accept the limits society puts on women – or anyone else. She launched a modelling agency, Future Star Africa, that works to combat these restrictions. 

“I want to have a company or an agency where everybody is accepted. If you’re tall, you’re short, you’re white, you’re black, whatever – just come as you are. It doesn’t matter; we’ll work with you,” Jeneba said.  

 Jeneba originally started her business in her home country - Sierra Leone. She faced obstacles regarding the stigma around modelling. 

Modelling is not very respected over there and parents don’t want their kids to model because of certain cultural norms or rules that we have,” Jeneba said. 

However, she was able to find enough models to start her business and see its success bloom. Jeneba began to think she could open an agency in Iowa, as well.  

“I knew that America’s different, so I started to reach out for some support, which then I ended up contacting the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC). Through that, I was able to learn some things and made some changes,” Jeneba said.  

She met with Curtis Baugh, a business consultant, and evaluated her company. They made adjustments such as adding a local branch so that people would not feel excluded by the name Future Star Africa. 

Jeneba’s passion for inclusion stems from a past of rejection. Jeneba grew up in foster care where she began entering pageants.  

“I used to face a lot of discrimination. I'd apply, [wouldn’t] get accepted, and some would tell me I’m not tall enough, stuff like that,” Jeneba said.  

She won Miss Africa Iowa and competed for Miss Africa USA in Washington D.C. Pageants quickly became one of Jeneba’s greatest passions.  

“I wanted to do more with pageantry because I loved what pageantry was about. It gave me a voice to speak up for my truth and some things that I’ve never shared with people through pageantry I was able to open up, so I really liked it,” Jeneba said.  

Things took a change for the worse, however, when Jeneba had a child. Suddenly agencies stopped taking her and even blocked her from contacting them.  

“When I applied for pageants, they told me I’m a mom [and] I can’t do pageants because I’m a mother,” Jeneba said. “For a pageant to say they are developing women, that was wrong of them to [block me]; that really messed with my mental health.” 

This was a pivotal moment for Jeneba. She decided to start a change in the industry, where life circumstances and physical appearance did not define your worth as a model.  

“I said to myself: ‘having a child does not limit my potential and I won’t let anybody break me down by telling me that I can’t do something because I have a child or because I'm not tall enough,” Jeneba said.  

The Evelyn K Davis Center gave Jeneba contacts to reach out to and resources to help her business flourish in Iowa. Jeneba is currently working out of Mainframe Studios in Des Moines. On April 29th, she will be having a grand opening for her agency, which includes sponsors and participants from the community.  

“[My] advice for other people looking to start their own business is look for what’s not being accepted and make something out of it. People are going through a lot right now and it would be good to focus on starting businesses that society has put limitations towards so that everybody can feel loved and wanted,” Jeneba said.  

Jeneba’s dedication to inclusion is a tremendous addition to the Des Moines community, and the EKDC is proud to have helped her achieve this.  

"Building" Their Business from the Ground Up

The Evelyn K Davis Center Helped these Entrepreneurs Lay the Foundation for their New Business

Boxx ScaffoldingBoxx Scaffolding has been a successful small business for over two years, thanks to the assistance of the Evelyn K. Davis Center (EKDC). Two of the founders, Grant Maulsby and Stanley Woolery, spoke on the process of starting their business, following a 6-week course offered by the EKDC.

“There’s so much to running a business that you don’t think about sometimes, and it’s nice to have a resource that will be like, ‘Did you think about this?’,” Maulsby said.

Maulsby attended the 6-week course – the Master’s Business Bootcamp - through the EKDC with Curtis Baugh - a business consultant. Maulsby’s connection with Baugh was what drove him to seek the EKDC’s services. He said that the staff at the EKDC seemed genuinely interested in the progress that the small business was making.

“I’ve taken other classes where, once you’re done with the class, you never hear from them again. So, it’s been refreshing to have someone actually show that they’re curious on how we’re doing, and they care about us,” Maulsby said.

The inspiration for Boxx Scaffolding began in 2019. Woolery and Maulsby had been friends for over 30 years yet worked in different industries. Woolery, along with two other partners, had worked in scaffolding for several years. Maulsby owned a bar and restaurant in Clear Lake, IA. In 2019, the four men merged their experience to begin their next chapter with Boxx Scaffolding.

