When Leslie Lytle opened her first massage therapy business in Richmond in the late 1980s, the practice was still illegal in the city. To protect their own livelihood, Leslie and fellow massage therapists — who at that point she could “count on one hand” — worked to change the law.
It’s no surprise, then, that she’s been described as a “pioneer”.
Leslie went on to work as a prenatal yoga instructor, a doula, and a childbirth educator. She founded OmMama, a successful for-profit business, to teach prenatal and postpartum yoga, and eventually to train yoga teachers in that field. Leslie taught over 3,000 women through OmMama, but a series of life events caused her to reconsider her path. In 2011, Leslie decided to put her entrepreneurial skills to work in the nonprofit sector, addressing the spectrum of maternity needs through the launch of a nonprofit maternity center. Now serving as Executive Director of Nurture, Leslie recently sat down to tell us about her nonprofit story and the process of launching Nurture.
“I like connecting people with resources and watching those connections grow. Over the years, what’s been really important to me is working from a model of empowerment, particularly in the childbirth arena, where people are moving into a new role in their lives. Providing tools that help them figure that out has been extremely important to me, so that they’re successful and that they feel like they have what they need to get the job done. This was a big piece of what inspired me to start Nurture.
“On top of that, I’d always enjoyed the people I met in the nonprofit world—I felt like, ‘I’ve met my ‘peeps’’. Being around folks whose motivation is primarily mission-driven, instead of profit-driven, was really key in my decision to switch sectors. But, having come from a small business, or a small group practice background, I’m very entrepreneurial.
“It all started in 2011, when I was going through a soul searching process, and I put out a call in my business newsletter to see if anyone would be interested in exploring the concept of a nonprofit maternity center. I got a huge response! That fall, I started thinking, ‘I think I’m ready for a career shift.’ I knew about NLP from programs I’d previously done while working at Retreat Hospital, and decided to start seriously taking classes.
Simultaneously, Leslie got to work with a team of enthusiastic volunteers. They successfully filed for 501(c)(3) exempt status in the summer of 2012.
“There was a constant feedback loop between the information I was learning at NLP and the discussions that we were having at our board meetings. That’s when Nurture really got its start.
“We used the classes like templates for each stage of development. For example, I took an event planning class in 2012. We used the information from the class to build a template for our first public event, which was the workshop we did in 2013 on perinatal loss. That event was a success because of the guidance that I received in that class. NLP provided structural tools and information that helped us shape things in a very solid way from the get go.
“The knowledge that you need when you’re first starting a nonprofit is not always very accessible. It’s helpful to have a source for the little details to help you dot your i’s and cross your t’s.”
In 2012, Leslie successfully applied to NLP’s Emerging Nonprofit Leaders program, expanding her network and reach within the sector.
“Having participated in Emerging Nonprofit Leaders, and the classes…I know that there are people out there who have my back. Who I can go to with questions or concerns or if I need to bounce ideas off people. It’s very reassuring to know that there’s a place like NLP where people have resources and can either answer your questions, or help explore your questions with you. I just don’t think Nurture would be as far along as we are without the guidance we’ve received.
“I’d like to think that in five to seven years, we will have built an organization that is sustainable. I want to help create an organization that can succeed and thrive beyond its founder and beyond its founding board.”
After working extensively in the public and for-profit sectors, Leslie hasn’t looked back on her decision to transition to the nonprofit sector.
“There’s such a huge need. I see firsthand that a lot of our citizens don’t have access to the full range of resources that we have in our community, and I think that the nonprofit sector is the one that’s really addressing that issue creatively and flexibly. If we’re successful at what we’re doing, we may be able to address issues that are challenging some of the bigger governmental agencies.
“Taking classes at NLP has made me consider things that I might not have considered otherwise. A lot of what goes on at NLP is networking, class conversations, and the sharing of ideas. To have a focal point for those conversations is critically important to the nonprofit sector.
“Maybe other communities have programs like NLP as well, but I’m just sure glad that we have it here in Richmond.”
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