Community Development Practitioner Spotlight! See the career and education trajectory of Tom Goddeeris, Director of Community and Economic Development at Detroit Future City

I started my career in the field of architecture, graduating with a BS in Architecture from the University of Michigan.  I later returned to school part time at Lawrence Technological University and eventually earned my Master of Architecture degree from there.

I worked for several years in a series of small architectural firms in Detroit and became a licensed architect in 1991.  The firm I was working for at the time closed, as the owner and principal decided to relocate to the west coast. My wife and I had also recently bought our first house in a neighborhood called Rosedale Park.

The Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation was a very young organization and its first Executive Director had left.  Being an architect and out of work, I was asked by the GRDC board to step in and help complete a half-finished housing rehab project that was floundering.   Within a couple months, I helped GRDC land on operating support grant from Detroit LISC that enabled them to hire me on full-time.  I ended up staying over 26 years.

The switch from architecture to community development was not as dramatic as it might seem.  My interest in the field of architecture was always driven by a concern with neighborhoods, communities and what at the time was called “advocacy planning.” I was excited to have a job I felt passionate about.

My training as an architect prepared me well for my position as Executive Director at GRDC in many ways.  It gave me a good base of knowledge about buildings and city planning that I applied in my work at GRDC.  I had a chance to participate in a training program run by the Development Training Institute early on at GRDC and that was very helpful in learning the non-profit side of the business and to connect with other CDC practitioners. As a staff of one at the outset. I had a lot of on-the-job learning and my knowledge of community development grew along with the organization.  

After many years, I have begun a new phase in my career as Director of Community and Economic Development at Detroit Future City, a city-wide planning and policy non-profit.  This new position allows me to apply my experience in community development to a broad range of issues at a multi-neighborhood scale. Although my career path has been somewhat “non-traditional,” I believe that each stage has been built upon the previous stage in a way that helped build my own capacity and the capacity of the organizations I worked for.

Community Development Practitioner Spotlight! See the career and education trajectory of Kayana Sessoms, Program Director at Osborn Neighborhood Alliance

I’m an 80’s baby who was born in Detroit and grew up in a non-traditional household with my grandmother and mother. They were my first role models and super heroes. At a young age, my mom recognized that I was very outspoken. This outspokenness carried over into my elementary/middle/ high school and college years. I remember being 5 years old standing up in public spaces sharing out the universal message of love. I recall one time I was dressed in my Sunday dress after church and pointing to people in a restaurant saying “God loves you and you and I love you.. We need to help each other…. and love one another” in my high pitched voice. Little did I know this was just the beginning of me developing my voice and passion for helping people in communities at home and around the world. After receiving my B.A. in Sociology from Oakland University, I decided to travel parts of the world but and found myself in Africa. I desired to gain a better understanding of the disparities in developing countries and the similarities they have to vulnerable cities in the US. Upon returning to the states I found myself running a service learning program at Osborn High School teaching the same message I was sharing as a young child. I fell deeply in love with the youth and residents in the Osborn Community and wanted to advocate on a higher level than what I was able to do within the school walls. That is how I found myself, in 2012, serving on the board for ONA for 4 years and then transitioning to working full time here as the Program Director in 2016.

Community Development Practitioner Spotlight! See the career and education trajectory of Maria Salinas, Executive Director of Congress of Communities

I was born and raised in Southwest Detroit were I have been active in leadership and community development for over 38 yrs. My path to community organizing and servant leadership was probably ignited when I was 14yrs old and my brother (who was a regional captain for the brown berets in Detroit) in the 70’s took me to a protest in Saginaw Michigan where I met Cesar Chavez as he was leading a campaign/protest against the grape industry. I believe that’s where I began my calling. I struggled in school early on as I had to find my path - people who know me know I have always danced to my own beat. I did graduate from DPS by the skin of my teeth and I struggled, but went and got a Bachelors degree from Detroit College of Business, and a Masters in Organization and Community Leadership from Michigan State University. I have accomplished much training and have many certifications mainly addressing Environmental Issues, Leadership Development and Social Justice. I have publications in partnership with the U of M School of Public Health where I worked for over 18yrs. I am still very active with the SPH, mentoring students and supporting Internships. I just completed a 3 year Kellogg Foundation Fellowship addressing Racial Equity, Social Justice and Institutional Racism. Currently I am the Executive Director of Congress of Communities, a grass roots leadership development model which grew from The Good Neighborhoods Initiative (Skillman Foundation). I am more driven than ever to help make change in the city of Detroit and the State of Michigan.

Community Development Practitioner Spotlight! See the career and education trajectory of Phyllis Edwards, Executive Director of Bridging Communities

I have always had a vested interest in improving communities. It began with assisting individuals and families as a social worker but I quickly realized the impact and role the (physical) environments contribute to the overall well-being of ones’ quality of life. So I decided to become an Urban Planner. Using both social work and urban planning skills, I left the State of Michigan Department of Human Services and assumed my current position as executive director for Bridging Communities. The organization has an extensive community development history as the developer of senior independent living facilities in southwest Detroit, 24 town homes geared towards grandparents raising grandchildren, as well as buying abandoned and foreclosed homes for rehabilitation. I continue the legacy I assumed and I am currently working with community partners to develop 560 new housing units over the next 5 years. I am in my early 60s and I retired from the state after 33 years of service. It will be 7 years on August 15 that I've been at Bridging Communities. I have a Bachelor of Social Work from Marygrove College, Master of Social Work from Wayne State University and I am two courses from completing my Master of Urban Planning from University of Michigan Ann Arbor.

Community Development Practitioner Spotlight! See the career and education trajectory of Orlando Bailey, Director of Community Partnerships at The Eastside Community Network

There is a biblical reference that rings true in my head when I think about my career in community development in Detroit; it says "...speak those things that are not as though they were…" Very early on in my life from about 10 years old or so I knew I wanted to work in my community and I would say it all the time. Little did I know the path that I would embark upon. The road to how I got to where I am currently is filled with twists and turns. I currently serve as the Director of Community Partnerships at the Eastside Community Network (ECN) formerly the Warren/Conner Development Coalition. When I was about 10 years old, I enrolled in ECN's Youth on the Edge of... Greatness program. From there the organization could not get rid of me. I was a first-hand change agent in helping neighbors beautify their streets, start block clubs, and restoring pride to our communities on the Eastside of Detroit. Still unaware that a career in community development awaited me, I went on to Eastern Michigan University and studied broadcasting and journalism. I wanted to write news and anchor the news! I was going to be that familiar face either in the morning or evening newscast. Even while in college, during the summers I would do youth development work for ECN under contract and when I graduated, I needed a job and couldn't find one. ECN took a chance on a fresh faced kid straight out of college and from there my love, fondness, and dedication to community development grew and crystallized. "Warren/Conner University" as it is affectionately known has given me a myriad of experiences in the field including but not limited to urban planning, community engagement and organizing, publishing scholarly research, youth development, project management, and economic development just to name a few. I've concluded that I may not have taken the traditional route to become as successful professional community developer but blazing new trails is something I enjoy and I'm not necessarily sure if there is one traditional route for a career in community development!