Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

A Letter from Tonya Allen

Announcing my departure from The Skillman Foundation

On December 1, 2020, I celebrated my 16th work anniversary at The Skillman Foundation. Never could I have imagined that I would spend so much time at one institution or that I would grow into the person that I am today. It is through the tutelage of my Skillman mentor and predecessor, Carol Goss; the loyalty and support of staff; the inspiration of our grant partners; and the mentorship of so many board members that I have become the professional that I am. More importantly, I have become a better leader and a better person.  

The Skillman Foundation is a special place. The Skillman diaspora represented in our board, staff, grant partners, and trusted allies is expansive, idealistic, and family. We believe we can change the world, and because of that belief and hard work, we do.  

It is a great privilege to be considered a leader of such talented and passionate people. 2020 has taught me such immense gratitude and reminded me of how blessed I am to spend my work life with amazing people who challenge me to be effective and impactful. As a result, I learned early that there were two metrics that I cared deeply about. The first is whether my team and the people I represent are proud of my decisions and actions. The second is that our collective effort had to add up to a meaningful impact for children in Detroit. I believe that we and I have measured well, yet there is still so much to do.  

It is incredibly hard for me to step away from The Skillman Foundation and from Detroit. But it is a time for a new journey for me—and I describe it as a divine interruption. A series of unexpected events, a purposed calling, and ordained certainty has convinced me that my season has ended. And it is time for new leadership and a new season for The Skillman Foundation.  

The Skillman Foundation was, is, and will continue to be a powerful change agent. It has had a long line of powerful leaders. That doesn’t stop with me.  

Maria Woodruff-Wright

I will step down as president & CEO of The Skillman Foundation in mid-February. On March 1, I will assume the presidency of the McKnight Foundation. A succession plan that we’ve had in place for years as a matter of good organizational practice will be enacted. Our VP of Operations and CFO Maria Woodruff-Wright will serve as interim CEO. Our grant- and changemaking strategies will continue to be led by Punita Thurman and David McGhee will continue to lead our organizational excellence and impact. Skillman Foundation Board Member Suzanne Shank will lead an executive search. The search will be thorough while recognizing that Detroit is talent-rich and much success has been had in the past in sourcing local talent. 

The Skillman Foundation and its next leader will continue a long legacy of service to Detroit children under the guiding values of Kids First, Trusted Partner, Equity Focused, World Wise-Detroit Smart, and Greater than Grants. 

I look forward to watching the Foundation and its partners continue to drive meaningful change for Detroit and its children. And I can say this with certainty because I intimately know the talented leaders that exists within our organization, including our dynamic leadership team—Punita, David, and Maria. I have full confidence that Maria is an effective choice for interim CEO. And that the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, who are a dynamic group of Detroit’s leaders, will manage this transition and new president search with the thoughtfulness it and you deserve. 

With love, 

Tonya Allen 

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