**FILE** Courtesy of wacif.org
**FILE** Courtesy of wacif.org

The Washington Area Community Investment Fund, Inc. (Wacif) has received the 2019 Lighting the Way award from the SunTrust Foundation in recognition of its efforts to strengthen local communities.

As an award recipient, Wacif joined 35 other nonprofit organizations from the Southeast and Midwest, for grants totaling $2.7 million. SunTrust Foundation also provides award winners with a $75,000 grant and advanced professional development through a full day Master’s Series conference.

“Wacif’s commitment to driving equity and opportunity is at the center of our work,” said Wacif Executive Director Harold Pettigrew. “The growth of the Ascend Capital Accelerator reflects the increased demand for knowledge and financial capital among entrepreneurs and communities across the region. The SunTrust Foundation shares our commitment to making these investments, and we are thankful both for this recognition and for their partnership in advancing our mission.”

Stan Little, SunTrust Foundation president, said the foundation is proud to recognize and support local nonprofit partners that empower and strengthen the communities they serve.

“Wacif is making a meaningful impact with their programs to improve the financial well-being of the people who need it most,” Little said.

In 2017, Wacif launched the Ascend Capital Accelerator as a solution to a gap in the small business ecosystem of programs available to assist non-tech, high-growth entrepreneurs seeking to grow their ventures.

This competitive, multi-week, cohort-based program builds the capacity of underserved entrepreneurs to secure new opportunities, access capital, and ultimately grow their businesses.

An example of the program’s impact from the most recent data gathered showed an average revenue increase of $250,000 per business in the months following graduation from the program.

As of August, 52 entrepreneurs have graduated from the program, including 43 entrepreneurs of color, representing a broad array of industries from general contracting, to hospitality, information technology, media, engineering, health care and more. Gender diversity is another intentional feature of the program’s design, with women representing 62 percent of program participants.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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