(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two of a five-part series on the first cohort of the 100Knoxville initiative. The first article spotlighted Sterling Henton. The remaining three articles will be published over the next few weeks. Cohort 2 of 100Knoxville begins in early July.)
By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA
For Reuben Mitchell, the NACI Construction Management Inc. wasn’t so much about starting a company as it was a way to give back to the community he loves.
In fact, NACI is “I can” backwards, and is inspired by the many children Mitchell works with in his other venture, the Love-H.O.P.E. Academy, a behavior modification program for at-risk youth. He works in the program to challenge kid’s brains.
“I would always tell the kids when they say, ‘I can’t do something,’ I would say just repeat NACI,” Mitchell said.
NACI is a construction company. As part of the 100Knoxville program’s $5,000 grant, Mitchell is building a new website that will include details on the various certifications he has. This will be “multifunctional,” he said, because it will show his certifications, and also explain what each one is and how it could apply to a project. He also hopes to include videos of various “do it yourself” projects on the site. Learn more about the 5x5x5x5 program in this teknovation.biz article.
The connections he made through 100Knoxville and working with City Councilmember Tommy Smith have been fruitful. Mitchell will be working with a developer in Knoxville to build an affordable housing project, which has the potential to transform his company completely. He also partnered with a church to house a training facility for NACI workers and joined a CO.STARTERS for Contractors group.
As a small business owner, Mitchell was doing all the work for the business. He would often miss out on contracts because he saw the email too late, he said. The grant from 100Knoxville has also enabled him to hire an administrative staff member to take over some of that work in the future. Mitchell said it’s his hope to do more hiring in the community, specifically with the youth with whom he works.
The idea for NACI came to be after working with many of the teenagers at Love-H.O.P.E. Mitchell would ask these kids what they wanted to do, and they’d answer they wanted to build things. So, he started NACI not only to give kids an outlet to build things and learn trade skills, he also had a goal of teaching kids entrepreneurship.
“When a kid tells me their vision, their dream, I don’t knock it down,” Mitchell said. “I try to encourage a lot of parents, don’t knock down the dream of a child. If they say want to fly to the moon, encourage them.”
Many of these values were instilled in Mitchell by his father, who raised 25 children on his own with a sixth-grade education. “(He taught us) to be self-sufficient. He always wanted us to use our minds and our hands,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell’s grandfather was an escaped slave who went from Pennsylvania to Alcoa and worked as a remedy doctor. He eventually started a compounding company, Mitchell said. Compounding is the process of mixing or altering pharmaceutical drugs to be tailored to a specific patient. His father would continue to follow in that tradition, but also was a builder, Mitchell said.
Mitchell began working with his father at age seven. Although he joked he hated it at the time, Mitchell was able to meet the company behind the design of the 1982 World’s Fair Park. This was where he began to learn about construction. He would watch different tradespeople doing work.
“He would make me stand there and watch them, take notes, and then mimic what they did until I actually conquered it,” Mitchell said. “That’s where the love of using my hands came from.”
For Mitchell, it was important to be a leader in his community. Kids look up to you, and repeat what you do, he said. He tries to take the lessons he teaches kids at both Love-H.O.P.E. and NACI and apply it back to their lives. Many of these kids were given up on, Mitchell said. But after working with him they have turned their lives around and gone on to join the military, start businesses, gone to nursing school, or become police officers. He hopes that the community will “stop throwing these people away.”
“I like to give back and I love to see them prosper,” he said.