MEET OUR TEAM
Chief Executive Officer
Growing up in Houston's Kashmere Gardens and Sunnyside neighborhoods, Jarvis Taylor was surrounded by men and women that used their wisdom and creativity to make these communities home for all. Their commitment to these historical African-American neighborhoods left an indelible impression on him and inspired him to choose community development as his life's work.
In 1999, at the age of 17, he led efforts to bring community and brotherhood to formerly incarcerated men living in a transitional home in Kashmere Gardens and a Back-to-School Drive for families in Acres Homes. He is forever indebted to the New Life Tabernacle Church for allowing him to develop his community outreach skills at such an early age.
After his discharge from the Navy, Jarvis continued his service to the community through youth leadership development and providing supportive services to our homeless neighbors in Southeast Houston. In 2015 he founded Project College Counseling, now Project Canvas. This organization equips underserved youth with the tools and support to participate in social action projects and continue their development at their best-fit college. In 2017, Jarvis became the Executive Director of Crossroads at Park Place a homeless services provider to more than 1000 people experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty in Southeast Houston.
Jarvis received a Bachelor of Science in Christian Leadership from the College of Biblical Studies-Houston. He earned an MBA from Texas A&M University-Commerce, where his capstone project focused on competition among Texas public university systems. In 2018, Jarvis earned the Rice University Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives (LINE) certificate at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.
Jarvis is a member of and affiliated with the following organizations:
- American Association of Service Coordinators (AASC) and the Texas Chapter
- Texas Association of Community Development Corporations (TACDC)
- Houston Housing Collaborative
Jarvis enjoys having a stimulating conversation over a good cup of coffee.
Vice President of Operations
Keleigh Hardesty is the Vice President of Operations for Empower Community Development Corporation. She specializes in business strategy and the implementation of efficient operations and processes. Growing up in Orange, Texas, she learned the importance of community and her current position with Empower allows her to fuel her passion, which is giving back to underserved communities through education, goal setting, goal attainment, and the promotion of self-reliance.
Keleigh received a Bachelor of Art in Business Administration from Lamar University. She earned a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology from Capella University as well as a certification in Entrepreneurial Studies from Harvard Business School Online.
In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, volunteering, and interior design.
Vice President of Real Estate Development
As Vice President of Real Estate Development, Mr. William H. Merrick is responsible for building the overall development program for Empower CDC including affordable and market-rate housing, acquisition activities, single-family, multi-family, and commercial development and long-term strategic visioning. During his decade-long career, he has managed dozens of large-scale industrial and residential projects in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and has extensive professional experience in land and community development efforts. Mr. Merrick holds college degrees and certifications in architecture, construction management, and community development & rehabilitation. He has previously been or is currently a member of the Urban Land Institute, Texas Association of Community Development Corporations, Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation, the Houston Housing Collaborative and various economic development organizations.
Prior to joining the staff of Empower CDC, Mr. Merrick served on the organization’s board of directors and was vice president of the board until stepping down. As a board member, William was instrumental in developing several on-going programs, including Empower’s Senior Home Rehabilitation program which allows our community’s most vulnerable residents to age in place.
Raised by a single mother in Natchez, MS, William experienced first-hand how difficult it is for certain demographics to attain generational financial stability through home ownership. This fueled his passion for affordable home development and general community improvement.
In his downtime, Mr. Merrick can be found gardening or playing sports with his family.
Director of Programs
Lashundria Penny Small
La'Shundria Penny Small is a Houston Native from Sunnyside of the South Park community. She graduated from the University of Houston-Downtown with her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Criminal Justice. Associates in Arts from Houston Community College in 2017. “It’s the ART side of me that has my passion blooming to keep working and helping communities reach their full potential.”
She has assisted the College of Public Service Department in supporting 70 UHD/H.E.A.R.T Students with Intellectual Disabilities to graduate with their Continuing Education Certificate at UHD since 2017. Mrs. Small has mentored and volunteered with many nonprofit organizations over the years.
With over 15 years of dedicated experience in team building and management, Tasia is a dynamic leader known for her exceptional
ability to cultivate cohesive and high-performing teams. Her career has been marked by a passion for fostering collaboration, driving
growth, and maximizing individuals potential within diverse professional settings.
As a seasoned professional, with a variety of certifications in management, leadership, and counseling, Tasia has held pivotal roles that has enabled her to leverage her expertise in leadership development, strategic planning, and effective
communication. Her approach centers on creating inclusive environments that celebrate diversity and harness collective strengths. She obtains strong skills in conflict resolution, motivational leadership, and consensus-building.
Tasia excels in aligning team objectives with organizational goals, streamlining processes, and inspiring team members to exceed
expectations. Her visionary leadership style and knack for identifying and nurturing talent have been instrumental in driving teams towards success.
Outside of her professional commitments, Tasia enjoys personal development activities, working out, and volunteering in her free