By Virginia Grant
Gainesville Black Professionals, Inc.
“I show up every day for the girls.”, states Natalya Bannister as she passionately talks about her role as Executive Director of PACE Center for Girls Alachua. Natalya was identified as a leader early in life. Even before the age of ten, her parents, teachers and most anyone that met her saw something special in her. She had a natural ability to defend any point and was an advocate for things that she was passionate about.
Everyone, including Natalya expected her to become a lawyer. To begin her career in law she enrolled at the University of Florida to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Family, Youth and Community Science. While approaching graduation she began studying for the LSAT and decided to volunteer at the local Boys & Girls club as a practicum for her specialization in youth development.
While volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club, Natalya recognized her true passion was to serve underprivileged youth. “It completely changed my life. This was something that I had to do. I took a huge risk.”
According to Natalya, taking risks is a trait of great leadership. She also believes that leaders are accountable and look for opportunities to gain more responsibilities.
Which is exactly what she did at the Boys & Girls Club. Her first full time position there was in community outreach and each year she asked for more and more responsibility. Not always getting compensated for these extra responsibilities she states that she just wanted to learn as much as she could. This desire to learn and master skills eventually led to her promotion to Vice President of Operations, all while continuing her education at the University of Florida and obtaining her Masters Degree in Health Education and Behavioral Science.
As her love for the Boys and Girls Club grew, so did Natalya’s love for Gainesville. She remembers, “Gainesville became very dear to my heart after learning how compassionate people are about helping the youth here.” She was confident she would continue her career at the Boys and Girls club for many years to come until she was asked to interview for the position of Executive Director for the PACE Center, she recalls this as a pivotal point in her career. “I remember the girls interviewed me, it was an instant connection – they needed me, and I needed them.”
As a leader at the PACE Center, Natalya feels responsible for building an effective culture, a culture that allows her staff to thrive, enjoy what they do and be in a caring atmosphere that is also results oriented.
According to Natalya, it is important to build a team that is loyal to the mission and to carrying out that mission every day. Succession planning is just as important says the Executive Director. Cultivating from within and supporting staff in their growth is vital, she says, “It is critical to have a team that has different strengths that complement one another. Team members need to have opportunities to grow to their fullest potential.”
After spending some time with Ms. Bannister it is evident that she shows up everyday for her students, her staff and her community. Not afraid to take risks, she possesses a unique leadership style that combines advocacy, passion and love for community.