For some, there is an entrepreneurial spirit hidden within, waiting to be awakened by an idea, a challenge or a vision. In the case of Melissa Juneau, the executive director of The Emerge Center for Communication, Behavior and Development, it was all three, and then some.
A speech therapist by profession, Juneau tapped into her passion for helping young children with communication challenges and her love of community outreach to rebrand and expand the business model of a 50-year-old nonprofit in order to create a premier community resource center for children and families in Baton Rouge and across the region who face communication, behavioral and developmental issues.
Juneau says she never saw her future at The Emerge Center coming.
Three things inspired her to embrace nonprofit work: her involvement in community outreach work while living in Belgium with her family, her early career working at the Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation, and her work with the Head Start disability and mental health program in Ascension Parish.
In 2007, she applied for a job at BRSHF as a part-time speech therapist and to help develop the community relations of the foundation.
When the executive director of the foundation resigned three weeks after Juneau arrived, she took over on an interim basis, not knowing what the job fully entailed or that she would eventually assume the position permanently.
Suddenly, with few resources, no formal business education and a small staff, Juneau began to learn day by day how best to balance the work of running a nonprofit while developing a better business model for the organization.
Juneau says the biggest challenge was having enough confidence to know she was doing the right thing.
“That is my internal challenge, to truly believe that I am a business-woman,” Juneau says.
It was her willingness to take a chance—even if it meant making a mistake along the way—that she credits with allowing her to realize the vision of The Emerge Center.
In 2010, recognizing the area’s need for more services, Juneau began working to build up community support for the foundation. In addition, she saw the need for a rebranding effort to better convey the role that BRSHF has played and would play in the community.
Out of these successful initiatives, she and her team launched a capital campaign in January 2012 that raised $7 million dollars in 18 months to expand services of BRSHF through the construction of The Emerge Center.
“It is a balancing act in a nonprofit,” Juneau says. “The challenge is how to balance that delicate walk that you know people need your services but you have to be sustainable.”
Under Juneau’s leadership, her board of directors, staff, and donors—working together with volunteers and the community—successfully rebranded the BRSHF into The Emerge Center, while building a stronger business model to allow for increased access to services.
“You have to take a chance. You have to believe enough to take that chance to realize that this great place is possible,” Juneau says.
With The Emerge Center now open and running, Juneau is already looking forward to the next chapter for the organization.
With new opportunities to research effective treatments through the expansion of collaborative partners, she hopes to see The Emerge Center’s services do just that: emerge into the Baton Rouge community and expand beyond it in the next five years.
“You have to vision forward,” Juneau says. “If we didn’t have a vision, we wouldn’t have had this.”