Woolery and Maulsby would recommend the EKDC to anyone looking to start a business, as well as long-time business owners.

“The Bootcamp was great. I learned about the business model canvas which I never even heard of. Then when I took that class they showed us and it’s so much easier,” Maulsby said. “I think it [EKDC] is valuable to anyone, even if you’ve been in business - which I have. I have learned a lot, because things changed from 20 years ago when I started a business.”

The EKDC has further assisted this small business in tasks such as introducing the men to potential customers, setting up meetings with clients, and offering licensing services and training for the staff members looking to get their Commercial Driver’s Licenses.

“We didn’t know [information on small businesses] until we got involved with Evelyn K Davis Center, so just the information they’ve provided us has been very valuable,” Maulsby said.

Boxx Scaffolding is located in Hiawatha, IA. Woolery and Maulsby attribute the continued success of the company to the valuable lessons gifted to them from the Evelyn K Davis Center and the resilience of their team. Further information on their services can be found at as well as reached through the company email

Recipe for Small Business Success

Tullpa Restaurant in Des Moines is Savoring their Grand Opening Thanks to Help Freshly Served from the Evelyn K Davis Center

Tulupia Restaurant

Des Moines residents can feast on authentic Peruvian, Ecuadorian, and Colombian food at Tullpa Restaurant on Merle Hay Road. Founder Gloria Henriquez turned up the heat and launched Tullpa in early January 2023.

“It’s a fusion cuisine. We are trying to fuse a little from here, a little from there,” Gloria said. “Everyday the sales are going little by little bit up, so people are starting to notice our restaurant, our sign, our social medias.”

Gloria relocated to Iowa from New York four years ago. As the previous general manager for a fast-food company, Gloria had a lot of experience in the restaurant industry. It wasn’t until her move to Iowa, however, that producing a restaurant herself seemed achievable.

“I thought it [her dream] was something probably too big. It’s a big decision, you know; you have to prepare yourself with a lot of stuff. But then when I came here, I started to work with different restaurants, and I was like, ‘Maybe I will consider to open my own restaurant’,” Gloria said.

Gloria turned to the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) to stir up her dream. She knew the nonprofit business would provide the right ingredients to achieve this feat.

“I was looking for coaching and support at that moment and they really did a lot for me. They worked with me; they introduced me with somebody who can do one-on-one with me,” Gloria said.

Gloria was partnered with a business coach who walked her through the journey, including conducting research and explaining the business formation process. In addition, Gloria took advantage of additional classes being offered at the EKDC, like computer skills for small businesses. “I never had a center like that in New York - where you can go and interact with somebody who can coach you and guide you in a different aspect, even though you are doing business or preparing yourself for something else. And I think that’s a huge thing – to have that type of community support in Des Moines,” Gloria said.

Gloria reached out to the EKDC because of its support for minorities. Although her original intent was to gain the knowledge to start a business, Gloria walked away with credit help, financial assistance, and an increased network.

“I always feel like it’s a community center working for us - for the small minorities or for whoever needs help. It’s like you go there, and they have a lot of different programs from small business solutions to even if you need help to prepare yourself with interviews,” Gloria said. Like the EKDC, Tullpa exists to serve the citizens of Des Moines. Gloria emphasizes that her restaurant is a welcoming place for all ages and ethnicities.

“The Latino population in Iowa is growing, but also at the same time, I see the acceptance from all the neighborhood and the community of the Latino food,” Gloria said. ““My vision is to see my restaurant go to the next level. You know, be well known in the area where people can come and have a meal, have a good time. We want to make sure we keep that family environment.”

Gloria says her favorite Tullpa dishes include any with fish – particularly the Mojara Frita. Tullpa even hired a chef who moved to the United States 2 months ago, full of fresh recipes and authentic taste.

Currently, there are around 12 staff members in Tullpa’s kitchen, but Tullpa is looking to expand this number as sales continue to increase. The EKDC is proud to have helped serve Gloria success.

“I’ve been very grateful with what the Evelyn K Davis Center did for me, and I always feel like they do have a lot of resources and they offer you a lot of support. And that, for a small business owner, it means a lot,” Gloria said.


