Washtenaw United: United Way of Washtenaw County merging with United Way for Southeastern Michigan
Dr. Darienne Hudson
Dr. Darienne Hudson is a high-energy, dynamic nonprofit executive and life-long educator serving as President and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, located in Detroit. Before joining United Way in July 2018, she spent the previous four years as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), the largest school district in Wisconsin. Throughout her career, Dr. Hudson has initiated a series of bold reforms designed to ensure equity for all. Most recently, her ability to mobilize corporations, foundations, and individual donors to orchestrate a coordinated community-based effort in response to the coronavirus pandemic has garnered international praise and recognition.
In her role at United Way, Dr. Hudson has begun to develop and initiate programs to improve the lives of children and families in Southeastern Michigan. Dr. Hudson believes strongly in the power of collective impact and in the importance of public-private partnerships to solve societal issues and inequity. Since her tenure at United Way, she has cultivated relationships in Southeastern Michigan to do just that. Dr. Hudson is purposefully and intentionally leading the 100-plus-year-old organization in a direction that places an emphasis on listening to the community and addressing its greatest needs.
Dr. Hudson is familiar with the power of United Way. She previously served on the Board of Directors for the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County.
Prior to being named superintendent, Dr. Hudson was MPS' first Chief Innovation Officer. In that role, she successfully narrowed the achievement gap in MPS' Commitment Schools, which are the schools with the greatest need for improvement.
Before her tenure in Milwaukee, Dr. Hudson served as Deputy Chief of Empowerment Schools for the School District of Philadelphia. Prior to her time in Philadelphia, she was the Coordinator of Strategic Management and Accountability, as well as Special Assistant to the Superintendent in Clayton County Public Schools in Georgia. Dr. Hudson began her career as an elementary school teacher in Detroit Public Schools, a point of personal pride.
Dr. Hudson's academic achievements include a doctorate from Harvard University in Urban Superintendency, a master's degree in education from Harvard University, and a master’s degree in curriculum development from the University of Michigan. Her undergraduate degree in child development is from Spelman College.
In addition to her work as President and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Dr. Hudson serves on the steering committee for Launch Michigan, the Wayne County Afterschool Partnership, and is on the Mayor’s Workforce Investment Board. She serves on the board of Detroit Children’s Fund, is a trustee for Educational Testing Services, and was elected to the Board of Overseers for Harvard University in 2017. She was named a 2019 Business Powered by Women Honoree. In 2020, Dr. Hudson joined the Board of Directors at the Detroit Public Schools Foundation. Most recently, Dr. Hudson became a member of the International Women’s Forum Michigan Chapter.
"What a privilege it is to be the President/CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County since 2012. As a nonprofit executive, I am dedicated to strengthening the community through philanthropy, collaboration, and community engagement. My vision and leadership guide the Equity, Diversity, and Justice work of the United Way of Washtenaw County."
"It has been an incredible experience to lead my team in raising more than 50 million dollars for our community, opening a Volunteer Center that engages thousands of people annually, and developing Financial Stability programming that has reached thousands. I have more than 25 years of experience in Management, Communications, and Nonprofit administration."
"I enjoy supporting this community through work on local nonprofit boards, as an UM guest lecturer, and on local advisory teams. I love mentoring students and young professionals and have extensive experience in management, marketing, communications, training, and workforce development. I am keenly aware of the intricate balance of the diverse needs within the Southeastern Michigan community and am focused on connecting, catalyzing community solutions and leaving our world a better place."
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And I'd like to welcome you to a special Thursday edition of Washtenaw United. I'm David Fair, and we bring you Washtenaw United in our exploration of equity and opportunity in our community every Monday. But there's a very good reason and significant reason to add an extra addition this week. It is for a major announcement that will be of great community interest and impact. It's an announcement that you're going to hear first because you listen to 89-1 WEMU. Now, it is not my place to make this formal announcement. For that, I want to introduce you to one of my two guests this morning. Pam Smith is the president and CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County. And thank you so much for being here this morning, Pam. I appreciate it.
Pam Smith: It's always a pleasure, David. Thank you.
