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Get to know: Emily Doerr ’12, a passion for service

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July 05, 2017
Emily Doerr

As a program manager of the Community and Economic Development division at the City of Flint, Emily Doerr is in prime position to do what she loves.

“I want to be someone who can make change happen, on-the-ground, one day at a time,” she said.

She has been making change happen all her life, she said, thanks to her civic-minded parents. As a member of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Flint and then St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Goodrich, “Service to those in need was engrained into all aspects of our lives,” she says.

While in undergraduate studies at Central Michigan University, she became a mainstay at the volunteer center and participated in the university’s Alternative Break program.

During her last semester at Central, she worked as an intern at the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), which turned into her first job.

“Someone famous once said, 'Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,' ” Doerr said, adding that her father, a passionate public school teacher, repeated this advice often. Working at CEDAM helped her realize that working to help neighborhoods and communities was her passion. She fed that passion while honing her skills as grants manager at the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, managing a $25-million budget comprised of 70 different federal, state, county, and foundation grants.

She decided, in the summer of 2009, if she wanted to make a major impact, she needed a Master’s in Business Administration degree.

“In the nonprofit and local government worlds, there are a lot of good, committed people,” she said. “But we need people who are confident with the financial tenets of business management in order to improve the sustainability and financial stability of the public sector.”

A traditional MBA wasn’t for her, either, she said, because she was committed to putting social justice and ethics before profits. That’s what brought her to Detroit Mercy.

“It was the best fit for me,” she said. “I was living in downtown Detroit and was a big advocate for Detroit’s revitalization in spite of the impacts of the foreclosure crisis and the impending bankruptcy.  I believed then and still believe that Detroit Mercy is one of the best institutions in the city working toward positive leadership and neighborhood impact.”

She was busy, working full time and going to school, but things were good. Eager to show off her adopted city, she hosted travelers through Couchsurfing.com and showed them around Detroit almost every weekend. She realized that a low-cost hostel in Detroit, like the ones in major European cities filled with young travelers, would be successful. “So I decided to quit my job,” she said, laughing, “and my whole life turned upside down.”

“The reputation of Detroit was so negative by people who had never visited," she said. “Once travelers came and saw the culture and learned the history and met the people, the potential could be felt and their perception of Detroit changed.”

It also proved to be an education in working with city governments. Doerr created a business plan, rented an old building and even had to cajole the city into creating a new zoning definition for the business. She managed 50 different volunteers and raised over $25,000 to set up the business. Hostel Detroit opened in April, 2011, and to date, more than 10,000 people have stayed at the brightly colored building in Detroit’s north Corktown neighborhood.

In the years since, Doerr put her MBA to work in positions with the Detroit Regional Chamber, the city of Oak Park and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. With her position for the city of Flint, Doerr has come full circle, though it hasn’t been without challenges.

“I knew I wanted to come home,” she said. “However, coming home became even more imperative in early 2016, when Flint made international headlines.”

The “international headlines” Doerr referenced is the now three-year-old Flint water crisis.

The city continues to weather that storm, working to ensure residents are protected from the lead pipes that were corroded due to a water source switch that has damaged the city’s reputation and harmed its residents.

“I am so proud to work to make positive change, a little bit every day, with my colleagues within the Planning and Development Department,” she said. Her job is to oversee all federal grant-funded housing projects. She likens Flint to Detroit before the recent surge in interest and development.

“To all those people who say ‘I should have invested in Detroit before things got too expensive,’ I say: ‘Come to Flint. There are great opportunities here.’ ”

It’s easy to see why the College of Business Administration, on whose alumni board Doerr serves, honored her earlier this year with its Rising Star award. The recognition is given to young alumni whose young career promises great things to come.

 “What I do is not big and fancy or glamorous,” Doerr said. “But in the aggregate, it helps the city and its people. Even little things can make a big difference over time.”

And, she says, she is committed to being there for Flint’s turnaround.

— By Ron Bernas. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.

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