Following the retirement of Saline Area Social Services (SASS) director Don Dersnah, the agency now has a new director. Jamail Aikens began his tenure in September. Aikens’ experience in fundraising should help the financially struggling agency to continue providing services to those in need.
“We were having a major funding deficit earlier this year and the community rallied around us and we lived to fight another day,” said Aikens. “We were on the cusp of potentially closing up. We were able to raise enough money during the end of the summer to still be here for the next six months.”
Aikens’ goal is to stabilize operating support and create a sustainable model going forward. His near-term objective is to raise $100,000. This will come primarily from individual donors, but will be supplemented by grants and fundraising events. He will also work on expanding the volunteer base.
Most recently, Aikens was the administrator for Linden Square Assisted Living Center. This commercial venture was a deviation from his prior career experience, directing nonprofit organizations.
Working in the Detroit area, Aikens was founder and director of City Mission Agency (now administered by City Covenant Church). Before that he provided leadership for various nonprofits, including West Detroit Interfaith Community Organization, St. Ignatius Nonprofit Housing and Detroit Area Habitat for Humanity.
City Mission provided food aid, housing assistance, job development, tutoring and mentoring for residents of the impoverished Brightmoor area of Detroit. Starting with $1,500 in seed money in 2002, he grew the organization to an annual budget of $1.3 million.
“I’m from Detroit and this kind of job is very personal to me because I grew up in poverty and came from a single parent home and I received assistance from places like Saline Area Social Services most of my young life,” Aikens said.
Aikens’ mother had a drug problem. As a youth he experienced the foster care system and homelessness. In spite of his inauspicious beginnings, he worked his way through college, receiving a BS in advertising from Grand Valley State University. He subsequently earned an MS in Health Care Administration from Central Michigan University and a second MS in Finance from Walsh College.
Marriage brought Aikens to Saline. About two and a half years ago he married long-time Saline resident Dianna Lauchu, a Spanish teacher at Saline High School.
In his new role as SASS director, Aikens has organized a Community Leadership Summit for next Tuesday, November 11, at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Saline. The meeting is to introduce the director, to review the services SASS has provided area residents over the years and to show ways people can help. The meeting will include brainstorming on how to help SASS grow.
As of Wednesday, there were at least 65 people, including board members, registered for the meeting. Aikens is hoping for 100.
“My key objective is to engage the community on a personal level, connect with people and give them the opportunities to support us,” Aikens said.
Below, New Saline Area Social Services Director, Jamail Aikens, (left) stands in the pantry with coworkers Karen Mayne and Glenna Rehder.