March 11, 2021

Dorcas Patterson

by Dorcas Patterson, Director of Human Relations/Operations & Executive Assistant to CEO

That's the job! There was no question in my mind. I had to apply for the position of Office Operations Manager/Assistant to the CEO. I instinctively knew AAACF was the right employer for me. I wanted to grow and use my experience to support people who share similar values. So naturally, I was thrilled when Neel Hajra, CEO, offered me the position and I started January 4, 2021.

Although my career has taken a winding path, a consistent theme has been my love for nonprofit organizations. With my undergraduate degree in sociology and social policy, I developed a brewing interest in social work and child welfare. However, following some exposure to the profession, I quickly recognized that as a then 20-something, I needed more life experience. Over the next 12 years, I worked as an executive assistant to directors/CEOs in nonprofits, raised my family, and volunteered with shelters and child welfare agencies.

As a transplant to the Ypsilanti community from the U.K., I chose to remain here because my children and I were vested in pursuing our education at Eastern Michigan University. I earned a master's degree in Social Work because I wanted to help children and families reach their potential. At the same time, I became a supervisor for a child-welfare family preservation program across Washtenaw County. The program objective was to reduce the risk of children going into foster care by teaching parents new skills and connecting them to resources.

The outcomes of this program showed that over 95% of children remained in their family homes. Despite the overwhelming success of the program, I continued to witness parents struggle. Many families dealt with generational homelessness and food insecurity. These parents, as children, had left school at an early age to find work to support their siblings and parents. Now without an education, they worked multiple jobs to provide for their children.

Created by systemic inequities, generational poverty makes it difficult for parents to pull themselves up by the bootstraps—especially when they cannot afford the boots in the first place. Across the community, the lack of access to affordable and reliable child care, education, housing, and transportation creates obstacles to success. The added development of a global pandemic means these issues have become more challenging for particular demographic groups across Washtenaw County. We need to get to the heart of the issues around systemic inequities.

I see AAACF as a critical community stakeholder with the skills, knowledge, partners, and resources to pursue equity and advocate for policy change across Washtenaw. Through its core values to prioritize community, pursue equity, earn trust, leverage knowledge, and enhance collaboration, AAACF is listening and responding to the community issues at heart. AAACF has published a Capital Research Report that analyzes the flow of dollars across the local economy and provides evidence of areas needing investment. In response, AAACF is identifying opportunities for investment (and making $1.7 million in investments!) that can help address historic and systemic inequities.

My current role at AAACF is administrative. Yet, I have seen the urgent need in the community for myself. I am excited by my new position in AAACF to fuel efficiency and greater coordination within our organization to enable structured growth and development for the team. This internal support will in turn help to further our external mission and shared goals to improve the quality of life in the Washtenaw community and reduce inequities.

Three months into the job, my instincts have been confirmed. I was already a long-time member of the Washtenaw County community, and now I’ve found a further home with like-minded individuals at AAACF!