This first round of questions is more about your personal background – where did you grow up?
I was born in Dearborn and then we moved into a town called Anchorville, which is over on Lake St. Clair. We lived there up until I was in sixth grade. My parents decided they wanted a change in school systems, so we moved to Grosse Pointe. Then I came to Kalamazoo to go to Western Michigan University, and I never looked back. The west side of the state is beautiful and I love all the green space, and the pace of it. I went to Western for both my Bachelor and my Master degrees. We really just love being on this side of the state!
Hi - I'm Mary!
What was your very first job that you ever had?
Other than babysitting, my very, very first job where I had a paycheck and was on payroll was at a TCBY, it was a frozen yogurt store. It was when I was in high school. I remember as soon as I could be employable, I was like, “I’m going out and getting a job!” Before that though, I gave horseback riding lessons, worked at kids horseback riding camps, was a nanny for a summer and did other babysitting jobs.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was younger I thought maybe a veterinarian for animals, which is my other heart and passion. Then I got into science and thought, “Oh boy, I’m not doing that!” I also thought maybe an art teacher. My undergrad degree is actually art education.
When I was in college I was working at a nonprofit and they convinced me to stay on and put together an art program for kids with SED after graduation. I continued with this organization and received supervision in what used to be called a technician’s license in social work. From there I just kept going down the path of social work type jobs. I eventually decided I should probably get a Master of Social Work degree as I was craving more clinical knowledge in the field. I worked in multiple direct clinical roles and found that I was compelled to move into program and policy development spaces. This led me to continue my career in a trajectory of leadership roles. I have a passion to see change in our systems and believe being in executive leadership roles allows me the ability to create systemic change, and to empower our teams to be the best support for children and families possible. That’s how I ended up in this chapter of my career. It’s a bit different from an art teacher or veterinarian I admit, and yet I wouldn’t change a thing!
What are some of your other past experiences that have led you to DABSJ?
Being a parapro in an autistic classroom was probably my first experience in the field, just coming out of high school and going into college. It’s the first job that I had that lined up with the type of work that I’m in now. I also worked at Family & Children Services in their Community Living Service program and went on to be in more social work type positions with them.
I’ve been a home-based clinician, I brought therapeutic support to a juvenile home, I’ve provided supports coordination and case management for Community Mental Health, I’ve been a supervisor, manager, and director with multiple different programs, from child welfare to behavioral health. I could just keep going and going, but I’ll say that all of the drivers for me have been about supporting kids and families, and positively impacting younger generations to better affect our community.
The other driver for why I sit in an executive role now is being part of changing the system for kids, families, and direct care workers. I was boots-on-the-ground for many years as well, and I know what it’s like facing the challenges that many of our case managers, youth workers, and our clinicians face with the kids and families we support. I want to help support teams in different ways, and change the policies and practices that just don’t make sense in our work. I desire to create positive change for the kids and families that we support and our team members.
One of my four horses - Annie
What are some of your accomplishments that you’re proud of? Both in your personal and professional life?
Now you got me going down memory lane! I’m proud of when I first mortgaged my first home many, many years ago!
But really, I think every time I see a team that I’m working with get to a high-performing place and catch their own stride, this is a big accomplishment. That’s happened over and over for me and that’s what drives me, seeing teams and people reach their full potential. When I see that, I think that’s an amazing accomplishment, for the team.
A big accomplishment for me on a personal note is when I could finally get my own horses! I rode horses since I was six years old, and I took lessons almost every week of my early life. I leased a horse later on in my life, and my parents bought me a horse when I was a kid, trained her, and sold her. We showed, and did all those things. It was very competitive. Then it became my tab to do the horse thing, and horses aren’t cheap! And, did I say I was a boots-on-the-ground social worker? I would muck stalls to take lessons during that time, and I worked as a director at a therapeutic riding center so I got to be with the horses there. I couldn’t really be highly competitive anymore in the sport.
But seven or eight years ago I was able to actually buy my own horse named Annie! We showed in high level competitions and that was a big accomplishment for me, because when I was a kid we only did lower level competitions. We ended up building out our farm at my house and now we have four horses of our own. My childhood dream of having horses at my own home came true. I’m truly living the dream!
I'm truly living the dream!
What are some of your other values outside of work? Fun hobbies, travel spots, things to do?
Did I say I have four horses of my own? That takes up a lot of my time! We like to go up north and stay in cabins and just kind of get away for a little bit. I will say, since having the horses, we don’t get away as much as we used to. I really enjoy being outside too. For our barn, we rescue feral cats and have them be barn cats, and we love to support animal rescues. We were part of a Border Collie rescue and fostered many dogs through that group. I love anything to do with animals, and supporting kids and families in our communities.
From when we worked with the Border Collie rescue - our annual picnic - lots of Border Collies!
What are you most excited about for your time as President/CEO of DABSJ?
Honestly, I’m most excited to continue to meet people and see them reach their highest potential within the organization, and even outside of the organization, to grow into the positions they want to be in for their career - to support kids and families in our community. I’m also so excited for when we’re all going to be on one campus together, when the new building is built. I’m really excited to see where all of our programs go with support from our leadership teams, too, and what our vision is going forward. I’m looking forward to seeing where we are at as an organization in future years!
We have a lot of work to do as an organization, and we also have a lot of people with a lot of heart. I wouldn’t want to do this work, this heavy lifting, with any other team. We have a really cool team here at DABSJ! I am probably most excited to be able to support each person on our team and move DABSJ forward – together!
Missed our last blog post? How to Talk to Your Children About Current Events in the U.S.
About Allyssa Murphy
Allyssa's journey in the nonprofit world began in 2016 when she started working as a marketing assistant at a small residential facility for foster children in Flint, Michigan. This is where her passion for advocating for children's rights began. She later joined the DABSJ team in 2017.
Her hobbies include planning vacations - but never taking them, game nights with friends, keeping up with the latest movies and TV shows, and visiting friends and family on the other side of the mitten.
Allyssa graduated from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor's degree in Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in Nonprofit Administration. She also has an associate's degree in Media Arts from Mott Community College.