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Staff changes at Skillman

“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.”
— Audre Lorde

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
— James Baldwin


“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
— Andy Warhol

Change is a-foot. It’s a new year, full of new possibilities. At The Skillman Foundation, this is particularly true.

We are a private philanthropy that has invested in the needs of children and the aspirations of young people for 62 years, each year striving to make the biggest impact possible through our grantmaking (currently around $22M annually), our influence, and the efforts of our staff.

A year-long Listening Tour with Detroit youth and community directed where we must head and who we must become to support Detroit youth to design bold destinies. Guided by Detroit youth and community, we have organized our strategies and program staff around Ground Building and Policy & Systems.

Our Ground Building work is about investing in the power of Detroit youth, educators, and other community members who support young people to design and influence change.

Our Policy & Systems work is about shifting policy and resource allocation to benefit Detroit kids.

Braided together, this framework spurs education systems change that is rooted in youth and community and surrounded by broad coalitions.

Additionally, a Strategic Initiatives team will manage our partnerships in community initiatives, to include our President’s Youth Council and other community and civic coalitions.

This differs from how we organized our staff under our previous strategy, the Opportunity Agenda for Detroit Children, in which we arranged staff around three interconnected systems: K-12 education, afterschool, and college & career pathways. Our new framework centers the process we see as necessary and capable of creating transformational, equitable education systems change, where those most impacted by a system are the architects and agents of change.

Our job titles are changing, too

We’re nixing the use of philanthropy’s traditional “officer” title and using “partnership manager” instead to express our desire to form two-way relationships and to remove the suggestion that our role is one of authority or regulation. We’ve also added a “program manager” role within our Strategic Initiatives team that will scope, plan, and execute special projects.

We’re not alone in this shift. Other foundations, like the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, have also moved away from the “officer” title thanks to neighborhood leaders sharing that the word felt mismatched to the collaborative relationships shared between them and the foundation’s staff.

(Re)Introducing our phenomenal program staff

Ground Building

Carmen Kennedy-Rogers is our director of Ground Building. Carmen, a former educator and school district leader, previously led our K-12 education strategies.

3 words/phrases that colleagues use to describe Carmen:
Inspirational. Soulful. Real.

“Carmen leads with humane understanding,” says Arnett Parham, administrative business partner and board liaison for the Foundation. “She is very compassionate and empathetic to all and has true love for Detroit kids.”

Lindsey Barrett is a partnership manager of Ground Building. Lindsey most recently led the Foundation’s youth leadership and voice work. She began her career as an elementary and middle school teacher in Detroit and has led youth engagement in community development planning for the City of Detroit.

3 words/phrases that colleagues use to describe Lindsey: Visionary. True youth ally. Shines brilliantly.

“Lindsey moves the work of serving Detroit youth with authenticity and compassion,” says Alexa Borromeo, communications officer.  “She is resourceful and centers youth and community members in every decision.  Lindsey is always looking to include voices not yet at the table – even when it means co-creating a new table all together.”

Systems & Policy

We are currently hiring for a director of Policy & Systems, seeking a leader who has government relations experience and a track-record of influencing education policy and legislation.

3 words/phrases that will describe them: Equity focused. Determined. Connected across education and government sectors.

Terry Whitfield is a partnership manager of Policy & Systems. Terry led the Foundation’s afterschool system strategy for several years. His background is in youth development and community organizing.

3 words/phrases that colleagues use to describe Terry:
Bright light of positive energy. Passionate. All about growth and grace.

“Terry animates every room he walks into. He builds connections, forges relationships, and works tirelessly on behalf of the youth of Detroit, all while bringing joy and laughter and inspiration to those around him. We are lucky to count Terry as a colleague and friend, and the youth of Detroit are lucky to have such a steadfast, passionate, and accomplished advocate,” says Jessica Brown, our grants manager.

Strategic Initiatives

Ashley (Ash) Aidenbaum is our director of Strategic Initiatives. Ashley most recently led our college and career pathways work, after managing key external initiatives including significant support of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren. She has a background in community media and economic development.

3 words/phrases that colleagues use to describe Ash:
Brilliant. Observant. Thoughtful.

“Ash’s deeply held commitment to equitable changemaking shines through everything she does. She is a fierce champion for her partners, a collaborative and kind colleague, and a rigorous thinker. She always asks the tough but productive questions to get our collective work to a better place,” says Jessica Brown, our grants manager.

Matt Hoerauf is a program manager of Strategic Initiatives.

Matt has spent the past 20 years in the social sector connecting objectives, ideas, efforts, and people in the pursuit of racial justice. He worked in nonprofit administration before joining The Skillman Foundation, rising through the ranks from a program assistant to an associate program officer supporting K-12 education strategies and leading a portfolio of youth safety grants.

3 words/phrases that colleagues use to describe Matt:
Thoughtful. Dependable. Cares deeply about others.     

“Matt is an incredible advocate and ally for Detroit youth. He moves with kindness and thoughtful determination to move the needle forward while centering building trusting relationships before anything else,” says Alexa Borromeo, communications officer.

Program Integration and Support

Ashlee Schmidt is our director of Program and Operations Integration. She creates processes to enable the program team’s work amongst its staff and across the organization. She previously led this work as a program officer. Ashlee began her career as a teacher, then worked on federal grant programs for several years at the U.S. Department of Education.

3 words/phrases that colleagues use to describe Ashlee: Calm positive energy. Diligent. Caring collaborator.

“I admire Ashlee’s ability to think programmatically, strategically, analytically, and thoughtfully. She has bridged the worlds of Program and Operations, helping us to work better together as one team to accomplish great things. I am very grateful for her partnership,” says Lauren Hawkins, our controller.  

Kim Jones is our program team administrator. She provides project management support for the program team and administrative support for the vice president of program and strategy. Kim has a background in administration and is currently pursuing a master’s in organizational leadership. 

3 words/phrases that colleagues use to describe Kim: Charismatic. Whip Smart. Stylish.

“Kim is always helpful, always considerate, and always a joy to engage with,” says Helen Baker, administrative assistant. “I appreciate how she approaches every day with humor and style, and I value her partnership and friendship.”

Program Lead

Punita Dani Thurman is our vice president of Program & Strategy, overseeing the strategic development and execution of the Foundation’s programmatic work. Punita has an extensive history working across different sectors (private, philanthropic and public education) and brings experience around large-scale policy and systems change.

3 words that colleagues use to describe Punita: Connector of people and ideas. Big thinker. Committed to excellence.

“Punita is a visionary. Her passion for children and education, and her ability to turn concepts into plans, inspires others to aim high,” says Arnett Parham, administrative business partner and board liaison for the Foundation.

Info for grant seekers

As we build out objectives and strategies under our new framework this year, the great majority of our 2023 grantmaking budget will be directed to organizations who received funding from us in 2022. This is meant to offer continued or transitional support to current partners while we define our grantmaking for the years ahead.

Stay in the know about developments to our strategies, which will continue to be informed by Detroit youth and community, by subscribing to our newsletter.

For questions about our grants, please contact grants@skillman.org.

The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

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