L. Danyetta Najoli is a community builder for Starfire. After speaking with her over a cup of coffee recently, I was quickly absorbed by her genuine passion and commitment to make the lives of others in our community better through her role at Starfire. More about Starfire later, but first let’s get to know a bit of the journey that brought Danyetta here.
Growing up in Harlem
Growing up in Harlem, Danyetta and her family certainly had challenges. Both her parents had passed by the time she was six. She, and her two older sisters, were raised by her uncle and her grandfather (who she affectionately calls “Grindaddy”). Danyetta explains, “being part of a neighborhood that has been forsaken for so long sometimes causes us to lean on each other as a collective community. But growing up in Harlem was such a wonderful experience. I learned that family and community stick together. I also learned that sometimes life is unfair, but you have a choice in how you respond to things that life deals to you.”
Live by example:
Danyetta’s Grindaddy was part of The Great Migration and he found an appreciation for life that was hard for others to ignore, especially Danyetta. Grindaddy treated life as a gift. He was an example of kindness to all he met, even in the face of adversity. As a train porter he was in constant contact with people and frequently commented on how he had such a good experience doing his job and relating to other people. “I realized that my Grindaddy chose to see the best version of people in any situation. I have embraced that attitude and it has been a big influence in why I love people.”
Are you happy?
“At 25 I was doing well in corporate business but feeling less and less fulfilled. I could see clearly that my direction was not taking me to a destination that I desired, which is when I asked myself a question that my Grindaddy would frequently ask me, “Are you happy?” Since I answered no, I decided to take a leap of faith and leave the corporate world. Feeling that I had a gift and a desire for helping others, I moved in a direction which led to working with people with disabilities, part time at first. Working with and being of service in this capacity sparked joy in me. I had the space to earn my master’s degree in organizational leadership and entered into a world of helping people with disabilities acclimate from institutions to independence. I know that any relationship is strengthened by getting to know the other person and I know what it means to have support from my beloved community!”
So, what is Starfire?
If you haven’t heard of Starfire, they are worth learning more about. Starfire is a visionary organization working to build better lives for people with disabilities. This caring team understands that people with disabilities typically grow increasingly lonely and isolated as adults. To combat that loneliness, Starfire focuses on working with one person and their family at a time.
As a community builder, Danyetta facilitates connections of people toward relationshipsin order to uncover a person’s talents and passions, so they can thrive in their communities alongside their neighbors. This connection gives the person an ideal opportunity to thrive in their communities.She says, “I believe that people are strengthened by being connected to other people based on ties, like common talents, interest, passions, strengths, neighborhoods, and positive affiliations.” Danyetta’s efforts are backed by a sincere desire to help people be the best version of themselves.
Danyetta and her team at Starfire are truly doing great things for our community. Grindaddy would be very proud!
Just for fun:
Q: Why is Starfire different?
A: Traditional care methods can sometimes accentuate a disability by overcompensating for it, thus shining a light on it. We find that best scenarios are the ones where we partner with each person, uncover their talents and help them find ways to grow in a meaningful way. By connecting them to other people and relationships we can effectively reduce or eliminate the feeling of loneliness and isolation. It then becomes a relationship that is not about Starfire or even about the individual, but about each other, creating a different social narrative and changing the trajectory of someone’s life.
Q: How does a community builder help build relationships?
A: It starts by recognizing what opportunities might naturally exist for the person to build relationships. Somehow, I can see connective webs of relationships all the time. It comes naturally to me and I love using this skill to benefit people.
Q: Tell me more about your community in Harlem.
A: I had a lot of loving support. My Grindaddy was my master coach. My uncle was my moral guide. My godmother, Dianne McIntyre taught me to use dance as an expression. Dance was a great outlet for me. My grandmother taught me business skills as well.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Cincinnati? What do you love there?
Incline house – best view in the city. Try the tater tots!
Q: How long have you lived or worked in Cincinnati?
A: Since 2007.
Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in your community? Who would you like to see nominated as a Face of Cincinnati?
A: Tim Vogt – Starfire.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be, and why?
A: The Outer Banks. We recently went there for a summer vacation and my kids loved it!
Q: What is your favorite movie.
A: Anything with Angela Bassett.
Q: What advice would you give a crowd of people?
A: Take the time to discover what gives you the greatest amount of joy and design your life around it.
Q: What is something on your bucket list?
A: Learn how to play the piano.
Q: What local business makes you the most nostalgic about Cincinnati?
A: Fountain Square.
Q: Aside from your relatives, what current figure would you choose to have lunch with?
A: Toni Morrison – I am intrigued by her. Also, the author James Weldon Johnson who wrote “The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man” which is a book about is the fictional account of a young biracial man living in post-Reconstruction era America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Q: What 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
A: Love, Rest, Comfort.
Q: What do you do for you?
A: I give myself permission to read; to be mindful; to be still.
I love practicing mindfulness and being present and can tell when I need to revisit.
Q: What do you want people who read this to take away?
A: I am hopeful that when people read this, they realize that I am just trying to make a positive difference as best I can; to fulfill God’s plan for my life through friendships and relationships.
“When I realized that each of us need a little help from time to time, I knew that this is exactly what I should be doing!”
Besides her role at Starfire, Danyetta is a personal coach, author, and eternal hope broker.