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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 65: Coleen Davis

Coleen Davis
Coleen Davis

Coleen Davis of Alternatives in Motion is our guest.

Coleen Davis is the Executive Director of Alternatives in Motion, ensuring that all individuals with a disability have access to mobility equipment. She has over 20 years of nonprofit leadership from the United Way and Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Coleen Davis is our guest on this edition of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.


Intro: Produced by women about women. Powerful women. Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live.


Shelly Irwin: Coleen Davis is executive director of alternatives in motion her role ensuring that all individuals with disabilities have access to mobility equipment. She has over 20 years of nonprofit leadership from the United Way. Big brothers and big sisters course really need to ask what her first concert at the tender age of 16. Welcome to this edition of powerful women. Let's talk Coleen, hello to you Colleen.

Coleen Davis: thank you

Shelly Irwin: glad to have you hey, can you hum Rick Springfield song for me?

Coleen Davis: my very first concert at the age of 16 that I. I had to talk my father and mother into was at pablo Creek music theater in Illinois, where I was growing up. And yeah, my parents weren't really sure at the age of 16. But I was watching him on General Hospital because I was in the soap operas at 16 years old. Yeah, I went and loved it and I've been a fan and just a big 80's geek

Shelly Irwin: can I ask about the secret to your success. Maybe it started there. And that's Coleen with one L right.

Coleen Davis: Correct. Yeah. My sister's name is Eileen with one L and two, Es So my mom decided to keep it the same but have not met a lot of people that have spelled it that way. It's still very Irish Gaelic. My ancestors are from Wales. But it's just a little different.

Shelly Irwin: well good that you can stand out, Coleen 20 years of nonprofit leadership was this your career goal

Coleen Davis: when I was young. I wanted to be a flight attendant. I just wanted to be a flight attendant. We had flown a couple times. My family out to Los Angeles and back it in a time when they flew the Giants L10 elevens. And it was, you know, 20 flight attendants and it was just, you know, kind of glamorous that I was . Yes, that's what I want to well, no that isn’t what we did haha, we started raising a family and then I kind of fell into my not for profit career starting out as a volunteer coordinator, which has been one of my favorite jobs in in not for profit, just being able to go out and speak to people passionately about why the organization was working for needed the volunteers and then seeing the volunteers come in and get excited about what we're trying to do with the seniors just kind of sparked everything. And at the time the organization I was working for was an assisted living center, a not for profit one. And I used to have to report to the board about the volunteers I recruited. And so, one of them was serving on the United Way board the time in that community and after the meeting, he said you need to come work for us. So that's how I started my first executive director job was just from meeting with that gentleman and getting to know him. Then the rest of the board and Then seeing something in me and deciding to take a chance.

Shelly Irwin: yes, I have a feeling you pay that forward. We may get there. So, if you are to answer what has been your road to success thus far. What's a trait that that's taking you to this road?

Coleen Davis: having passion for helping people. My grandfather used to say to has he was a policeman in the Chicago fire Department for many, many years. Both my grandfather’s where and he said get up and do your best every day. And I've always carried that with me through my career, no matter where I was working with non for profit. I was working for I just always heard. Those words are do your best. And that's what my grandfather tried to do in helping Chicago. So, yeah, it's kind of something I think about him on a pretty regular basis.

Shelly Irwin: Yes. DNA let me before you dig deeper into. The weeds alternatives in motion Tell me more about this organization.

Coleen Davis: Yeah. It's so 28 years this year alternatives in motion has been around for and initially with their inception. Shelley. They were providing mobility equipment to persons in need and what that meant to them back then was purchasing equipment, which is, you know, which is a wonderful thing, but they found out kind of early on that they weren’t really hoping a large a large number of people. And so, then through the years they would get, you know, massive amounts of telephone calls of people wanting to donate gently used equipment. And so, they thought, why not change our model and be able to help more people. So that's really, I think when and I wasn't around for that. But that's really, I think when the organization started to emerge. So, they found warehouse, space and started taking in the gently used equipment and then making sure that we're safe and donating that to persons with disabilities. So, when I first started with them 6 years ago. Now we were helping a 100 people that that first year and that was amazing. And this year we're just at 806 people as of November 1st. So. We've come. We've come a long way in 6 years. It seems it seems impossible that we get to that number somedays. But,

Shelly Irwin: you know, the power of those who need your help, and you return that and yes, 806, you count every soul that 806th person just as important as the first. So let me ask you, you are known to have a unique ability to connect individuals to an organization's mission talk about that.

Coleen Davis: You know, people helping people. The more we work together, the more people we can help. And that's really been part of my DNA in my not-for-profit journey to. So, if there is someone that I can introduce to anyone in the community, even if it's a donor and its, maybe it's not the right fit for us. But it's the right fit for us and they want to donate to someone else. I love I love being able to refer them to people that can fill a void. And whatever that is we try, and alternatives in motions is treat people as a whole. So, while we can help them with their mobility needs they have other needs. We want. We want to help with those 2. So, we don't want to just a Google it. We want to be a resource. And so, we had this really great resource Binder that we even use in our community van than we that we keep pieces of paper and then we, you know, just take it right out of the Binder and say, you know, please call meals on wheels or please call whoever it is that that they're needing at the time. So, we're treating them as a whole. And I think that's the way we all Want to be treated. And so, the diverse population that we serve deserves the best that we can give them and the best that our community can provide.

Shelly Irwin: How does one know perhaps a young woman, build relationship, building skills.

Coleen Davis: Yeah. It's 1, 1, person, one person at a time. But, you know, I think about when I first came to this community 6 years ago from Chicago, right out of Chicago and not knowing a lot of people. And having you introduce me to so many people in so blessed to have you to that to and thinking about how important that was to me to create relationships. I definitely want to reciprocate that other and be the resource. So, it just makes our community a better place when or, you know, helping others.

