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Deborah Buchholtz


Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring

3501 Covington Rd.
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49001
With a passion for business and organizational operations, Deb Buchholtz brings effectiveness, efficiency, and results to Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring. Buchholtz puts her unique approach to work improving the operations of the mentoring organization that serves five counties in southwest Michigan.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Big Brothers Big Sisters Executive Director Deborah Buchholtz: I don’t like to call myself a leader because I simply do what I think is right. From a very young age my father taught me not to complain. If there’s something that you don’t like, either work to change it or realize that you can’t change it and move on. For me, being a leader is doing what’s right and using your talents and skills to help improve things. I think there are an awful lot of people who lead in various ways who might not fit the common definition of leader, but they are very important in their circles. A leader is a role model, whether they are intentionally being a leader or not.
Michigan’s economic challenge has caused both the governmental and nonprofit sectors to focus more on effectiveness, efficiency, and results – good intentions simply aren’t good enough anymore.

What is your dream for kids?
My dream is for every child to fulfill his or her potential. We used to have a family restaurant, an ice cream parlor. I remember an African American girl that we hired. After six months or a year on the job, she said I’ve always wanted to work here, and I waited until I was 18 instead of 16 to apply. I asked her why she did that. She said, “I would come to the restaurant all the time, but I didn’t see other people who looked like me working here. So I didn’t think you hired us.” I was astonished because that wasn’t the case at all. It made me realize that people can very easily limit themselves if they don’t think there are opportunities. My dream is to provide opportunities so that people can fulfill their own dreams.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Without a healthy, economically viable state, our social service organizations will continue to be overwhelmed with declining resources. I therefore believe that Michigan’s priority must be on improving the business climate to attract and grow companies that create jobs and wealth for the state. The more opportunities available for our citizens to earn a living, the fewer the demands on the social service sector to fill the gap.
Michigan’s economic challenge has caused both the governmental and nonprofit sectors to focus more on effectiveness, efficiency, and results – good intentions simply aren’t good enough anymore. The belief that government cannot solve our community’s economic and social needs alone, and that nonprofits can be more effective if working together toward collective community impact, has spurred greater collaboration between and within sectors. I believe that the most successful social service organizations of the future will be those able to partner with others to work toward common community goals that can be measured and where resources are able to flow to the organizations and programs of greatest impact.
How do you know you’re making progress?
One thing I love about Big Brothers Big Sisters is that we can measure the impact we have on the children we serve. I’m very performance measurement based. I like anecdotal evidence. I like to tell stories, but I have to be able to back it up with real data and real information. For every child that Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors, we do a pre- and post-assessment annually. We measure in three areas of accountability. They are educational success, avoidance of risky behavior and social competencies — the ability of the child to trust and build relationships, have self confidence. We measure those three areas and can demonstrate improvement in the kids that we serve. That’s exciting to me.
What are you most proud of?
I’m excited by the opportunities that exist for us. I’m proud of our organization’s ability to partner with others to make an even greater impact on the children we serve. There are more opportunities than which I can take advantage to partner and do more together with other organizations. Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring is our organization’s name. We
I have discovered that I like to learn about things, figure out how to improve systems or make a difference, and bring people together to collaborate on a problem.
serve five counties —Allegan, Barry, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, and Van Buren. The counties are so distinct, both in terms of demographics, how many matches we have in each county, and how much a part of the community we are. It’s challenging working with all those groups.
What originally drew you into your current profession?
My background is very different from most people that come into nonprofits. I’m not someone who has always been it, and I’m not a social work type person. I had a small business and was a local elected official. I was the Kalamazoo County Commissioner for 11 years, chair and vice chair for half of those years.
I have discovered that I like to learn about things, figure out how to improve systems or make a difference, and bring people together to collaborate on a problem. I’m very mission driven, but to me it matters less whether I’m selling a concept, program, or product. If I believe in what I’m selling, the excitement for me is going out and convincing others and passionately promoting it.
I want to impact the lives of children. That is what Big Brothers Big Sisters is all about. I’m very logic-based; I’m not very emotion-based. That is unique for someone in my line of work. For me it’s about how do I do what this organization does, because the mission is incredible. And how do I help it be better and even more effective. And that’s where my talents and skills are, rather than the emotional side. I’m very passionate about it, but not passionate in the way a lot of social service people might be.
I have a real interest in both the internal operation of an organization, the staff management and that sort of thing, but also the external operation, which is the community relationships to build and working with other partners and community leaders. I want to solve a problem and make something better. When the Big Brothers Big Sisters opportunity became available, it was one of the few positions in any sector where I could do all those things, so that’s what really drew me to it.
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