This article was also featured in Hola America Newspaper : Read Here

Care from Head to Toe

The Joy of Curls is Taking Care of Heads and Hearts
As It Caters to Foster Families’ Needs

Joy HankinsJoy Hankins combined her passion for hair care and family history of foster care to create a business for self care. The Joy of Curls is a mix of products and services that educate and equip foster families. 

While working on her master’s program in Des Moines, Joy realized her true passion was assisting in the care of foster children. 

Once Joy put her mind to starting a business, she needed a boost to get the ball rolling. In 2021, she enrolled in the Business Bootcamp at the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC). 

“I did not know anything about starting a business when I started [mine] - I just kind of jumped in. I learned that I needed to identify my distinct customer profiles and decide who specifically I was selling to, how to market to them, and how to let them find me,” Joy said. “I learned so much. I could go on and on.” 

Working with the Small Business Solutions program at the EKDC allowed Joy to be prepared for further business courses through Drake University and working with Goldman-Sachs in New York. At the EKDC, Joy developed her elevator pitch and became comfortable with the Business Model Canvas.  

“The first thing that we did when I got to Goldman-Sachs in New York was work on the Business Model Canvas, and I brought mine that I worked on at Evelyn K Davis Center. So a lot of business owners were learning it for the first time, and I had the benefit of having already gone through it, so that was great,” Joy said. 

Today, Joy’s products are made for multiple uses, so the oils and butters can be applied from head to toe. Her merchandise consists of hair and skin-care products that are plant-based. 

Joy’s skills in business were prompted by fond memories with her family members growing up. 

“I can remember my aunt Linda used to braid my hair and put beads on the end of it and I just thought that was ‘it’ in kindergarten,” Joy said.  

Familial memories sparked Joy’s heart for foster families as well. Her maternal grandmother grew up in foster care before becoming a foster mother herself, and Joy’s paternal grandmother was raised by other family members in what is called “kinship care”.  

In addition to actual products, The Joy of Curls provides a 4-credit class through the department of human services for foster parents to gain education about caring for curly hair. 

“[In] this class, I talk about hair care and hair styling, but I also talk a lot about black culture and a lot about parents making sure their home is welcoming to a child of color,” Joy said. 

Joy also uses a portion of proceeds from her kids' line to donate to the foster families she works with. 

Looking ahead, Joy’s vision is for her products to be featured in retail stores like Target. She is also hoping to use her bi-lingual skills to translate her class for multiple cultures. 

“Bi-cultural or transracial adoption is all over the world, so I’d like for this class to be available for everyone,” Joy said.  

The Joy of Curls is continuing to expand alongside the opportunities for outreach that Joy experiences. She attributes the place she is in today to the assistance from the EKDC. 

“If you’re a business owner that’s on the fence about trying the Business Bootcamp, definitely attend a meeting about it, talk to other people who have done it, [because] I think it will be life changing for your business, for your brand, and you should definitely go for it,” Joy said. 

The EKDC enjoyed taking Joy’s vision from an idea to reality.

The Chance She Kneaded

Read how the Evelyn K Davis Center extended an opportunity to Nadia – a woman facing countless rejections in the United States

Nadia Ahissou

Nadia Ahissou has lived in three continents throughout her life – Africa, Europe, and North America. Her diverse background, coupled with her accounting degree from Benin, should have been an asset for finding work, but it proved to be a hindrance. 

“When I moved here it was not easy for me to find a job in accounting because when I showed my degree [employers] were like, ‘Oh no, you need a degree in English’,” Nadia said.  

The breakthrough Nadia needed came in the form of Ahmed Agyeman – Director of the Evelyn K Davis Center. Nadia was taking classes at DMACC when she first met Ahmed in 2016. She showed Ahmed her resume and explained her experience, and he recommended she take courses at DMACC to test her knowledge. 

Nadia passed her classes with flying colors and continued her education at DMACC, eventually getting her Accounting Degree again – this time from the US. In 2020, COVID-19 began, throwing a wrench in Nadia’s life. She had learned to bake when she lived in France and found that many people wanted her products while in isolation.  

“Everybody was starting to like what I was doing,” Nadia said.  

She began to feel torn between a future of baking or accounting. Nadia met with Curtis Baugh, the Business Consultant at the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC). The advice she received helped her baking pastime become a career. 

“We’re [the EKDC staff is] going to help you start a business, you’re going to take the class, and all this stuff – and I did. I did everything and Nadia La Baker came to life in 2021,” Nadia said. 

