A Wilmington native, Herring’s work in the Riverside community is an ambitious mix of new housing, support services, and educational opportunities that seek to raise up a new generation of residents. In 2016, he started as the Executive Director of KCC. Less than two years later, he was chosen to run REACH (Redevelopment Education & Community Health) Riverside, a new non-profit community development corporation created to revitalize the neighborhood as a member of the national Purpose Built Communities
model. Goals include over 600 units of mixed-income housing and a new Kingswood Community Center.
"With such a new program, to be acknowledged by this award feels like we are being recognized as the “nonprofit of the year”—for the accomplishments of the whole team, and the work we do,” says Herring. “I’m honored, and when I heard about it, I was somewhat surprised because Delaware is the “capital of nonprofits,” and there are a lot of great nonprofits in our community.”
“REACH is a huge undertaking. It includes a substantial level of investment that is going into the most impoverished neighborhood in Wilmington, and one of the neediest in our country,” notes Herring. “We are utilizing $40 million of public and private funding, on the first two of eight phases of housing to build 141 homes out of a planned 600.” Additional phases are not yet fully funded.
“Kingswood was the foundation for everything—and we decided it was better to work collectively,” explains Herring. “The Kingswood Community Center was founded 75 years ago—but the transformation over the past five years has been in preparation for a $30 million project to build a new state-of-the-art center bringing more resources into this community.” Programs include Early Learning Academy (for ages 1-5), before-, after-school and summer programs for K–12 students, Jimmy Jenkins Senior Center, and the Kingswood Academy alternative school for grades 7–12.
REACH’s first initiative was The Warehouse, a co-working facility and network “for teens, by teens” (for ages 13-19), designed to address violence, academic performance, and workforce readiness. Wilmington youth now have access to more than 150 teen-focused program and service providers. Capital One donated the 43,000 square foot former Prestige Academy building and The Warehouse invested $3M in renovations to transform it into a modern, open-floor concept space.
“The pandemic has torn the cover off the needs of our community. It put leadership to the test—to navigate and meet the needs,” reflects Herring. “We realized during this pandemic that we had to step into that gap and fill it.
“When the pandemic started, the entire country latched onto the reality that communities, particularly of color, weren’t doing well. At REACH, we started numerous initiatives including raising $500,000 in funds to distribute cash to families in need. We basically started our own five-month stimulus program. We offered free COVID testing & screening through a ChristianaCare partnership. We partnered with the Department of Labor to help people sign up for the GED and their workforce program. We distributed 400 Chromebooks to students and families, plus household supplies and face masks.”
“To support our families, we served 15,000 meals with partners including the Food Bank of Delaware and others. And we worked with the U.S. Census to increase participation from 60% to 84%, which can help increase funding for the community.”
“The mission of REACH Riverside is to eliminate the barriers of structural racism, identify what the oppression and barriers have been over time, and systematically break them down -- and at the same time, build our community up.”
What drives Herring to succeed? “First, this is my community. I grew up in West Center City with a single mother. To be exposed to opportunities by Sanford, play sports, go to college in Baltimore, visit Washington, D.C., and see what was possible -- I was always inspired to come back to the community and pay it back with the opportunities that I had. The people in my community need to have a better path forward in life. Second is my son (age 4)—and all the barriers that he will have to confront.”
His career path was also inspired by his nephew. “In 2005, I founded Delaware Elite, a non-profit organization that mentored student athletes, with my best friend Eugene Young and my brother Shannon Watson,” explains Herring. For ten years he was the executive director and used basketball “as a carrot” to give students the life skills they need.
Reflecting on his early opportunities: “I wasn’t the best basketball or soccer player around but I used it as a tool to allow me to play collegiate sports, to travel internationally, and hone my leadership skills as captain on both the basketball and soccer teams. When I came back to Delaware and some of the best basketball players didn’t have the positive experiences that I had, I said, “We have to do something.”
Of his role on the coaching squad for Sanford’s 2021 State Champion Boys Basketball team he says, “It gives me a greater perspective on overall life. Six months of the year, I’m working with young high school men in the field. It’s an opportunity to teach life skills. I use basketball and soccer as tools to help students learn how to approach life. The important question: what will these young men’s lives look like when the ball stops bouncing? It keeps me grounded in the work that I do on a daily basis.”
“For the most part, it’s a tale of two worlds—from one of Delaware’s most dis-invested communities (70% of children in Riverside live below the poverty line) and Sanford in Hockessin, one of the most affluent communities.”
“Sanford has embraced every walk of life and supported youth in all areas—academic, athletic, artistic and more,” notes Herring. “Leadership recognizes leadership. I have confidence in Mark Anderson (Head of School) and the school for meeting the needs of its students. Sanford supports REACH. They have collaborated with us to help families adopt other families at Christmas and Thanksgiving, for example.”
Herring holds a BA from Goucher College and a Non-Profit Leadership certificate from Boston College. He was recognized by the Delaware Business Times for the 40 Under 40 class of 2018 and as one of DelawareOnline’s 2021 Most Influential Delawareans. He serves on the Board of Directors for ChristianaCare Health System, Leadership Delaware, Community Education Building, and Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County. His professional associations include the Delaware Business Roundtable and the Delaware State University College of Agriculture and Science Technology External Advisory Board.
The WRK Group empowers the community to reach its full potential by eliminating the barriers of structural racism and revolutionizing teen engagement. REACH Riverside and the Kingswood Community Center are located at 2300 Bowers Street, Wilmington, Delaware. The Warehouse is located at 1121 Thatcher Street, Wilmington, Delaware. Visit WRKGroup.org and view this video: https://youtu.be/QH98LIp1SOQ
to learn more.