Affirmations selects new director following departure of previous hire

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published December 9, 2015

 Susan Erspamer

Susan Erspamer


FERNDALE — Affirmations, a nonprofit community center in Ferndale that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, has hired its second executive director this year, with new director Susan Erspamer coming on board at the beginning of December.

The Affirmations board chose Detroit native Darrious Hilmon in February after a nearly yearlong search following the departure of former director Dave Garcia. Hilmon began the position in March, but stepped down in October.

“He decided it wasn’t the right fit for him at this time,” board President Frank Aiello said of Hilmon’s decision. “The board knew about it not too much before the press release to the community in October.”

Despite the quick departure after a long search, Aiello said the board has nothing but confidence in the hiring of Erspamer, who was a candidate during the initial hiring process that resulted in the offer to Hilmon.

“Susan was a candidate introduced to us by the same search that found Darrious, so we knew Susan and were interested in her as a candidate,” Aiello said. “It was a pretty easy call to reach out to her. The organization has had some turnover, and we wanted to get someone permanent in place as soon as possible because we felt it was best for the organization.”

Erspamer is a Michigan State University graduate, having earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in social work from the school. She has roughly two decades of experience in nonprofit work, including her previous position as vice president of the Alzheimer’s Alliance Greater Michigan Chapter in Southfield.

Erspamer said she was familiar with Affirmations before applying and felt it would be an excellent fit for her goals and the goals of Affirmations.

“I work at organizations where I believe in the mission, so this aligns with my beliefs and areas where I can commit myself fully to the mission and vision of the organization,” she said. “I am more interested in the macro focus, so going in as a director, it allows me to have an impact on the broader scale.

“I find it will be rewarding to bring my professional experience to benefit a community I identify with and feel so passionate about.”

With an extensive background in nonprofit work, Aiello said the board was drawn to Erspamer’s experience in working on fund development and programming.

“She has a strength in both (of) those areas and managed to successfully execute in both of those areas, which is what the board is specifically excited about,” he said. “Fund development is absolutely critical, as a nonprofit is dependent on the generously of individual donors and corporations and other funders. It is a key part of the executive director job, so it was important for any candidate to have extensive experience in that area.”

Looking forward, Aiello said that besides getting to know the day-to-day operations, Erspamer will help construct a new strategic plan — something that has been neglected with staff transitions over the past few years.

“We are overdue for a strategic planning process that involves all our community stakeholders, so it will be high on her list,” he said. “And then there is also continuing to execute on some programming that has been launched this year, and new programs, and making sure they launch smoothly and as planned.”

With services ranging from counseling, support groups and just serving as a safe public space, Erspamer said Affirmations’ location at 290 W. Nine Mile Road can help numerous people in a range of ways.

As she settles into her new position, Erspamer said she wants to continue to improve what is already offered, as well as guide the organization in the right direction.

“We have a good start here with youth programming, and I envision the organization providing services that span the age continuum from youth through seniors,” she said. “There is room for growth, and I look forward to working with the team here to actualize that growth.”