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, Wilson crossed the threshold into her first house. Just weeks before, Wilson'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,” Wilson said. “He’s not broke, because he knows how to budget, and that really does stem from what I learned.” 

Wilson 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, Wilson 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,” Wilson 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 – Wilson – resulting in two purchased homes so far.  

PCFEC assisted Wilson every step of the way. Once she began collaborating with her financial counselor using this free public service program, Wilson 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 Wilson realize her potential.

Flipped the Switch


As an Iowa native and dedicated nurse, Clayton had many doors she wanted to unlock for herself. She soon discovered a strong credit score was the missing key necessary to cross each threshold. 

I would like to be debt free. I also would like to be able to purchase a home,” Clayton said. 

Clayton used these aspirations as the driving force that brought her to the Evelyn K Davis Center’s (EKDC) doorstep. She worked with Kris Markham and Corenne Hicks – two of the EKDC’s financial coaches. 

“My score jumped 30 points in the first month. I saw changes right away,” Clayton said.  

She attended coaching sessions for the better part of 2023, with bundles of knowledge to show for it. 

“I’ve gotten insight on building my credit, getting things off my credit, how to balance out my score, and what credit looks like,” Clayton said. 

With her increased knowledge, Clayton had the building blocks she needed to reach her harbored goals.  Now, she can apply for a home, obtain a loan, and seize new opportunities for herself and her family. 

“I would like to have financial security,” Clayton said. 

A switch was flipped with the acquisition of financial education, leaving Clayton with a feeling of accomplishment and assurance.  

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, Cavil was pulled out of the water and received a fresh start to life.

“It’s like the floodgates of knowledge have been opened,” Cavil 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 debt and Denise was being pulled in many directions as a minister and caretaker for her parents. She considered filing for bankruptcy until she remembered the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC). Cavil had attended classes several years earlier and knew she could count on being helped.

“I didn’t think there was any hope for us,” Cavil said. “Things had piled up on me."

Cavil began working with a financial counselor at the PCFEC, 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,” Cavil said. "All questions that I had, [my free financial advisor] gave me good tips to ask. They guided me through the process, and I got just what I needed."

Today, Cavil’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.

Cavil recommends the PCFEC’s services to anyone who can relate to the sinking sensation 2022 found her in.

“Anyone that feels like nobody cares or like they don’t have any options,” Cavil said. “I would recommend it to especially those that have been forgotten.”

Today, Cavil is swimming uninhibited towards a completely debt-free life.

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 – just come as you are. It doesn’t matter; we’ll work with you,” Wanjah said.  

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

Modeling is not respected over there and parents don’t want their kids to model because of certain cultural norms,” Wanjah said. 

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

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

Wanjah’s passion for inclusion stems from a past of rejection. Wanjah 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,” Wanjah said.  

She won Miss Africa Iowa and competed for Miss Africa USA in Washington D.C. Pageants quickly became one of Wanjah’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,” Wanjah said.  

Things took a change for the worse, however, when Wanjah 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,” Wanjah 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 Wanjah. 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,” Wanjah said.  

The Evelyn K Davis Center gave Wanjah contacts to reach out to and resources to help her business flourish in Iowa. Wanjah is currently working out of Mainframe Studios in Des Moines. On April 29 2023, she had the grand opening for her agency, which included 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,” Wanjah said.  

Wanjah’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,” Henriquez said. “Everyday the sales are going little by little bit up, so people are starting to notice our restaurant, our sign, our social medias.”

Henriquez relocated to Iowa from New York four years ago. As the previous general manager for a fast-food company, Henriquez 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’,” Henriquez said.

Henriquez 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,” Henriquez said.

Henriquez was partnered with a business coach who walked her through the journey, including conducting research and explaining the business formation process. In addition, Henriquez 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,” Henriquez said.

Henriquez reached out to the EKDC because of its support for minorities. Although her original intent was to gain the knowledge to start a business, Henriquez 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,” Henriquez said. Like the EKDC, Tullpa exists to serve the citizens of Des Moines. Henriquez 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,” Henriquez 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.”

Henriquez 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 Henriquez 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,” Henriquez said.

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

Unmatched Drive

LaSalle Waldrip felt stuck behind the wheel of a school bus for many years. The Class A Commercial Driver’s License was expensive and took valuable time to obtain, so Waldrip felt like he had to remain in the lane he was in.  

