May 16, 2012 Neil Benjamin Jr. Uncategorized
Though Steve Susman has retired as executive director of the Westcott Community Center, the place has a new person in charge.
And Susman believes he’s the perfect person for the job.
Olan Mack, a 44-year-old born in the Bronx and raised in Manhattan, has taken Susman’s place at the head. He has quite the resume in the realm of community service, as his most recent position was of the same name at the Southside Community Center in Ithaca, a spot he held for just less than seven years.
He’s basically dedicated his life to serving his community.
“I’m big into helping those who may be less fortunate,” Mack said. “I believe in the saying, ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ I’m blessed.
“We’ve all stumbled and made mistakes before.”
Southside was a place, Mack said, that used to be traditionally an African American center, but that has changed over the years. It now serves the entire community with a food pantry, a variety of senior programs, an after-school program and a hot food program.
During the interview process, Susman spent a few hours with Mack, and he knew right away that Mack was the person to replace him.
“I felt like I was talking to myself,” Susman said. “We think alike, and I think that’s going to help the Westcott going forward.”
Mack echoed that sentiment.
“Me and Steve are kindred spirits,” he said. “We see a lot of things the same way and we’re both committed to serving the community. The work environment needs to be an extension of the home environment – we need to be uplifting and supportive on so many levels.”
Since the start of May, Mack has been splitting his time between Southside and the Westcott, but will become full-time in a few weeks. He’s been meeting with Susman and other heads of the Westcott regularly in hopes of being settled soon.
Mack has ties to Syracuse, as he attended Syracuse University for a period. He has lived in the city for years, making the trek to Ithaca daily. Now his drive shortens down to mere minutes, but that had no factor in his move. He really just wanted to come here and give back to the Syracuse community.
Mack used to own a bar in the city, before he tried his hand in the restaurant industry with House of Soul, an upscale ethnic restaurant. It was focused around traditional African American food, but aimed at serving the entire community.
He has worked with Syracuse Community Health Center as a helper in public relations, where he put many projects together. One that stands out to him has to do with his going out and educating everyone from jail inmates to your neighbor about the risks of HIV and AIDS.
His career steered him to Aids Community Resources in the city, where he continued to educate about the deadly virus.
“The best thing about being in the human services field is that it all comes from a non-judgmental perspective. It doesn’t matter what anyone did; they’re all human,” he said.
He’s also worked at Offender Aid and Restoration, where he would go into prisons and educate inmates on the dangers of HIV/AIDS and how to prevent the spread. He provided the inmates with reading material he thought could help them.
“I wanted the inmates to be doing something that wasn’t nothing,” he said.
He said his time at the Westcott has been wonderful so far.
“Steve and the board have given me a great foundation, and I intend to build upon it,” he said. “I want to solidify funding for programs and expand on those programs.”
Before he can do that, he says he needs to finish some research.
“I need to see what the community’s needs and desires are,” he said. “Then we can work on seeing what else we can offer.”
He called this his “dream job,” but he never envisioned himself as a community center director when he was working his way to the top.
Mack said he wanted to help others and provide services.
“This is the path,” he said.