The Arc of Oakland County announces new leadership

Former executive director to retire after almost four decades

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published March 17, 2021

 Dawn Calnen

Dawn Calnen

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OAKLAND COUNTY — The Arc of Oakland County, a Troy-based nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities and intellectual impairments, will soon see a change of leadership.

The Arc Executive Director Tom Kendziorski, who has worked with the organization for the past 38 years as a staff attorney and as the director beginning in 1992, will retire in July. Community Housing Network Vice President of Programs and Operations Dawn Calnen will take over for Kendziorski in May.

“As my retirement approaches, I am extremely confident that (Calnen) will continue to move The Arc of Oakland County forward and offer new, impactful advocacy initiatives,” Kendziorski said in a press release. “(Calnen) will undoubtedly thrive in her new position and build on her past years of experience to continue to serve individuals with disabilities in our community.”

According to its website, The Arc of Oakland County is an affiliate of The Arc Michigan and The Arc of the United States, a nonprofit organization that works through education, awareness, research and prevention, ensuring constitutional rights and financial support to serve children and adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families. The Arc of Oakland County serves 1,196 paid members as the largest local Michigan chapter since 1992.

During his 38 years, Kendziorski said, public perspective and parent expectations have changed in the field, but more still remains for Calnen to work toward.

“Society is more accepting of persons with disabilities living ordinary lives. Parents expect more from their children with disabling conditions and, at the same time, demand comprehensive services within the public education and mental health systems,” Kendziorski wrote in an email. “However, there still remains a tremendous amount of work left to change more hearts and minds.”

Calnen, who began her career as a staff attorney and advocacy coordinator for The Arc from 1997 to 2002, said she’s honored to have been selected by the board of directors.

“I was mentored by Kendziorski, a fellow attorney. Working for him made me realize the impact that we could have on our community and the importance of creating inclusive communities,” she said. “I have never forgotten that. I was extremely lucky to move on to a long career — I’ve been at the Community Housing Network for 19 years — to continue the work of providing inclusive communities and advocating for inclusive communities. To get to go back is an extreme honor.”

Calnen described Kendziorski as a “dedicated leader” who made the community better. She hopes to be able to continue the vision he established at the organization.

The decision to leave Community Housing Network was one of the hardest of Calnen’s life, she said, but she felt a calling to return to The Arc that was as personal as it was professional.

“I believe that working on behalf of folks with developmental disabilities and intellectual impairments is my ‘why.’ I feel like if people are lucky enough to have a ‘why’ in their lives, and to get to fulfill that is a blessing. I have always felt as though my passion was providing legal resources and advocacy to folks who were underrepresented,” she said. “The ability to step into the role at a very well-established, well-respected organization to fulfill that passion is the reason why I made that decision. It was not an easy decision, not even close.”

She’s hoping her previous experience building Community Housing Network from the ground up — from a team of five members to now over 105, with a budget of $18 million — can assist her as she makes the leap to her new role this May.

“I was key in building those programs (at Community Housing Network), and we created and built programs and resources that met the needs of our community, with the mission of inclusiveness for all. I believe that puts me in an excellent position to continue to build upon The Arc’s mission,” Calnen said. “I look forward to fighting for inclusiveness for our community every single day.”

At the top of Calnen’s agenda when she begins this May will be listening.

“I want to meet with so many important folks … and I want to just listen. I want to hear what their dreams and visions are. I want to build upon that. I want to really get to know the incredible people. The Arc is a very solid, successful organization, and I’m looking to build upon that. The way to do that is to meet with people and listen to their visions, dreams and ideas.”

Relationship building may be one Calnen’s best skills, according to Kendziorski.

“She will be a true asset to The Arc of Oakland County with her innate ability to forge solid relationships with agencies and families alike,” he said.

Most importantly, Calnen wants those served by The Arc of Oakland County to know she’ll be there for the families the organization serves.

“I will put the folks that we serve first and foremost in every single decision that I make. I will build upon their ideas, and I will advocate for the rights of folks with developmental disabilities and intellectual impairments every day that I go to work,” she said. “I want them to know that I’m there; I will be present in everything I do; and I will add incredible value to the already successful programs that The Arc has.”

For more information, visit thearcoakland.org.

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