Around 2016, Waldrip heard about the CDL Jumpstart class at the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) - a free Commerical Driver’s License program. He chose to change gears and completed the class. Soon, he found himself operating 18-wheelers. 

Yet Waldrip did not stop here. He put the pedal to the metal and started his own business: LaSalle Tractor and Trailer Consultant Firm. Waldrip worked with Curtis Baugh – the Small Business Consultant at the EKDC - to jumpstart his business in 2021 and collaborated with financial aid to navigate any obstacles along the way. 

We changed my credit score, and I got my business off the ground,” Waldrip said.  

He has become an inspiration to other clients at the EKDC, and even spoke at a fundraising event in 2023 about his journey. 

Moving forward, Waldrip plans to continue expanding his business. In addition, he remains engaged in the community, volunteering at the YMCA twice a week and participating in events such as the Young Men of Color Conference hosted at Drake University in 2023.  

Heading into 2024, Waldrip is stepping on the gas and will continue to steer towards new opportunities.  

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, Hankins realized her true passion was assisting in the care of foster children. 

Once Hankins 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,” Hankins said. “I learned so much. I could go on and on.” 

Working with the Small Business Solutions program at the EKDC allowed Hankins to be prepared for further business courses through Drake University and working with Goldman-Sachs in New York. At the EKDC, Hankins 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,” Hankins said. 

Today, Hankins’ 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. 

Hankin’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,” Hankins said.  

Familial memories sparked Hankin’s heart for foster families as well. Her maternal grandmother grew up in foster care before becoming a foster mother herself, and Hankin’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,” Hankins said. 

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

Looking ahead, Hankin’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,” Hankins said.  

The Joy of Curls is continuing to expand alongside the opportunities for outreach that Hankins 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,” Hankins said. 

The EKDC enjoyed taking Hankins’ 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’,” Ahissou said.  

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

Ahissou 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 Ahissou’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,” Ahissou said.  

She began to feel torn between a future of baking or accounting. Ahissou 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,” Ahissou said. 

In addition to her bakery, Ahissou 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. 

Ahissou 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,” Ahissou said.  

Ahissou 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,” Ahissou said.  

In 2023, Nadia's French Bakery opened its doors on Grand Avenue, after years of building this dream.  The EKDC gave Ahissou the chance she needed, paving the way for the US to feel like home to her.

Food for the Soul


During a time of transition to the United States from Africa and her husband’s cancer diagnosis, Zainab Farah persevered and grew her market in Des Moines. 

In 2014, Farah flew with her husband and son from Somalia to North Carolina, passing through Kenya and Uganda along the way. A year into starting their new life in the western hemisphere, they travelled to Iowa, and Farah took over Najah Grocery and Deli.  

“Me and my son used to go to the Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning, and I would buy vegetables and he bought food. I always wanted to be there and sell something,” Farah said.  

Farah found a flyer advertising the Evelyn K Davis Center’s (EKDC) Small Business Class and chose to investigate the service. She worked with Sam Early – a small business consultant – and Kris Markham – a financial coach.  

Together, the team set Zainab up for success and she opened her own stand at the Des Moines Farmer’s Market this past year. The Najah Grocery and Deli booth sells a variety of products, including coffee, chai, and sambusa – a Somalian stuffed pastry.  

The income from the farmer’s market came at a crucial time for Farah’s family, as her husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2019. He helped run the market with Zainab, so broadening the business increased their income, combating the new medical bills. 

Farah’s eye for business upgrades can be seen through all of her efforts with the deli. Now that the Farmer’s Market is closed for winter, she is looking to begin online orders. 

“I love being a business lady, that is my passion,” Farah said. 

Not only does Farah enjoy the work, but she is skilled in her career. Farah has demonstrated a resilience that has given her success across the world.   



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,” Wedgeworth 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. Wedgeworth 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,” Wedgeworth said. “I met with Curtis twice. The second time he was helping me with a business plan.” 

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

Valerie’s Flute Entertainment is a business comprised of sales and programs. Wedgeworth 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,” Wedgeworth said.  

Wedgeworth describes the EKDC programs as “supportive” and “empowering”. Charity has struck a chord with Wedgeworth, 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,” Wedgeworth said. 

