The job of reviving a nonprofit might seem daunting for most, but not for Jeff Brown. When he was hired this past May as the new state director for Communities In Schools of Michigan, he accepted the challenge faced with no staff or physical office, not to mention not even a pad or pencil. But what Brown did have was close to 40 years of experience as an entrepreneur, leading nonprofits and for-profits in the business, education, and health and wellness fields. And, he had a passion for work that makes an impact.
“The opportunity is aligned with who I am as a person,” said Brown. “I’ve had a lifelong commitment to education and I’m a strong advocate for empowering students at all levels. I looked at this as an incredible opportunity to do something significant.”
Brown also has deep roots in Michigan education and poverty-reduction programs, having worked as an executive director of the Kalamazoo County Poverty Reduction Initiative (PRI) for four and-a-half years, and having been a member of a local school board for more than 12 years. While at PRI he was able to help replicate that model in numerous counties across Michigan.
“Jeff brings a broad range of experience and a commitment that would be hard to surpass. He is intelligent and focused on one thing—how do we help our kids,” said David Hecker, chair of the board of directors of Communities In Schools of Michigan. “With Jeff building a state organization, we will be able to provide assistance to existing Communities In Schools local affiliates and expand programming to meet the needs of all of our students.”
A previous Michigan state office had been up and running since 1997. After being hit hard by budget cuts, the then-existing board of directors, after months of deliberating, concluded that the office had to close in 2009. But realizing leadership was needed to support the six local Communities In Schools affiliates and their 139 school sites prompted the search for a new state director and plans to reopen the office.
The ramp-up for the new state office follows an existing plan established by Communities In Schools. Priorities include drafting policies, appointing members to the board of directors, building relationships with local affiliates to provide the support they need and building statewide partnerships that will ultimately bring the resources most needed to at-risk students.
Nearly six months into the process, Brown’s vision and goals for the state office are on track. He has brought on four new board members to bring the total to 12. He’s set his sights on what technical support needs to be provided to the local affiliates to help them with accreditation. And, he’s placed a high priority on making sure the Communities In Schools brand is widely known throughout the state.
“This organization has two great components to help people understand our work,” said Brown. “A data-driven, valid model that has been measured and has credibility. And we are able to tell very powerful personal stories about the way our work has changed students’ lives. We have the best of both worlds. And I’m excited to take our model and build from there.”