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An Insight to the PDO Journey

Published By: Majdulina Hamed

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A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. An example of a true leader is exemplified by Ebraheem Naser, a graduate student at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy. Naser is no stranger when it comes to being involved with his community. In an interview with the former President of Project Downtown Orlando, Naser describes his experience, inspiration, goals, and challenges he encountered.

When asked about his journey and how he started PDO, Naser reveals that the idea of this organization coming together to provide services to help unsheltered individuals resonated with him. So much so, in fact, he reveals that “I knew I had the special opportunity to not only provide an impact on the unsheltered population in Central Florida, but also to unite a group of valiant leaders and selfless individuals through service. Project Downtown has fostered the most supportive community for so many people, myself included.”  Additionally, he also states that “as an active and experienced volunteer, the previous leader of PDO, Muhammad Adam, offered to pass on the reins to me. In order to best accomplish the mission and unleash the potential impact we could have, I decided to form the official Project Downtown Orlando Inc. 501c3 Non-profit organization (NPO) as well as form a Board of Directors early in 2019.”

With great power comes great responsibility. And as a great leader knows, you must have vision, goals, and a mission statement. When asked what his goals and vision for the organization were, Naser replied that the mission has been to provide necessary services to the underserved community in Central Florida. He also reveals that smaller goals were needed to be set in place so that the organization can grow. “Starting with a fundraising goal of $500 and holding biweekly service events was just the beginning. After seeing how quickly the community engaged with PDO, the vision changed drastically. At this point, I had optimistically envisioned the organization years into the future with tens of thousands in funding, expanding on our food assistance program by adding education, mentorship, and public health initiatives.” And after three years, Naser has not only achieved this goal, but he has also successfully surpassed it along with the help of bright leaders by his side as well as the active community in Central Florida.

Although there are several successful moments with PDO, there have also been challenges as well. Naser identified that “the COVID-19 pandemic provided a unique and unprecedented obstacle to overcome just one year after PDO was established. However, in many ways it made it easier to identify the needs of the unsheltered and displaced community at this time.” In addition, to this very day, COVID-19 precautions are taking place at service events to protect volunteers. Even though this was a challenge that the organization faced, it also has strengthened PDO’s leadership team. Safety was Naser’s number one concern while thinking of new ways to provide opportunities for the community to give back. Moreover, when asked if he could have done anything differently from the beginning for PDO, Naser replied that he would have put a bigger emphasis on connecting with other PDO chapters throughout Florida and the country. “This is something that the leadership team was focusing on towards the end of my Presidency and I would have loved to help foster a special group of Project Downtown leaders from all over the country to exchange ideas and improve our national brand.”

Furthermore, strategies to market PDO to potential volunteers and stakeholders proved to be especially useful for the organization. Social media has been a vital tool that PDO uses to engage with potential volunteers, sponsors, and partners. Naser further explains that social media has afforded the organization the ability to connect with other non-profits and have a bigger impact on the community. “Another important strategy was personally reaching out to local schools, organizations, and businesses to gather community support. Notably, UCF registered student organizations like Pre-Dental Student Association, Pre-Pharmacy Society, and Muslim Student Association have continuously supported PDO through donations and providing volunteers.” Funding was also very important in order for the organization to grow and get off the ground. When the organization first began, funding for services came purely from donations of community members and volunteers. However, Naser remarked that he and the PDO board made use of the non-profit status and applied for private and government grants and since 2019, most of their services and initiatives are covered by these grants. In fact, Naser further explained that “we’re proud to say the organization has gathered over $50,000 in funding from grants alone since our inception. Project Downtown Orlando is completely volunteer based and 100% of all funds goes towards funding services for the underserved.”

When reminiscing about his time at Project Downtown, Naser said that this experience over the past three years has been life changing. He also mentions that what he enjoyed about PDO is the community. “To me, the essence of PDO is simply giving to others. Some of the most impactful and often overlooked things that PDO volunteers give every week is their time, their conversations, and their smiles.” Naser reflects his time with PDO with fond memories and indicates that bringing volunteers a sense of normalcy, safety, and community is essential especially during these unprecedented times. But despite the pandemic, Naser is confident that the new leadership team has bright and new ideas for the future. Three years ago, when envisioning the future of PDO, Naser could not have foreseen or predicted all the wonderful opportunities and initiatives that have been developed. For now, he personally, would love to see “Project Downtown Orlando mobile trailers or food trucks to augment the current services and initiatives present today. The opportunities are truly endless.” And although he is stepping down from being President of PDO, he has plans, as a Board of Trustees member, that he is working on for long-term initiatives and partnerships. In his personal life, Naser is in his final year of pharmacy school at UF and is eager to implement the lessons he has learned during PDO in his career. He will also continue advocating for better public health resources to be allocated for low-income communities. And finally, when asked about if he has any advice for anyone who wants to get involved with Project Downtown, he stated that “Project Downtown is an extremely easy organization to become involved in. Follow the social media @pdoofficial to know when and where each of the services are being held. Share with your friends or make friends at the events! Leadership opportunities also periodically open up to join our leadership committee and board to have a behind-the-scenes look at how all of this is possible.”

About the author
Majdulina Hamed
Majdulina Hamed is a Master’s Health Administration graduate from the University of Central Florida. Maj also received her Bachelor’s degree in Human Communication from UCF as well as certificates in Health Communication and Leadership. Maj’s goals include public health education through health campaigns, initiatives, marketing, and communication.

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