David Fair: What exactly is the announcement that you would like to make?
Pam Smith: We are so pleased and excited to share this historic and rather exciting news that the United Way of Washtenaw County is going to merge with United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
David Fair: And it will be known as?
Pam Smith:It will be known as United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
David Fair: And there you have it. The United Way of Washtenaw County will soon merge and become a part of the United Way for Southeast Michigan. And you did hear it first on 89 one WEMU. This is the appropriate and perfect juncture now to introduce my second guest. Dr. Darienne Hudson is the president and CEO of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. And, Dr. Hudson, thank you so much for being here to share the news with us today. I appreciate it.
Dr. Darienne Hudson: It's a pleasure being here, David. Thank you.
David Fair: Dr. Hudson, if I understand it correctly, it was actually Pam that brought the idea of the merger to you. Were you surprised?
Dr. Darienne Hudson: Yes and no. I'll be honest with you. Pam is a remarkable leader, and her priorities are always to put the resources in the community first. And when she contacted me, it was first to share operational services and figure out how we could get more money into the community and ways that we could actually partner to provide benefits and human resources services to her staff. That has now come to this merger that we are discussing today. And her fortitude and her vision to be able to get as many dollars into the hands of community organizations and families in Washtenaw County is unmatched. It's really been a privilege to work with her and to serve alongside her. And this opportunity now to really make more impact across our region, across four counties, is really thrilling.
David Fair: So, Pam, what were you thinking? What were you looking at in terms of what is happening here in Washtenaw County when you thought, "You know what? Our constituency might be better served by looking beyond our borders?"
Pam Smith: Well, David, I think the pandemic really brought some clarity to our organization and our mission. We knew that we had to come out on the other side of the pandemic a completely different organization. The pandemic had exacerbated the community needs. They continue to grow. And there were changes in philanthropic giving in our community. There were changes and maybe challenges to our business model of how we raised dollars with local businesses as more and more workers went remote and into the cloud. It made me think how different will things be and how can we make sure that the needs continue to be met.
David Fair: And that's exactly where we're going to take the conversation next. This is a special Thursday edition of Washtenaw United on 89 one WEMU, in which we've just learned that the United Way of Washtenaw County will merge and become a part of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Pam Smith is current president and CEO of the Washtenaw County chapter. Dr. Darienne Hudson holds the same title for the Southeastern Michigan organization. Now, Dr. Hudson, it wasn't all that long ago when, in the early 2000s, when your organization merged with United Way of Oakland County and Macomb County. What was learned through that process, organizationally, that can ensure a smooth transition in this merger?
Dr. Darienne Hudson: Our organization learned a number of valuable lessons. First, one of inclusion and ensuring at that time we had a number of advisory groups from all of our counties that were helping to inform our strategy. We had numerous committees at the governance level that were not only focused on overall impact but that were actually focused on the counties. And that's something that we intend to do through this merger is having just a county that is focused specifically on grantmaking in Washtenaw County. We also learned the importance of presence. And, oftentimes, when you merge, you downsize. You move away from buildings that are owned by the previous organizations. But we're not doing that. We are going to maintain a presence in Washtenaw County. We believe that that is essential. And so, the building that exists now as United Way for Washtenaw County will be the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and will maintain a strong presence in Washtenaw County.
David Fair: Now, Pam, you have cultivated a lot of dedicated donors and partners over the years that the United Way of Washtenaw County. As they hear this news and information, how can they be assured that making continued donations to the new and larger organization will be money that is spent and invested right here in the people of Washtenaw County?
Pam Smith: Well, the great thing about this, David, is that it's a true merger. So, it means that our values, our mission, is already aligned. We share the same commonalities of putting community first. And I think that, as we move forward, our local community impact committee will stay present. Our team members are moving over to Southeast Michigan United Way. Our board members will have seats on the board at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. So, the continuity of presence and voice will be constant. The whole point of this merger was to make sure that this community is continued to be cared for, that resources that we need to make sure programs are being distributed, and dollars are being distributed in our community to make sure that our residents are being taken care of first will continue. And so, the synergy that Darienne and I have, the synergy that our organizations have, will make sure that community remains centered.
