When Ann Kalass, chief executive officer of Starfish Family Services in Inkster, was growing up, she realized early on that not all children had the same opportunities as she did. Today, she’s driven to make sure vulnerable kids get the education they need to start off life with a strong footing.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Starfish Family Services CEO Ann Kalass
: Setting a clear and inspiring vision, living and breathing the vision, garnering the resources to achieve the vision, and getting out of the way.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream is that all children reach their full potential – which is endless. At Starfish, we are privileged every day to work in a building with 250 children five and under. Daily, we see the sparkle in these children’s eyes, we experience the joy of their warm hugs, smiles, and giggles. Children leave our preschool programs for kindergarten with boundless energy, a love of Children leave our preschool programs for kindergarten with boundless energy, a love of learning, and self-control.
learning, and self-control. They instinctively understand that sharing is good and hitting is wrong. I hope they don’t forget these things and that the adults in their lives – be it their parents or teachers – continue to nurture these precious attributes.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Fewer and better information systems so we can manage client information and insight better. This would help drive more urgency in our work and a more holistic view of our clients and community. I came to Starfish from a fast-paced, competitive marketing and sales environment in the automotive sector. Data and accountability drove performance. Given the great need in our community, our sector should have much more urgency but we are held back by the lack of timely data and information.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We experience it with our clients on a daily basis. We see mothers who initially cannot make eye contact with our staff, but within several months are making public presentations and experiencing the joy of parenting. We also see tremendous progress through third-party assessments of the quality of our classrooms and teaching staff. And, of course, we have data to show our clients are progressing on defined measures of kindergarten readiness. And, older children are improving their grades, getting united with their families or gaining the life skills to live independently.
I truly feel I am exactly where I am supposed to be at this time in my life and career. What are you most proud of?
In recent months, I’d have to say it’s our Starfish staff – from senior leadership to our front line team of teachers, social workers, bus drivers, cooks, and others. They are working tirelessly and as a team to transform the way we do our work, investing in themselves through professional development and supporting each other to ensure we have the greatest impact on the children and parents in our care.
What originally drew you to your current profession, especially since there was a shift from the private, for-profit sector to your current position?
I love children, and I learned from my parents at an early age that not all children were as blessed by life circumstances as I was. I got to a point in my personal and professional life where I knew I had to do more – to give back. I truly feel I am exactly where I am supposed to be at this time in my life and career. The 20 years of for-profit experience help me immensely as a leader in this sector, and my passion for children and families gives me purpose.