Alecia Brewster is someone of many great qualities, but her drive to do good for the sake of humankind pairs perfectly with her noble nature. In fact, the name ‘Alecia’ means noble-natured, and it is hard to dismiss this when speaking of her ability to live life with a generous and brave outlook.
With a mother from Sumter and a stepfather who served in the military, Alecia spent many years moving around with her younger brother. Yet, years later, after all of the moving, she found herself back in South Carolina.
“It wasn’t always fun moving around because I am an introvert. It was hard to leave friends and make new friends. I’m not naturally the most outspoken person. So it was great I had a younger brother I could stay close to. I felt like I had my buddy there with me. But I didn’t dislike moving completely. It has helped me appreciate change. I’m open to growing and doing different things because of it.”
First, she attended the College of Charleston, which opened up many opportunities for her. She was able to be closer to her family and where her ancestors came from. She truly felt that South Carolina was where she belonged. While at the College of Charleston, Alecia studied elementary education, as she has always loved being around children. Her studies led her to her first job in Greenville SC, which she still calls her home.
“When I was at the College of Charleston, the Greenville people were so proud of being from Greenville – so you just knew who those people were.”
“I figured if I taught school, I’d get the opportunity to get to do a little bit of everything. I have a special love for children, which I think came from my personal experiences of having to leave my own father as a kid. I feel connected to children and it led me to want to teach.”
During her time in Charleston, Alecia was able to experience the community’s rich history. She immediately fell into nonprofit work, starting with the Cannon Street YMCA which is the oldest operating YMCA for African Americans, established after the Civil War in 1866. This nationally historic space kickstarted Alecia’s career in nonprofit work that would eventually bring her to our very own historic Nicholtown community.
“What drew me to Charleston was the history and I love that about Nicholtown. The community has a distinct history that they’re really proud of. I really appreciate how quick they are to place you in that history. Everyone wants to try and fit you in, seek connections, and it feels so welcoming. Especially for someone who didn’t grow up with a huge extended family.”
While living in Greenville, Alecia continued her nonprofit work by managing the youth mentoring program at Goodwill. At that time, coordinators at Sustaining Way were actively seeking partners to connect the youth in Nicholtown with mentors. Alecia facilitated a strong working relationship between Sustaining Way and Goodwill. Not long after being introduced to Rick Joye, founder of Sustaining Way, she filled a position on Sustaining Way’s board, serving for four years.
“Every 2-3 years I’m ready to make a change. I was at Goodwill for 8 years. So it was more than time for me to find a new opportunity. Rick was looking for someone full-time, so it just ended up being a great fit.”
Now, as Sustaining Way’s first Program Director, Alecia gets the opportunity to support all of Sustaining Way’s programs, including advocacy and engagement work. She is responsible for developing ways to help Sustaining Way grow through funding and partnerships, and of course, helping in the garden when she can. With COVID-19 affecting every aspect of Sustaining Way’s operations, she has worked hard to assess and understand where Sustaining Way has the capacity to help the community during this time, from participating in distributing boxes of food and masks to those in need to taking great strides to increase voter participation.
“For me, it’s been a blessing. At the end of the day, our goal is to create a more just and equitable future for everybody. That is what has helped me. Feeling like I am with an organization that shares the same values that I have. I look at this not as a job, but as a calling and a mission. That’s different from most places.”
Alecia has enjoyed learning about sustainability and gardening during her time at Sustaining Way. Despite having little experience with gardening, she is easily excited about the fruits and vegetables that sprout each season.
“I recently got excited about these watermelons that I found. I was so excited about the watermelons that I tried to give them more room to grow and was pulling up everything around them. Apparently, I was pulling up asparagus and not weeds…but you know, it’s apart of growing. With gardening, you’re always learning something new.”
Alecia says she is constantly working towards manifesting the many the ideas she has marinating in her head. She is always trying to embrace the confidence to start an idea, no matter if it is perfectly planned or not.
“The best version of myself is someone that is confident enough to know that if it’s an idea God gave me, then I should feel confident enough to start it. I feel like I’d love to step out in my faith more consistently.”
Perhaps one of Alecia’s most notable perspectives is her newfound ability to see the connections among the natural work Sustaining Way does in the garden and other aspects of life. She recalls a story about the garden’s tomato plants dying. At first, the individual plants were analyzed, but they still did not understand why the plants failed. Soon, they realized it was an issue with the soil. The same tenet holds true for communities. Answers are not always on the surface.
“It’s not just analyzing each plant. If more than one plant isn’t doing well, then maybe we need to look at the soil and the real root of issues. That’s a big part of thinking sustainably.”
Alecia plans to continue learning at Sustaining Way about humanity and climate change so that she can help the team and the community to go beyond surface-level issues.
“If you need to use your gifts, Sustaining Way is a place for you. If you want a mission over a job, then Sustaining Way is the place for you. Overall, I want to do what I was created to do. I want to be who God created me to be. I don’t know who that is fully right now. But every day I seek wisdom to push myself in the right direction.”
-Story captured by Kali Llano