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Many people have titles and credentials added to their names, but not everyone lives up to those credentials. Dinah Schaller, LCSW, SSW, CDCI, and Lead Social Worker at Mott Community College, not only lives up to those credentials, but she gives them a whole new standard of commitment.
Mott Community College is just east of downtown Flint nestled in the College-Cultural Center neighborhood and serves a diverse community of residents–many of whom are economically challenged. Dinah came to Mott in 2019 to help meet many of the daily life needs of the students on the campus, especially those who come from marginalized and underprivileged backgrounds. Dinah approached this effort from the start with enough compassion for an entire regime of people. Her efforts were contagious and through her steadfast commitment, she was able to rally the troops to join in her efforts. Her initial challenge was groundbreaking as she worked tirelessly to integrate wrap-around services under one roof at the soon-to-be-opened Lenore Croudy Family Life Center on the Mott Campus.
Even before the center opened in August of 2020, Dinah was able to reach many students–particularly some of the most vulnerable students–to help them navigate the systems to meet their basic needs. Dinah’s steadfast determination and commitment made all the difference to open the center with an entourage of services. As part of this process, Dinah helped orchestrate moving the college food pantry, clothing closet, and social work consulting services for helping students access community resources into a resource hub under one roof at the Family Life Center. She also engaged the campus at large and many community partners to network with her to meet the needs of students and their families. When the center finally opened under Dinah’s leadership, MCC was able to address personal barriers to academic success in ways that were unprecedented through these one-stop wrap-around services at the Center. Most importantly she worked hard to create a safe environment to alleviate any stigmas so that anyone feels comfortable coming to the center for services.
When the Pandemic hit in March of 2020, these efforts took on a whole new set of challenges, not only to keep the center open, but to continue serving students through the most difficult of times. Many personal barriers for students intensified greatly at the onset of the pandemic. Dinah knew that she needed to move swiftly to connect these students with programs and services available to them. One such program was the Cares Act which offers numerous aid for students from loan deferment to financial resources for technology. She Facetimed and Zoomed with students to help them navigate the systems to qualify for these benefits. When she realized that hundreds of students may qualify, she recruited faculty and staff college-wide to help as advocates to do the same.
When the campus closed for in-person classes, she was able to advocate to safely keep the center open to continue to provide food for students through the food pantry. As other centers in the community closed, Dinah was able to think quickly and out of the box; she kept the food donations coming in and going out by recruiting volunteers from the campus and the community to provide drive-up services and make weekly deliveries of food directly to the students’ own doors. When the volunteers were delivering food, Dinah was able to coordinate the delivery of technology at the same time for qualifying students. This technology for many was a lifeline to stay in school. Dinah also reached out to the homeless and transitioning students to make sure their needs were being met. Throughout the ebbs and flows of the pandemic and as more benefits were available, Dinah never ceased going out of her way to ensure that anyone who needed services, got them.
As the MCC campus began to open for more regular business, Dinah took the opportunity to start launching some of the additional new services that were put on hold during the pandemic. In less than a year’s time through community partnering initiatives with non-profits such as Partners for Recovery and Fostering Success, Dinah launched 9 affinity groups for cohorts of students such as foster students, single moms, and returning incarcerated students to provide them with spaces to meet and talk. She launched an internship program to help social work interns to build their capacity for equalizing the playing field for social justice through the work at the center. She is working with Michigan Reconnect to help older adults coming to college navigate the systems, especially with technology needs. She launched a partnership with Michigan State University medical interns and Hurley Hospital as well as the Greater Flint Health Coalition to provide health education and services for MCC students.
Dinah’s model of persistence is encouraging to everyone’s life she has touched to hang on even during the toughest of times. Many students who had the potential to drop off, over time, were persistent because of her efforts. Dinah took all of the resources she had access to and scaled them up quickly and successfully because of her compassion for helping others and creativity to think out-of-the-box. Mott Community College understands the importance of this work for the campus and the community at large and Dinah Schaller was the right person at the right time in the right place to make this happen. Therefore, there is one more title that Dinah Schaller is most deserving to add to her name, and that is “Michigan Hero!”