In addition to her bakery, Nadia applied for a position at the Evelyn K Davis Center and was hired part-time as a Small Business Consultant. Her situation went from being rejected for her diverse background to pursuing both of her passions – accounting and baking – at once. 

Nadia would recommend the EKDC to anyone wanting to start their business from scratch.  

“They [the EKDC] know exactly what to do, who to talk to, and when to do it. So anyone who wants their business out, or even if they don’t have the business yet – they have the idea, they can come in,” Nadia said.  

Nadia learned countless tips on how to start a small business. The EKDC guided her through the process and showed her each step. 

“They work on how to start your business, how to open an account on the business, [and] how to work with the IRS. If you take those classes, it will be easy for you to grow your business,” Nadia said.  

Nadia La Baker does not currently have a location. Nadia bakes from home to fill orders and sees the most success at her stand at the Des Moines Farmer’s Market. She would like to open at an actual location if she can find a building within her price range. Until then, she is continuing to take classes at the EKDC while working part-time.  

The EKDC gave Nadia the chance she needed, paving the way for the US to feel like home to her.

An Instrument of Charity 

Valerie’s Musical Dreams Have Come True to the Tune of Her Flute Business 

It’s never too late to find harmony with your aspirations. Valerie Wedgeworth is a retired Des Moines accountant with over 50 years of experience playing the flute. For a long time, she harbored a dream of starting a flute business.  

“I met with Curtis Baugh (a small business consultant) and the first time I met him I felt so empowered afterwards - ‘Wow, this could really happen’ kind-of-thing,” Valerie said. 

She had been playing the flute on Sunday’s and decided it was time to take her talents to the next level by monetizing. Valerie attended business classes at the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) as well as began meeting with Kris Markham at the EKDC for financial coaching. 

“The folks at Evelyn [K] Davis are so supportive and encouraging,” Valerie said. “I met with Curtis twice. The second time he was helping me with a business plan.” 

Valerie has also received assistance with social media for her website.  

Valerie’s Flute Entertainment is a business comprised of sales and programs. Valerie has mentored people in her trade, taught a student, and created musical arrangements. Additionally, she plays at retirement centers and a rehab center for disabled children. 

“It’s amazing to see their eyes light up,” Valerie said.  

Valerie describes the EKDC programs as “supportive” and “empowering”. Charity has struck a chord with Valerie, and she continues to use the knowledge the EKDC gave her to serenade Des Moines. 

“It’s something that I've always wanted to do and I’m finally doing it,” Valerie said. 

Even after retirement from 30 years working for the state of Iowa, Valerie continues to march to the beat of her own drum and pursue her passions as a flutist. The EKDC enjoys orchestrating assistance to Valerie as she conducts the next steps in her vision. 

A Wish Granted 

The EKDC helped Cheries Transform her Talent into a Trade 

Do you have a special talent, but are not sure how it could be used? This is how Cheries Dupee felt when she found the Evelyn K Davis Center. 

Cheries had worked many years managing departments, starting small businesses, opening a retail shop, and even writing a book. Yet human services was the area that had always piqued her interest. 

I was told I need to talk to younger people – younger women. So I started to do that,” Cheries said. At this point, she was in a program through DMACC that gave her a mentor. “Since this mentor saw that I could write, she said ‘you need to look at becoming a grant writer.’” 

Shortly after, Cheries began working with the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC).  

“In the beginning, I wanted to help widows. That was who I was focused on when I went through Curtis’ program with the Canvas,” Cheries said. 

The Canvas program is an accelerator course offered at the EKDC to assist with setting up a small business. Curtis, a small business consultant, helps clients create their Business Model Canvas to map out channels, resources, and other necessary features of launching a company. 

“Grant-writing [was] just put on the backburner; I didn’t look at it as a business at that time. Then Curtis suggested I go through the [Business] Accelerator Program at Drake. So I did that, and at the end of that program we had a pitch competition, and I got 3rd place in the pitch and got $500,” Cheries said. 

Throughout 2021 and 2022, Cheries continued winning competitions for her grant writing. In June 2022, she attended more training at the EKDC.  

“[My relationship with the EKDC] started out with me going through some training, and then it ended up me partnering and helping other people with grants,” Cheries said. 

