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Kari Walker


The River Rouge Promise Neighborhood

13101 Allen Road
Southgate, Michigan 48195
A vision for better outcomes for at-risk children drives Kari Walker, The Guidance Center’s president and CEO. His Downriver agency is both a catalyst for community change and a haven for local children and families. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
The Guidance Center President and CEO Kari Walker: Leadership in the nonprofit sector is both an honor and a sacred responsibility. I most value these leadership qualities: having vision, humility, passion for the outcomes and impact we want to make, ability to look objectively and honestly at any number of situations and make decisions in the best interest of the our clients.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream is that every baby is born healthy, our children enter school ready to learn, graduate from high school and college, and have the ability to participate fully in community life.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
We must build the capacity within the nonprofit sector to use data related to impact and outcomes. Systems such as education, health care, child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health have very separate data systems and no methods for data collaboration at a system level. Access to data when clients leave our services is often limited or nonexistent. Since most of these systems operate with significant public funding, leadership is needed within State government on these issues.
How do you know you’re making progress?
When we have defined what impact we intend to make, then progress can be measured.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the staff at The Guidance Center who put their passion and concern for children, adults and families at the center of what they do every day. The social services is a career choice for people who value their ability to make difference. I am proud that The Guidance Center gives opportunity and an environment for those values to be expressed every day.
What role have networks played in your professional career? How have those networks, both personal and private, affected the work you are able to do?
Networks can harness the collective knowledge of persons who individually are working hard on an issue but perhaps in isolation. Recently in collaboration with Dierk Hall and David Cherry from City Connect, I joined with them to invite several non-profit leaders working on educational collaborations around Southeast Michigan to join us to create a learning community to share challenges and opportunities for success. Our youth and communities face many of the same issues of poverty, unequal opportunities, and social challenges at home, in the community and at school. As nonprofit leaders we often struggle with getting data needed for evaluation, identifying best practice preventative interventions, and harnessing the collective power of other organizations and concerned persons in our communities. While we have only had a couple of meetings to date, the fact that these CEOs and staff are talking and sharing resources is a promising sign.
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Program Profile


  • The Guidance Center
    To enhance the development and mental well being of children, adults, families and communities through the delivery of creative, innovative and quality programs. 


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