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

Dupee 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,” Dupee 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, Dupee 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,” Dupee 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,” Dupee said. 

Throughout 2021 and 2022, Dupee 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,” Dupee said. 

Dupee 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,” Dupee said.  

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

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

Dupee 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,” Duncan said. 

With the help of the EKDC, Duncan 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,” Duncan said.  

Duncan’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. Duncan 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’,” Duncan said. 

Now that Duncan'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. Duncan 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,” Duncan 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.” 

Duncan 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 Duncan 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,” Duncan said. “Evelyn K Davis has given me the drive. They helped me with my discipline.” 

Duncan 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. 

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.


Jayna 2

Jayna 3



On Fire for the Future


Kai Molzen had an exceptional experience with the Y-ExCL program in Summer 2022 – sparking his return in 2023.  

Two summers ago, Molzen began working with Urban Dreams – a nonprofit organization centered on advocacy and social work in Des Moines. Molzen worked in the community food pantry and made several friends who inspired him to repeat the program a second year. Additionally, Molzen recommended the Y-ExCL program to his younger brother, who plans on participating in the future.  

Molzen heard about the Evelyn K Davis Center’s (EKDC) youth program from his mother, Ashley Molzen, who works at the Des Moines Public Library. Ashley’s recommendation set Kai on a blazing course towards applying. 

“I really like that this program does this for fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds,” Ashley said. “I wouldn’t want [Kai] to work all school year, so it was really nice to know they can do this, but they don’t have to quit at the end of summer.” 

Molzen was able to attend football practice in the mornings and then work in the afternoons, learning job skills and being exposed to options beyond high school. The flexible schedule allowed him to find a balance between being a high school student and preparing for the workforce.  

“It is more than a job. It’s beautiful,” Molzen’s mother said.  

It is never too early to ignite a plan for the future, with the Y-ExCL program fanning the flames. 


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.  

Engineering a Better Future


Kyle Nachiengane entered Summer 2023 curious about the Evelyn K Davis Center’s (EKDC) Y-ExCL Summer Youth Program and exited the summer with a software engineering job at a cutting-edge IT company. 

“As a university student, being offered a job as a Managed Service Provider means so much to me,” Nachiengane said. “This opportunity represents a chance to gain valuable real-world experience in IT while making a positive impact on the community.”   

Nachiengane is a junior at Iowa State who did not have previous work experience in his field. When he heard about the 10-week Y-ExCL program, Nachiengane decided to register. 

He was placed at Zirous - a tech firm based out of West Des Moines.  

“I learned how to communicate better, how to work with the youth, how to debug, find errors, and go about everyday problems that software engineers would face,” Nachiengane said.  

If he had not taken the chance at the EKDC, Nachiengane said: “I don’t think I would have as many connections as I do now, and I don’t think I would have the work experience.” 

The program involved two weeks of curriculum and activities followed by eight weeks of real-world work at Des Moines businesses that partner with the EKDC. Nachiengane’s work at Zirous revolved adding features to accessibility checklists for clients.  

"[The position] gave me a taste of working and doing full stack development like creating applications,” Nachiengane said.  

Nachiengane said that the Y-ExCL program gave him networking opportunities and was an experience he would recommend to anyone looking to boost their professional career.  

Careers & Employability

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.  

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

Williams 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,” Williams said.  

A recommendation from a friend brought Williams to the steps of the EKDC. Williams met several times with Michele – an employability service specialist - to review Williams' 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,” Williams said.  

Williams 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,” Williams said. 

Williams' 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,” Williams said.  

The Career & Employability program at the EKDC provided tips for navigating the digital system for employment. Williams 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,” Williams said.  

In addition to working in her ideal position, Williams is pursuing her master’s in sports psychology. With the EKDC’s help, Williams 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],” Williams said.   

A Force to Be Reckoned With 

Julian Frias was patrolling for a career he was passionate about when he came to the Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) several years ago.   

“I learned how to write resumes, interview, contact employers, and how to leave behind a job on good terms,” Frias said. “I got progressively more sociable and that gave me a boost of confidence.” 

Frias arrested his fear and allowed himself to pursue a path he had never considered. His uncle was a police officer, but Frias did not have the courage to pursue the same life until he worked with a career coach – Michele Brown – at the EKDC.  