Cheries now helps clients at the EKDC with her talent. She recalled the eye-opening quote that sparked her new career. 

“[Curtis] has been so instrumental for me. He told me, ‘Obviously, people want to hear what you have to say’ and he said that I should learn how to monetize,” Cheries said.  

The realization that her skills could be transformed into a means of income was a life-changing experience for Cheries.  

“Because of Curtis, I learned how to [monetize my work]. So now I put a price tag on everything,” Cheries said. 

Because of the EKDC’s help to Cheries, she is now assisting countless people in Des Moines, while simultaneously pursuing her master’s at Grandview.  

If It Matters to You, It Matters to the EKDC

Shantoria wanted to take care of the children of Des Moines, so the EKDC took care of her 

Shantoria Green and her mom run a daycare that is unlike any other. Heavenly Creations goes beyond simply watching the children all day, to creating a wholesome environment for the kids that attend.  

“What I did was implement a learning program for our children. They have curriculum, a lunch menu [and] a newsletter,” Shantoria said. “It’s way more like a preschool than your traditional in-home childcare. It’s geared toward teaching, routine, and a structured environment that our children need to have.” 

Over the years, Heavenly Creations has helped over 300 children. However, running an in-home business that generates this level of success requires external help. This is where Shantoria turned to the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC). 

“I needed to perfect my business plan,” Shantoria said. “I went through the process and got a lot of different contacts.” 

Shantoria attended the EKDC’s Masters Business Bootcamp twice to soak in as much education as possible. She met with Curtis Baugh, a small business consultant, and described her greatest obstacle – the journey to get an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan. That was when Curtis gave her shockingly great news. 

““He [said], ‘The director of the SBA comes here once a week; you can meet her on Thursday’,” Shantoria said. 

A few days later, Shantoria spoke with the director face-to-face, who went to the president of the bank.  

“It just really sped up the process for us and now we’re looking to close here in the next 30 days,” Shantoria said.  

Curtis also referred Shantoria to a financial company who gave her projections for her business for the next 3 years. Shantoria found that the bank responded more to her when she had professional help with her work. 

“A lot of people have a business, and the financials aren’t where they need to be. So, I would definitely refer [the EKDC] to anybody that is in business [or] is thinking about business,” Shantoria said.  

Shantoria has encouraged her husband to visit the EKDC to boost his car business, as well as her daughter who aspires to open a clothing boutique.  

“Give [the EKDC] a try; you don’t have anything to lose. The services are free; the people there genuinely do care about you and your business and the needs of the community,” Shantoria said.  

Heavenly Creations was founded by Shantoria’s mother, before being joined by Shantoria in 2015. Shantoria began implementing her ideas into the business and was made a partner in 2016. Shantoria wanted to work in the daycare so that she could spend more time with her son, and trust that he was being cared for.  

“It’s hard to find a good daycare that is a quality center, where they’re going to teach your kid, feed them healthy meals, and really show them love,” Shantoria said.  

The EKDC was the bridge that connected Shantoria’s Daycare Dreams and the means to achieve them. 

Write Your Own Story

From Mother to Author to Businesswoman; Neesha Duncan continues to check off her goals with the help of the Evelyn K Davis Center 

There are points at every stage in life where you feel stuck. It seems like you should have it all figured out: finances, dream job, mental health. Yet how often is this true? 

For Neesha Duncan, life was not all roses. There were many unknowns as she walked through the doors of the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC).  

“The Evelyn K Davis kind of helped me put things into perspective. Like the plans that I had, I wasn’t really ready for. [It] helped me take a step back,” Neesha said. 

With the help of the EKDC, Neesha was able to pinpoint what the next step for her would be: writing a book.  

“Now I’m here, trying to figure things out now that my kids are grown, graduated, out of the way. Now it’s time for me to get to what I’ve been putting off,” Neesha said.  

Neesha’s book is titled “This Too Shall Pass” - a phrase she would tell herself on her darkest days. The book tells her life story, including past traumas, life lessons, and inspirational stories. Neesha explained this was a difficult story to tell, yet one that has helped her connect with people over shared experiences. 

“It was very freeing. I felt very free but at the same time when I first released it, it was like my secrets were out. I just felt so naked. But then I was like, ‘I can’t really help people if I hide’,” Neesha said. 

