St. Louis School for Exceptional Boys in Chelsea, MI was established in 1960 as a home for 60 boys with special needs from the Archdiocese of Detroit who were in need of special attention. At that time, several Servants of Charity priests arrived from Italy to manage the operations and help the children grow into adults. Now known as St. Louis Center, the programs have grown during the past 57 years to include adult men and women, and now 54 residents from throughout Michigan receive residential services. While St. Louis Center has adapted to meet today’s needs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), another change has taken place with the hiring of a Chief Operating Officer to manage the 79 employees who work there.
According to Fr. Enzo Addari, SdC., Administrator of St. Louis Center. “I am pleased to announce that we have hired Ms. Deana Fisher on March 1, 2017 as our new COO to assist us in strengthening services to our residents as we continue to evolve into the 21st Century as an organization.” According to Fisher, the potential new growth of St. Louis Center is what attracted her to Chelsea. “This agency in not just in a growth mode, it’s in a let’s take some kind of steroid and explode all over the place mode. That’s what’s so interesting to me. That’s exciting. I’m getting in on the ground level where this agency can make its mark nationally or internationally. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?”
Fisher grew up in Sterling Heights, MI, and said her earliest influences came from her parents. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was 16, and then she got her Master’s Degree and went into Education. She ended up as the Assistant Dean of the Detroit College of Business, which is now Davenport University. My dad was a pipefitter and more of a hands-on type of guy. So one of the earliest lessons learned was a choice between working with your hands or with your head. You can go to school and get an education to work with your head, or you can build buildings and make wonderful infrastructures and work with your hands. It just depends on what you enjoy.”
“I went to college at Alma College, a small Presbyterian College in Mid-Michigan, and received a bachelor’s degree in social work. I was the third generation in my family to attend that college. My mother’s father was a Presbyterian minister, who died when I was young. But his legacy to our family has carried on through this generation. He walked with Martin Luther King back in the 1960’s when he (MLK) came to Detroit. And at that time, it was not something that Presbyterian Ministers did. He actually lost a congregation over his advocacy for civil rights. I think there’s a part of me that really reflects who he is, because I’ve always taken on the hardest challenges.”
“After Alma College, I attended Wayne State University for my Master’s Degree in Social Work, started working, and never looked back.” Ms. Fisher used her MSW to roll up her sleeves and begin gathering vital experience helping people in the City of Detroit. These experiences included working with teen parents at the Lula Belle Stewart Center, supervising foster care, adoption and teen parenting at the Children’s Aid Society, where she eventually became the Director. She then supervised prevention workers at Families First, and then expanded into clinical child welfare services while working at the Northeast Guidance Center providing home-based services for eleven years. From there, she moved on to the Wayne Center in Detroit, where she was the Director of the children’s program and supervised support coordinators and nurses who visited clients with I/DD. Finally, she has been working at the Children’s Center in Detroit during the past five years, supervising foster care and licensing, as well as the Young Adult Program. “I had a really good experience at the Children’s Center, where they are very intense at working on strategic planning and planning for the future to be the best of the best in their field. So a lot of the things that I learned there are what I can bring here. Each experience taught me something different. I intentionally worked with as many different types of populations as I could. Foster care, teen parenting, and the autistic and I/DD population; and in each environment I came into programs that needed to be modernized and brought up to standards. So watching those programs come together has really been fulfilling.”
Fisher went on to describe her management style, saying “I’ve learned how to establish relationships and a culture of trust, so hopefully I can pull the best out of everybody that’s working at St. Louis Center and help them to become the best of whatever it is they want to be. I want to find people who have the passion to do this work. Once you’ve built a relationship with people, they will give you their best.”
When describing why she accepted the position at St. Louis Center, Fisher added “I knew the foundation here was a good foundation. The values were in the right place, and the things they were trying to do were headed in the right direction. That was number one. I’m very excited to be here and I can’t wait to see where we’re going because it’s going to be a wild ride.”
Fisher and her husband Brian are planning on a permanent move to the area and hope to purchase some land to build a new home. Their three children include Rachel (30), Samantha (23), and Brian Jr. (21). After spending her whole career working in the City of Detroit, the rural experience of living and working in the Chelsea Area is something that Deana Fisher and her husband are definitely looking forward to.
Fr. Enzo Addari, SdC., remains the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of St. Louis Center. For more information about St. Louis Center, please visit www.stlouiscenter.org, or call 734-475-8430.