“I discovered law enforcement and helping people when they’re not at their best – that's what I wanted to do with my life,” Frias said. 

Today, Frias is a police cadet in the process of becoming an officer.  “A lot of people like to look at the world pessimistically, but there is a way to improve your situation. Having people like the Evelyn K Davis Center [show] change can happen, you just have to put a little work into it,” Frias said.  

As a police cadet, Frias writes reports, handles the radio, and applies his ability to speak Spanish on the job. This experience will pave the way for him to become an officer in the upcoming year. Frias found his dream through the EKDC and encourages Des Moines residents to do the same. 

In high school, Frias began working for Mercy Hospital. Eventually, Frias attended DMACC and Grandview to obtain a degree in secondary education. Although he was experiencing many life changes, Frias did not feel like he had found his true calling. It wasn’t until he began attending the EKDC that Frias realized he wanted to trade in scrubs for a uniform. 

“People don’t realize they have something so useful at their disposal,” Frias said. He recommends the EKDC to people “that need a little bit of guidance, encouragement, and just assurance that they’re doing the necessary things to go to a better place in life.” 

Community Partners

A Cutting-Edge Partnership

The Y-ExCL Summer Youth Program teamed up with Zirous – a tech firm in West Des Moines - in 2023.  

Previously, Zirous had contacted high schools and offered summer courses to engage youth in technological careers but wanted to increase outreach to younger students. Partnering with the EKDC offered the collaboration both organizations were seeking. 

“I reached out to DMACC to get involved in the community for underserved youth,” Jenni Hipwell – Vice President of People and Culture at Zirous – said.  

Hipwell works with employee engagement and recruitment at Zirous. Together with Zirous’ CEO, Mike McDermott, Hipwell entered 2023 determined to involve the community more. 

“We invited Jason (the Y-ExCL director) in, and it seemed like the perfect fit,” Hipwell said.  

Kyle, a Y-ExCL student studying software engineering, became Zirous’ intern. Zirous has a digital accessibility team that focuses on creating applications to accommodate people with disabilities. These can include blindness, deafness, and other difficulties accessing websites in the standard manner.  

“Our team has been creating an internal application that our developers can use in order to make sure their applications are accessible,” Katie Perkins, a senior application developer, said. 

When Zirous partnered with the EKDC, the accessibility project was assigned to Kyle. Perkins mentored Kyle along with Kellan Hulet, another application developer. 

“We were pleasantly surprised; we didn’t know what kind of student we were getting and how eager they would be to learn. He worked hard and his personality was great for the force too, so that made it easy for us to decide to move forward with him too,” McDermott said. 

Although Kyle was a software engineering student, this was not necessarily the area of expertise Zirous was targeting. Zirous said that they would absolutely partner with the Y-ExCL program in the future, regardless of if the student had the same set of skills as Kyle.  

“Going forward it wouldn’t have to be somebody that’s a software person: if Jason brought somebody to us that had good communication skills, we could find something for them to do related to the business,” McDermott said. 

Additionally, Zirous expressed interest in working with the EKDC in services beyond the summer youth program.  

“Being good corporate citizens is our goal,” Hipwell said. 

The partnership blends Zirous’ goal with cutting-edge opportunities for Y-ExCL students. 





More than Books 


The novel partnership between The Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) and the Des Moines Public Library (DMPL) hit the shelves once again this year. In the past, the collaboration has taken the form of joint outreach events and informational booths. This year, the two organizations began a new chapter with a Y-ExCL youth placed at DMPL. 

“I can speak to how much I love [Y-ExCL] as a parent of a kid who went through the program and as an employer who got a student,” Ashley Molzen, the Community Engagement Supervisor at DMPL, said.  

Molzen had asked Jason Vang – the Y-ExCL Coordinator at the EKDC – to select a student who would be a good fit to be DMPL’s mascot for the summer. Rosie the Reader was a pink monster who attended outreach events and shared her love of reading with the community. 

Vang selected Elijah Muhammad, whose enthusiasm and energy was perfect for Rosie. Muhammad worked daily at the library performing cleaning duties, acting as the mascot, attending offsite events, and more. His contribution to DMPL was one for the books. 

