Diversified, Norris earn Philly DoGooders distinction

An inaugural competition honored
 a pair of Point Breeze-based
 entities for their altruism.

Scottish poet Robert Burns noted in 1785 that “The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry,” and 228 years later, Christopher Norris is altering that sentiment by succeeding at endeavors he had never envisioned attempting.

The 26-year-old entrepreneur received his latest unexpected honor Feb. 21, as the Philly DoGooders competition dubbed him an “Emerging Leader” for founding and heading Techbook Online Corp., an integrated Internet, multi-media publishing and sustainable marketing and news organization. It also commended Diversified Community Services, 1529 S. 22nd St., for a video on Western Learning Center, 1613 South St., a 42-year-old childcare center under its direction.

“The news came completely out of left field,” the resident of 18th and Dickinson streets said last week of the distinction as one of five thriving young contributors to and catalysts for social growth. “From it, I’m hoping to establish relationships that will grow organically and continue to spark discussions on the power of education and collaboration.”

With no elaborate multi-media background prior to Techbook’s 2009 formation, the Point Breeze figure and alumnus of Smith Academics Plus, 1900 Wharton St., had felt music, particularly drumming, would become his vocation, but his rapid rise led professional contacts to nominate him for commendation from DoGooders. The contest, a division of a national, YouTube-backed challenge gauging the creative and effective use of video to promote the nonprofit sector, included irony for Norris, whose participation involved no video element.

“I began Techbook with one basic question, how can technology better help you succeed in school and in life,” he said of aligning himself with Philly In Focus, a local video and interactive media network supporting efforts to strengthen the city’s local content. “As I’ve added allies, I’ve published for a number of entities, including Comcast, and am in discussions with World Wrestling Entertainment [Inc.] personnel to shoot a promo video when they come to town on March 25 at the Wells Fargo Center, [3601 S. Broad St.,] to tout their WrestleMania Reading Challenge.”

A member of what he termed a frequently “crowded and turbulent field,” Norris has sought to unite his educational leanings with global government offices to craft an interactive cultural understanding. He furthered his area outreach two years ago by forming Joint Unification Structures That Integrate Creativity into Education, a coalition of corporations, educators and nonprofts providing educational options to assist teachers, empower students through project learning and to change the overall structure of business. Though DoGooders, which over five months judged entries from 96 nonprofits for the five contested categories, endowed him with kudos for his latest love and will help his networking aims by offering in-kind services such as content promotion and recognition during next month’s national volunteer week reception. Norris, who runs Techbook from Center City’s The Philadelphia Building, hopes his initial interest will yield more connections.

The self-taught drummer is studying the physiological benefits of his pastime and, true to his secondary pursuits, is leveraging that effort with educational videos. With his impending WWE meeting and participation in a video-based drumless drumming competition whose results will come out next month, Norris soon could consider his spring as fruitful as his winter, which includes winning Brother of the Year from The Brothers’ Network — an organization geared toward helping black men to gain the power to define themselves in an environment of humanity, support, respect and intellectual stimulation.

“I don’t think my candle burns less because I help people to light theirs,” he said. “My honor is a testament to serving because when you generally want to see other people succeed, the universe works for you.”

Since its 1968 incorporation, Diversified has come to reign as Point Breeze’s largest community-based organization, with nearly 8,000 children, youths, adults and families receiving counseling, economic, educational and housing assistance. Its early education focus, complete with concentration on promoting each child’s cognitive, creative, emotional, physical and social development, has bred the Dixon Learning Academy, 2201 Moore St., and Western, the latter inspiring the two-minute clip that claimed a third-place Viewer’s Choice Award in the competition.

“We were surprised because there were so many good groups,” first-year executive director Otis Bullock Jr. said Monday of meriting renown for the piece titled “Western Learning Center: They’ll Have a Ball. “Needless to say, we’re still very excited.”

Learning of the opportunity to submit through its partnership with the United Way, Diversified made use of what Bullock tabbed “the most creative” among five promotional videos they had commissioned. In it, a racially diverse set of youngsters watches as a large red ball courses through the building. As it does, viewers glimpse many of the site’s 90 enrollees engaging in art, creative movement and music. At the conclusion, a girl picks up the ball and joins a circle of her peers before throwing it in the air to serve as a metaphor for the elevated sense of hope that Bullock and second-year center director Tynnetta Beyah wish to inspire.

“All our children receive exposure to the same character-building, thought-provoking activities,” Bullock, whose core bunch consists of 13-month-olds to 5-year-olds and whose secondary crop includes 6- to 12-year-olds in afterschool enrichment programs and a summer camp, said of the curriculum, which promotes self-control, respect and responsibility.

That is not to say it leaves no room for fun, as a few 3-year-olds in a Head Start classroom demonstrated Monday by matching letters with vivid pictures.

“We have multiple stations for activity, and the children know to visit each one when they want to express themselves,” Beyah, particularly thrilled to have a new library for their eager minds, said.

Like Norris, who has worked with Diversified by giving drumming lessons at Smith, Bullock looks forward to the in-kind services to aid marketing and communication campaigns.

“Western’s neighborhood has changed from a troubled one into an upwardly mobile, professional-heavy spot,” he said. “DoGooders is going to help us to go from being the best-kept secret to not being a secret at all.”

Original Article: South Philly Review, Joseph Myers

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