David Fair: So, Dr. Hudson, to take that a little further down the line, the local chapter of the United Way has identified community organizations and nonprofits to invest in it meet the mission of creating greater racial and social equity. As these organizations process the merger, they may worry that that investment will be diverted to other parts of the region, or at least away from their organizations. What kind of consistency is there going to be in the grant process locally here in Washtenaw County?
Dr. Darienne Hudson: So, our United Way has a number of grant cycles throughout the year. One that I wanted to lift was our racial equity fund. We actually started this two years ago, and so we're on our third cycle. This will be open to all organizations across the four-county region focusing specifically on women-led and BIPOC-led--that's Black, indigenous, people of color-led--organizations. We've already given out $2 million, and we intend to invest another million dollars specifically for that fund. We are also proud to continue the 21-Day Equity Challenge, and that started here in Washtenaw County. And what Pam and her board and community were able to establish is now happening around the country. I hope everyone listening knows that. It's just really been remarkable. So, we intend to continue to carry on that work. We also have an advisory board--numerous advisory boards, if I'm being honest,--for every grant that we give to the community. And so, we are inviting anyone who has their hands up to join us and helping to make decisions that will ensure that our community is first, that our families are having their needs met, and that everyone feels that they can be a part of the change that we want to see in our community.
Pam Smith: And, David, if I may, I just wanted to build on that.
David Fair: Yeah.
Pam Smith: Dr. Hudson mentioned their Racial Justice Fund. We had started a justice fund with a one-time investment, and we knew that we weren't going to be able to continue that. So, how exciting for the community that by partnering with Southeast Michigan United Way, the Racial Justice and the Justice Fund will live on and actually be better endowed to move this work forward? It's critica,l and it's really important that this is the kind of thing that is going to benefit the community. This merger, you know, allows more nonprofit organizations to apply for more funding.
David Fair: Again, this is 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United, and it is a special Thursday edition as we learn together today, the United Way of Washtenaw County is merging with and will become a part of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Dr. Hudson, you mentioned that the presence will remain right here in Washtenaw County. The staff that's been working and serving Washtenaw County is going to stay on. What is going to be Pam Smith's role in helping you transition to a greater understanding of this community.
Dr. Darienne Hudson: So, Pam has been a critical advisor and leader and really a force for good throughout this entire process. And once our organizations merge, Pam will continue to support this effort as a senior advisor really working with a number of organizations in Washtenaw County and helping us build bridges across our community. She is someone that is really valued and treasured as a leader, not only by myself, but with our team and our community. And so, it really was mission critical for us to make sure that we continued this partnership as Pam really is a staple in this community, and it's really important for us to honor that.
David Fair: Well, a merger is never easy, and there is a lot of work to be done. So, Pam, what is going to be the process, and when does it truly become official?
Pam Smith: Yeah. So, both boards have voted. And then, we'll have a 90-day transition period. And so, October 1st is the beginning of Southeast Michigan's fiscal year. So, October 1st is the date that that will be completed.
David Fair: And, at that point, if somebody were to look for the United Way of Washtenaw County website, they will be directed to the United Way for Southeast Michigan, right?
Pam Smith: Yes. And the building remains the same at 2305 Platt Road, and our team will be there to greet you. And, actually, we're super excited because Southeast Michigan United Way will be bringing in additional staff. So, there will be more faces in the community to greet our clients and our guests.
David Fair: Well, on the initial conversation, it sounds like greater investment, greater staffing, and greater resources to be invested in this community. I thank you both for the time today and sharing the announcement with the WEMU community.
Pam Smith: Thank you.
Dr. Darienne Hudson: Thank you.
David Fair: That is Pam Smith, the current president and CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County, and Dr. Darienne Hudson, the president and CEO of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Come October, the two organizations will be fully merged and fall under the umbrella of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. I'm David Fair, and there will be more to come on the merger in the months to come. And you'll hear all about it right here as part of Washtenaw United on your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'
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