“I was really impressed right away. He was responsible for getting to the library by himself on the bus. He was in summer school in the mornings and some nights even had practice. Oftentimes he was even early. He was really motivated,” Molzen said.  

The summer at DMPL gifted Muhammad volumes of new skills and perspectives. 

“I have worked for 2 summers so far. This program has given me many opportunities that I would not have gotten otherwise. It's allowed me to meet and connect with so many interesting and intellectual people,” Muhammad said. 

According to Molzen, the main aspect learned was professional communication. “He was here in an environment where he’s working primarily with adults. It was fun to see how he handled himself,” Molzen said. 

Not only did Muhammadbenefit from DMPL, but the library also gained from his presence. Children were inspired by the young adult who illustrated involvement at DMPL.  

“I really want kids to be thinking about the public library as a place that they might want to work because I do think we get a lot of people who, if they’re not readers, don't consider this work,” Molzen said. “But it’s a lot of social work, so it’s more than books.” 

Next summer will represent the sequel as Molzen said the library is interested in having one or more summer interns from Y-ExCL. Additionally, the EKDC and DMPL plan on furthering their partnership.  

“[Try] thinking of the library as an extension of what you do at EKDC to meet people where they are,” Molzen said. 

The future looks promising for continued lore between the two organizations to serve Des Moines, and the EKDC continues to secure happy endings for students by keeping an eye out for future partnerships.  







A New Environment 

The Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) is spreading its wings to a new type of partner – zoos. Beginning in summer 2024, Blank Park Zoo teamed up with the EKDC Y-ExCL Summer Youth Program. 

Something we are trying to increase is getting better representation and working with as many individuals with different backgrounds as we can,” Teagan Roberts, an educator at the zoo, said.  

The zoo’s intern served as assistant camp counselor under Roberts. They worked five eight-hour days each week supervising campers. The intern mainly worked with second graders during their activities like zoo exploration, lessons, and games.   

“They grew a lot,” Roberts said. “Even as an assistant, you have to learn the childcare management side of things. We are a very different facility than a school; we’re out in the zoo around guests so safety factors are different.” 

When seeking an intern from Y-ExCL, the zoo looked for someone willing to work with kids who had a passion for animals and conservation efforts. 

This was our first year with the program,” Jessica Schellhorn, Education Manager at Blank Park Zoo, said. “At a DMPS Community Partners meeting, I was letting everyone know that we were hiring for our summer staff and to encourage their students to apply. Jason (the Y-ExCL Coordinator at the EKDC) came and discussed the program with me to see if we would be interested in becoming a partner.” 

The zoo recruits seasonal staff from area high schools, colleges, universities, and classroom teachers and hosts service members from AmeriCorps, yet chose to reach out to a program such as the EKDC’s as well in 2023.  

“We’re trying to represent animals from across the world and show animal diversity, and we also want that reflected in the types of people we have working for us and representing us,” Roberts said. 

Blank Park Zoo provided the perfect environment for Y-ExCL students to gain work experience and sharpen professional skills. 




Dream On

The Evelyn K Davis Center (EKDC) and Urban Dreams’ missions parallel each other perfectly – creating a successful partnership. Urban Dreams is a Des Moines nonprofit that advocates for underrepresented residents.  

For years, Urban Dreams has welcomed Y-ExCL students to intern for them, completing tasks like cleaning parks, answering phones, office duties, campaigning, and more. The students learn many new skills while assisting this nonprofit. 

“They have to show up to work on time, be a team player, and do more than what is expected if they want to be successful,” Dwight Jackson, a United Way employee, said. The skills learned by students translate smoothly into the real world.  

Not only do the students gain professional experience, but they enjoy the work too. Nearly every student from the previous summer asked to return for a second summer in 2023.  

Kai Molzen, a Y-ExCL student, worked for Urban Dreams in 2022 and 2023.  

I enjoyed the work there and the friends who worked there with me,” Molzen said.  

Jackson emphasized one mission of the partnership between the EKDC and Urban Dreams is teaching accountability. 

“There are some students that you didn’t have to constantly give direction,” Jackson said. “They have to understand, if they want to create value, they can’t just wait until someone says ‘hey, can you do this?’” 

Holding students accountable in controlled situations such as these educates them in a safe environment. The partnership between EKDC and Urban Dreams will continue to grow young professionals in Des Moines.