Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation

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hen asked about her thoughts on what Detroit will look like in the next few years, Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, looks to today's young Detroiters.

"The young people that live in the city today will lead in very powerful ways in the next five to 10 years," she predicts. They have confidence and, most importantly, a passion for Detroit she says she hasn't seen in previous generations. "We will have a cohort of young people in this city who will have transformative impact."

It's no surprise then that Allen's career has led her to work for the Skillman Foundation, an organization devoted to bettering the lives of Detroit's children.

"My career has predominantly been working in community building, education reform and philanthropy in Detroit," she explains, noting she started out on Detroit's east side organizing parent groups for education reform and book clubs with the Warren/Conner Development Coalition and The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Before her time at Skillman, she lent her passion and expertise to other programs and foundations, and founded the Detroit Parent Network, which is still empowering parents in their neighborhoods and children's schools more than 10 years later.


In 2004, she started her job as a program director at the Skillman Foundation, originally founded in 1960 by Rose Skillman. Through the last decade, Allen has worked her way up to the top spot at the organization. She took over the leadership position from Carol Goss, who retired late last year.

Skillman has six main areas of investment. Education is a big one. "We believe that one of the best indicators as to how we're doing as a city in terms of children and young people is to look at our high school graduation rates," she explains, as well as if those students are ready for college and career.

Other areas of focus for the organization include community leadership, youth development, social innovation and safety, something Allen says is "a necessary attribute for young people to be successful in school and in life." In addition, Skillman has adopted six neighborhoods through its Good Neighborhoods program, investing in them and working to enhance opportunities for the kids in those areas. By 2016, Allen says they will have invested $100 million in the Brightmoor, Osborn, Cody Rouge, Northend Central Woodward, Southwest Detroit and Chadsey/Condon neighborhoods. Plus, Skillman grants money to other local nonprofits that help in Skillman's core areas.

There's energy in the city, Allen says, and she's excited for its future. "Cities can have life cycles," she explains, pointing to other cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco. "Detroit is due as well."

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