Dion Wright (1968 – 2022), former Deputy Executive Director of Civic Works in Baltimore, MD, will be recognized posthumously as a 2024 winner of The Corps Network Legacy Achievement Award. The Legacy Achievement Award is one of the highest honors The Corps Network grants; it recognizes exceptional leadership and notable achievements within the national Service and Conservation Corps community. Honorees are those who have worked at least 15 years in the Corps world, served in a senior leadership position at a Corps, and made significant contributions to the national movement. We spoke with some of Dion’s colleagues at Civic Works to learn about his work and the impact he left on the community.
The 2024 Legacy Achievement Awardees will be recognized during The Corps Network National Conference, happening March 19 – 21 in Washington, DC.
Tell us about Dion’s background. How did he come to Civic Works?
- Dion started as our GED coordinator in fall 1995. Dion had worked in adult education at a community college prior to coming to Civic Works. Dion was an alum of Johns Hopkins University.
Dion served in several different roles throughout his time at Civic Works. Can you tell us a bit about his various responsibilities during his tenure?
- Dion became Corpsmember Development Director in 1998 and later YouthBuild director. We started work on setting up a high school in the 2000s and when REACH Partnership school opened its doors in 2008, Dion became Executive Director of REACH. He also was Deputy Executive Director of Civic Works.
- Dion above all else was mentor to everyone he worked with. Obviously, the mission of Civic Works is closely tied to teaching and mentorship and Dion got his start in the classroom with training Corpsmembers. That sense of mentorship and wanting what was best for everyone did not stop with the Corpsmembers but extended to all the staff and partners with other non-profits, where he would selflessly give his time and ideas on how to make things work without a worry of the credit he would be given. He often shied away from opportunities that put himself in the spotlight and took steps to promote others instead. Whether you were a Corpsmember, new staff, or long-time colleague, you were treated the same way. When we would have fun gatherings, Dion would always want to be the one grilling. Like any project, he was happy to do the work that would fuel everyone else to succeed.
- When I started at Civic Works, Dion was the Associate Executive Director of Civic Works, Inc. and the Executive Director of REACH of Baltimore, Inc. He oversaw half of all programming and all the administrative functions, except for Fund Development. Program Managers and Directors reported directly to him, as did I, the Director of Finance. Within that role, I oversaw HR, Payroll, Benefits, Insurance, and Treasury. Dion was involved in all to the extent he oversaw all that I did.
What would you say was Dion’s proudest achievement from his time at Civic Works?
- To me, Dion’s proudest achievement was when REACH opened its doors. He was especially happy when REACH moved into a renovated school building in 2019 from its prior location. My favorite photo of him is with the school principal and a community leader from that day.
- I think in general it would be that he was seen as fair and had earned peoples’ personal and individual respect. Of course, he smiled the most when a Corpsmember would return and share where they were in life and their success in part due to Civic Works’ support. In specific, it was the creation of REACH Partnership and the idea of not giving up on students getting to graduate and experience all the normal thrills of high school despite whatever other struggles they may have experienced. It was important for the school to have a basketball team and formal graduation ceremony etc. – things that his GED students did not get to experience as fully as they did when graduating from REACH. The first graduation was probably one of the top days in his Civic Works life.
- I was aware of two. He started REACH and, during his years as Executive Director, the school grew. He was very proud of the work they did and how the school grew, and how students learned. Many AmeriCorps members served at the School and helped students and staff educate Baltimore City high school students. The second was our YouthBuild program, another program that utilized AmeriCorps members by offering GED instruction, Construction, and Healthcare skills to young Baltimore City residents and offering the opportunity to serve their neighborhoods though on-the-job training. Many young men and women learned job readiness and job specific skills by joining our YouthBuild program.
What is your fondest memory or favorite anecdote from working with Dion?
- As we worked closely over the years, we became good friends. We both had kids within a year of each other and it was always fun trading stories about our daughters. Dion was a very proud dad and I remember thinking I hope I become as good a dad as Dion is.
- I was more prone to see the difficulty in things and why some things would not work. There are many examples, but I remember walking through the first site that functioned briefly to start REACH Partnership until it got to its new modern home in Clifton Park. As I mentioned certain difficulties we would have with the site, I remember Dion’s joy at imagining what it could become. Not for Civic Works or what he could do there, but describing how families could come to cheer on events in the theater and gym, including a graduation. He was happy imagining giving family (chosen or otherwise) experiences and moments to everyone, as they were what he cherished most.
- Dion and I shared an office for almost seven years. I learned everything I needed to know about REACH, AmeriCorps, and all the Civic Works programs from Dion by being present when people came to see him. He was tolerant of my taste in music, and patient with my learning curve. He and I laughed at the antics of the squirrels outside our windows and in the attic overhead.
Is there anything you think other Corps programs or Corps staff can learn from Dion’s example and the work he accomplished?
- Dion was willing to try new things and new projects. Sometimes they didn’t work out, but most times they did. Starting a high school was uncharted territory for Civic Works, and it had its ups and downs, but in recent years the school has produced strong results for its students and the community. REACH is one of Dion’s greatest legacies.
- Dion had a great balance of expecting the best out of Corpsmembers and not allowing them to get away with disrespecting themselves or others. Without lectures or sermons, but how he consistently set boundaries and carried himself he would show the importance of doing things the right way. Patience would be what all of us could learn from his work and successes.
- His door was always open for current and past AmeriCorps members. He didn’t tolerate sloppiness or disrespect and would call it out when necessary, but he was always available to offer advice and support.
How do you hope Dion will be remembered?
- Dion was always a champion of Corpsmember development and, as REACH high school was developed, of student development. He believed in the power of education to change lives, be it by getting one’s GED, high school diploma, or college degree. Dion will be always be remembered as someone who believed in the potential of young people to succeed.
- As someone who put others before himself. Who found joy in family, both real family and his family in Civic Works. He would not want us to be sad for what he missed, but celebrate all he got to be a part of and all the lives that were touched by him in his too short time with us.
- As an exceptional mentor and great friend.