Shelly Irwin: Well, now we're connecting you many listeners. Thank you for that. time for fun facts. How did you get to be a huge Detroit Red Wings fan?

Coleen Davis: Yeah, my family's haha

Shelly Irwin: it's not as much of reds around the house or not is a much of fans expand

Coleen Davis: we decided when we moved to Michigan that we were going to embrace Michigan sports and I've always loved hockey. It's the idea of a team working together to get to a goal a little haha as, so I love that idea of team. And I've always been about the hockey and its strategy and absolutely love the Red Wings and the Griffins. And yeah, love all of it.

Shelly Irwin: You dabble in sign language.

Let's talk about this.

Coleen Davis: I do. Yeah. I've been learning sign language through covid. Here what happened was 2 years ago. One of our clients, Luke, you know, he came in to do a little art project and he was signing to me, and his mom was interpreting, and he was asking me if I wanted some of his cereal, he was eating some cereal. And I thought I should be able to know what he what he's saying. And so, I took the first sign language class. I have to take the second one. And then there's a proficiency . I don't know if I'm going to go there. But I really admire people that do that job in and during covid its been so important that we've been utilizing the services so. Our diverse community can communicate and can learn what everybody else says. And so, while I am not proficient in it. I'm really glad I took it and the first time I saw Luke after taking my class. I was Signing with him and so it made me feel really good. We do have quite a few nonverbal clients at alternatives motion. So, it makes me feel good that I can ask them how they are and a and how is school for Luke end to be able to respond is just it's awesome. That makes my heart sing. Yeah, that's good. Stuff.

Shelly Irwin: Mind you that we are always able to expand our talents and more. So your love for helping people. You mention your grandparents do you tribute to your grandparents.

Coleen Davis: Yeah, yeah. I mean, they instilled in in in my father, but at a young age, my grandparents. We're involved with teaching special religious education at a church in our community and they took my brother and sister and I at a young age. And so, we were exposed to persons with disabilities, and it really made us respect them and in a different way in seeing how our grandparents interacted with them and how important it was to them. My father served on United way boards in his career. And so, philanthropy in giving back and volunteering was really a part of our upbringing. In the McMahon household.

Shelly Irwin: Of course. I think you are a grandparent. Are you going to continue that that tradition?

Coleen Davis: I am so excited. We have a 5-year-old grandson and a one-year-old granddaughter. And so yeah, we would really love to see them continue that the work it when we when we sit around the table at Christmas. We like to talk about how we've given back through the course of the year. And so, my brother and sister and I of course we get together. We do that. And then to hear my nephew talk about how he's giving back in high school and hopefully our little guys will be able to talk about that is as they grow up.] It's a really Fun family tradition.

Shelly Irwin: Do you miss Chicago, your hometown?

Coleen Davis: I mean really. I do. I love it. I love it here in West Michigan. I was, you know, Course born and raised in the city. And that's where my girls live.] And my mother lives since so I'm back every month. So, I do I do I to go. I do go and visit very often. But we call Michigan home. And this is where we're going to stay. But it's only a 3-hour drive. So, we're good they’re just around the lake there in the south side of Chicago. So, we're excited to be able to visit them as often as we can this is our home.

Shelly Irwin: Yeah, good stay here. We have a work for you to keep doing back to action items. How do we teach our young women to give back to follow their talents and their values?

Coleen Davis: Yeah, I would say first of all, find your passion, find what your what your passion about. Have a lot of ethics hold yourself to a to a higher standard. But I think how you go about finding that is volunteer and we have so many wonderful places in our community and volunteer at one that you think your passionate about especially if you want to go into not-for-profit work. We love to have a people volunteer for us and find out about us. And I've done a lot of shadowing, especially for students at Grand Valley. And any other key University or college that would reach out to me. I love having students come and say, hey, you know, I have a passion for not-for-profit work, but I'm not sure he’ll come and spend a couple hours with us are my door is always open. So that's my best advice is do all the exploring that you can do a lot of homework. Ask a lot of questions. I don't mind answering any of them. And I don't think any of my colleagues here in town would have a problem. And if it's a right fit, hey, I'm glad and welcome to non for profit. And if not, you know, you you've checked a box, you went there. You explored. So, I think that's how you find your passion is trial and error and working with people that have a passion in the community and want to get back.

Shelly Irwin: It sounds like mentorship is important to you

Coleen I've had so many mentors Shelly And you know, really and you know, our board in right now as a mentor to me, there's so many creative strong leaders in our community that's I I'm in awe of the time and the passion that they have for our mission and the culture of our board of directors. It's just it's a beautiful thing and it makes me really proud of what I do.

Shelly Irwin: what motto drives Coleen Davis,

Coleen Davis: do your best every day. And the really goes back to what my grandfather said it's what drives me. You know, all of our days aren't the best but make it the best for you and make if the best for the people that you serve. And so yeah, that's my motto. Every day. And in careers. I try and do my best every day

Shelly Irwin: how is it going so far.

Coleen Davis: Love to do. .. love what I do. Ha.

Shelly Irwin: Thank you for being here and sharing what you do and how others can follow in your footsteps Coleen Davis executive director of alternatives in motion.

Coleen Davis: Thank you.

Shelly Irwin: Thank you. And that does it for this edition of powerful women. Let's talk I’m Shelly Irwin.


Outro: Produced by women about women.these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women. Let's talk get additional interviews at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe powerful women. Let's talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU. Its underwriters and Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The Shelley Irwin Show, a news magazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast at 9 a.m., features a wide variety of local and national news makers, plus special features.
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