Now that Neesha’s book is out on the market, she is returning to the EKDC to finish what she started. Publication was the first goal checked off the list - starting a business is next. Neesha has already worked with three programs through the EKDC, including completing the financial bootcamp and Small Business Solutions.  

“I’ve recommended Evelyn K Davis to other people who are trying to get their small businesses off the ground. It’s a good avenue for networking [and] direction. They can get you a lot of answers to questions that you’re struggling with,” Neesha said. “For people who are trying to get out there, I think it’s very beneficial. You know, for those who don’t know a lot of things about starting their own business.” 

Neesha plans to open a transitional home. She is a single mother of six kids and has dedicated most of her life to raising them. Now that they are older, it is time for Neesha to revisit her own aspiration to give back to the community through entrepreneurship.  

“I’ve been a mother for so long; they’ve been my priority, I work around them,” Neesha said. “Evelyn K Davis has given me the drive. They helped me with my discipline.” 

Neesha has chosen the best step for beginning this business journey: walking through the EKDC’s doors. As the sales for “This Too Shall Pass” go up, so does her motivation. The EKDC is excited to continue to assist Neesha.  

Jayna Lidan

Jayna LidanWhen I was younger I was a size 0 and I could never wear certain clothing items because they never fit length wise or in my chest. I had also struggled with a lot of bullying about my size. I was told I wasn’t attractive because I was too skinny and people would stage interventions because they thought I was anorexic. On the other hand after I had my children I remember going into a clothing store and struggling to find styles that would look good on my new body type and to top it off there was no one there to really care or help when I just wanted advice. I remember deciding to play it on the safe side and grab a size 8 pair of jeans to try on. I ended up breaking down in tears after trying on every size from an 8 to a 14.

J.Lidan’s focus is to create a space where this does not happen to anyone else. I have done away with the wholesale mindset that one size fits all. I offer customized clothing options for size/body type and use body positivity reinforcement words for our size names. At J.Lidan, normal is beautiful and beauty is defined by you!

The name of my collection is Metamorphosis: The Path to Healing. My inspiration behind my collection is based off my own experience of sexual trauma and the journey of my healing process. When it comes to sexual trauma we tend to focus on the bad part then the good parts but we don’t really talk about the process of healing and inbetween. I am still working on healing and my collection is part of that. My message to anyone else going through the same struggle is you are worthy of love and you deserve to be happy. The pain and trauma never go away but eventually you will learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. It is okay to feel the way you do. It is okay to sit in the emotions for awhile. You are strong and you are worthy. You are a fighter and a survivor.


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A Generation of ExCLlence

Read how the Y-ExCL Program is Changing the Lives of Teenagers in Des Moines


My told her story of how the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) kickstarted her introduction into the real world. Through the Y-ExCL program for youth, My was able to learn valuable information and gain work experience.  

“Initially when I started Y-ExCL, I was 16 and I was really naïve and didn’t know [anything] about the workforce,” My said. 

My met with Jason Vang – the Youth Program Coordinator – who helped My gain a position partnering with Gateway Dance Theater in downtown Des Moines. 

“My first job in the summer youth was actually like a rental job. I did graphic designing and event planning. I wanted to do a job that was with art and also the office setting,” My said. “I honestly enjoyed it because it wasn’t like any first job experience that teenagers get."  

As an 18-year-old, My has been part of the Y-ExCL program for two years. Jason helped My learn about paychecks, taxes, and information regarding the professional field. 

“He [Jason] brings a bunch of speakers who coach these different aspects to prepare you for the workforce, and it really taught me a lot about how to work with people and how to deal with people,” My said. “I learned a lot about myself and adapting to an environment where I am going to be working with unfamiliar faces.” 

My heard about the Y-ExCL program during her junior year in high school. One of her teachers sent an email with information regarding the summer program which peaked My’s interest. My explained how you apply for the Summer Youth Program through an online application. Students then must be selected for an interview. My completed her interview which was where she first met Jason. 

“There’s a diversity of people in that program, and if you’re someone that is really naïve of the professional field or work field I think Y-ExCL is a great opportunity for you to jump in for a great start and get to know everything about the adult life,” My said. 

My is currently a full-time student at DMACC as well as an employee as a barista. My’s plans moving forward are to gain as much education as possible and continue to pursue her dreams. 

