By Aiesha Solomon
With more than 30 years of experience with nonprofit organizations, including two in the District — Calvary Women’s Services and the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA — that help women in need, Shannon Mouton knew she was qualified for the position of executive director at Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services. She was “underemployed and unemployed” for several years before the opportunity landed in her lap.
“I looked at the job description and I was like, ‘Oh, I can do that!’ And I applied,” Mouton said. “And one of the things that I shared with the recruiter and the board members who interviewed me is that I’ve actually been doing much of this as a volunteer.”
In February, Mouton began her job as LARS’ first Black executive director. She has broad responsibilities, including hiring, project development and implementation, and fundraising, and she is, as she said, “the chief cook and head bottle washer.”
Mouton described LARS’ mission as assisting “low-income and homeless individuals [by] providing food and financial assistance and support.” LARS runs a food pantry and provides individuals with funds to help with rent, utility and mortgage payments. The organization also offers use of its address to unhomed individuals who need to receive mail. provides identification for people by offering the homeless addresses and postal services; and offers a self-sufficiency program that focuses on family stability, emotional and physical well -being, financial management and education.
Shortly after Mouton stepped into her position, she spearheaded LARS’ annual backpack and school supply drive. Each year, individuals donate backpacks and supplies through Amazon for the drive, but donations were low this year. To make the project work, Mouton needed another plan.
“I sent the team out with the corporate credit card. I said buy the supplies we need. In the meantime, my fundraiser says, ‘Okay, I’m going to put out an email, maybe we can get a couple $1,000,’” Mouton explained. “We put out one email [and] in 48 hours, we had about $5,500. That far covered what I had asked my team to do, and it was just an amazing outpouring from the community.”
Mouton has ambitious goals for the nonprofit. Right off the top, she would like the staff to learn more Spanish.
“The majority of our clients are native Spanish speakers. How does that impact the case managers that we have on board? I have one bilingual case manager. I need to hire another,” Mouton said. “What are some rudimentary Spanish phrases that my team can learn, so that we can communicate with our clients? What does that mean for our signage and our literature? Everything has to be bilingual. You can’t make assumptions anymore, so the goal is to grow the organization to serve the needs and grow in a way that makes a difference.”
“She’s a visionary and she’s really working toward trying to expand the reach of our organization within the community,” said Audrey Vaught, LARS manager of supportive housing, of Mouton.
“I love my job. I love what I do. I am in awe of my staff, the team that I lead,” Mouton said. “They are [an] amazing group of men and women who are dedicated to our mission and the work that we do. The volunteers and donors that we have, blow me away.”