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Leading the Way

By Wensdy Von Buskirk

Leadership Detroit honors Eva Garza Dewaelsche and alumni at commencement ceremony

As president and CEO of SER Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress, Eva Garza Dewaelsche oversees an organization dedicated to helping people find and keep employment, a service she believes forms the foundation for economic stability throughout the entire region.

“I think the work we do is extremely important,” Dewaelsche said. “Preparing people for different types of employment is so key to sustaining not only families, but also ultimately neighborhoods and communities. The people at SER have a real interest in helping people. I know ultimately we’re giving people hope – a second chance – providing opportunity and access where there might not be.”

Dewaelsche is passionate about what she does, and has spent decades working to help make her beloved hometown a better place. Because of her impact, she was honored with the 2015 Lifelong Leadership Award at the Leadership Detroit Class XXXVI’s commencement. The reception was held at the Garden Theater in Midtown on June 23. In addition to Dewaelsche’s award, two other LD alumni were honored for their support of the program’s pillars of exemplary leadership and efforts to move Michigan forward.

“She works quietly in a steadfast fashion. There’s not a lot of flash. She’s just been at it and committed year in and year out,” said Dan Piepszowski, senior director of community leadership development at the Chamber. “Organizations like SER are critical to the future success of the city, thanks to Dewaelsche’s unflagging leadership.”

Dewaelsche, a graduate of Leadership Detroit Class VII, was born and raised in Detroit and, except for a brief stint in her father’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas, as a child, has lived here all her life. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and a Master of Education, both from Wayne State University, she went on to complete a fellowship through Michigan State University’s political leadership program, as well as a community leadership program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School for Executive Education.

Dewaelsche joined SER Metro-Detroit in 1977 as an employment specialist and worked her way through the ranks, eventually taking on her current role in 2003. The nonprofit offers one-stop career centers that provide employment services and occupational training programs for unemployed and underemployed youth, adults and senior citizens.

People who visit SER can apply for unemployment benefits and other assistance, and can also find literacy coaching, high school completion services and valuable job training in areas like computer skills and construction. SER also offers help with résumés, interview techniques, and other hard and soft skills related to getting and keeping employment.

“We’re primarily serving at-risk or longer term unemployed,” Dewaelsche said, adding the company also focuses on job training for women, high school students who need alternative options, and working with unions to create apprenticeships in the skilled trades.

SER was founded in Detroit and also has branches in Chicago, Corpus Christi and El Paso, Texas, and soon Philadelphia, which will increase its number of employees from 350 currently to more than 450. Many of them have been hired from the ranks of clients SER serves. At the helm of the nonprofit, Dewaelsche leads by example and trusts her team to carry out SER’s important mission.

Dewaelsche credits her involvement in Leadership Detroit with playing a role in her success and continues to send her employees to the program. “I found it to be very, very rewarding,” she said. “A lot of the people I met during my class I still have relationships with. That’s one of the best things about the program. You stay connected.”

Fellow Leadership Detroit graduate Carla Walker-Miller, president and CEO of Walker- Miller Energy Services and Chamber Board Member, is one of those ongoing contacts.

“Our organizations have collaborated successfully on energy-related training and workforce development, particularly for underserved communities,” Walker- Miller said. “We have hired valuable, Detroit-based team members from SER Metro and will make additional hires as we grow.”

Wensdy Von Buskirk is a metro Detroit freelance writer.