“I would recommend [the EKDC] because, for me personally, it was just something unexpected. The people in that program actually want to help you and it’s really cool how they would try to find people from low incomes and introduce them to this kind of opportunity,” My said.  

My is an inspiration to other youth in Des Moines and a testament to the Y-ExCL program.  

Job Development

Came for a Resume, Left with a Job

After Years of Searching for her Dream Job, Matariah found Success Through Our Doors

​Matariah Jecolia’s success story is a testament to the Career and Employability services offered at the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC). Matariah grew up in South Carolina and graduated from a southern university with her master’s in nutritional sciences. However, she was unable to get a job despite her higher education.

Matariah contacted the EKDC in hopes of boosting her resume and cover letter. This was when Matariah met Michele Brown – our Employability Services Specialist.

“You don’t usually find people like Michele - that really take that interest in a person, and really want to help that person,” Matariah said. “She went beyond.”

With Michele’s help, Matariah was soon hired for a position as a Standardized Patient for Des Moines University. She will use her degree to simulate patient qualities to assist Des Moines University’s educational programs.

“I told Michele when I came in: ‘I want a fun job. I want something that is fun because the thing is, when you don’t like your job and you're stressed on your job you cannot do a good job’,” Matariah said.

The opportunity appeared when she was receiving assistance with her resume at the EKDC. The job listing for Des Moines University came across Michele Brown’s desk. When she heard about the Standardized Patient opening, Matariah knew she had found the ‘fun job’ she was longing for.
Matariah would recommend the EKDC to anyone finding themselves in a similar situation to her experience. Matariah was frustrated that she had spent 2 years in pursuit of a master's degree – dedicating hours to write dissertations and study materials - only to find frustration after graduation.

Matariah explained that many colleges place the emphasis on enrolling students in their programs.

“But their real success is when that student - when they graduate - and they’re able to get a job,” Matariah said.

Matariah is looking ahead with anticipation to starting her new position in January 2023. After living in Iowa for 18 years, she is excited for this new chapter and grateful for the support and assistance from the EKDC.

Any Circumstance; Any Dream 

Mia Williams’ Story Demonstrates that No Dream is Overlooked when the EKDC Works with Clients 

Mia Williams and her son, who has autism, have both visited the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) to use the Career & Employability program.  

Mia was the first to try out the EKDC after working at the Department of Corrections for nearly 30 years. With the EKDC’s help, Mia secured her dream job as the Activities Specialist at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) in October 2022.  

Mia had been ready for a job change and wanted help with her resume and applications. However, hiring a career counselor seemed too expensive. 

“Usually, I would go pay someone quite a bit of money to help me with my resumes,” Mia said.  

A recommendation from a friend brought Mia to the steps of the EKDC. Mia met several times with Michele – an employability service specialist - to review Mia’s resume, cover letter, and application.  

“[Michele] did better than the people I pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for. And when I have questions or needed to reach back out to her, she was available,” Mia said.  

Mia graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a BA in General Studies, hoping to become a gym teacher. Today, she coordinates physical activities for women at the ICIW, fulfilling that long-time dream. Her experience sparked the EKDC’s impact on countless other lives, including her son and women at the ICIW.    

“No matter what level of professionalism [the job is, the EKDC has] the qualifications to help,” Mia said. 

Mia's clients at the correctional facility utilize the EKDC as they integrate back into society.  

“If I know that [the EKDC] is good enough to help me, then I know they’re going to do a great job with [my] clients,” Mia said.  

The Career & Employability program at the EKDC provided tips for navigating the digital system for employment. Mia explained that online applications look for keywords and skills that she didn’t know about. 

“Back when you had to write an application, people had to go through it and read it. Now when it goes through the system, if you don’t have certain words or certain things then you could be totally qualified but you still don’t get chosen,” Mia said.  

In addition to working in her ideal position, Mia is pursuing her master’s in sports psychology. With the EKDC’s help, Mia continuously accomplishes new feats. 

“When you get to a certain level in a job or career, you almost start feeling like you need to go somewhere. Don’t ever feel like EKDC can’t help [you],” Mia said. 

The EKDC assists people with a wide range of circumstances, abilities, and aspirations, and it is happy to have played a role in impacting Mia’s life – as well as the people surrounding her.