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Don Corley retires from WSOS after years of service in Community Action

September 04, 2018

After nearly 45 years working in community action, Don Corley of WSOS Community Action Commission is retiring. Throughout his long career, Don has been a strong advocate for low-income residents in communities served by WSOS. 

“When you work in this kind of work, it’s not a job, it’s a mission,” Don said. “If it’s only a job, you won’t last long and you shouldn’t. You’ve got to believe in the underlying mission.” 

Don has been a vital asset to WSOS, the people and communities it serves, and community action in general, WSOS President/CEO Ruthann House said. 

“Don has been a career-long champion in the war on poverty,” House said. “His contributions have positively impacted our communities and our organization. He has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues, peers, partners, and funders throughout a career of service. He will be sorely missed.” 

Though the bulk of his career has been spent in improving housing infrastructure and bringing affordable housing to communities, Don did not start his community action work in housing. After graduating from the Ohio State University, Don began working for Community Action Commission of Erie, Huron and Richland Counties in 1974. His first role was in employment training, placing people in entry-level jobs to gain experience in the workforce. He eventually picked up grant writing responsibilities, and after six years with the agency, Don took on a position as housing director for WSOS in 1980. 

“I got into housing rehab the same way I got into writing grant applications — it just kind of happened,” Don said. 

At the time of Don’s hiring with WSOS, Sandusky County had been awarded a Housing and Urban Development grant for home rehabilitation, and had approached WSOS with administering the grant. Don spoke to representatives from other agencies with prior home rehabilitation program experience for insight on managing the new WSOS endeavor. 

“We only had three rehabs with that initial project. But we wanted to learn what we were doing and how to do it right.” 

From 1980 onward, Don’s career was spent improving the living conditions of low-income residents through home repair and rehabilitation projects. Home rehabilitation funding remains necessary today due to the same underlying causes that made funding necessary nearly 40 years ago, Don said. 

“I think the kinds of things that we do today in rehab and repair are the same kinds of things as then — aging housing stock, systems in need of repair or replacement, and people who didn’t have the resources or means to do that,” Don said. 

Though home repair needs remain the same since Don’s first three projects rehabilitation projects in 1980, WSOS has increased its capacity to meet these needs, having expanded its home rehabilitation programs to include eight counties. Last year alone, the agency improved living conditions of residents in these counties through the repair or rehabilitation of 166 homes. 

“One of the most rewarding things was the gratitude from people, whether it was a written note that they sent us or a heartfelt ‘thank you’ when you’re there and able to see the conditions beforehand and afterwards,” Don said. 

Don worked as WSOS housing director until 2002. At that time, WSOS created a housing development coordinator position to focus on seeking grant funding. Don took on this role, which allowed him more time to work on renewing and expanding funding for home repairs as well as embark on new initiatives, such as leading WSOS’s charge to partner with developers in low-income housing tax credit program projects to build affordable housing. The agency’s first two developments were Leewood Place residential apartments in Fremont, and Laurelhurst Senior Living in Clyde. 

“The Laurelhurst project was particularly exciting,” Don said, noting that the senior living project included a dramatically improved space in which WSOS could house its Clyde senior nutrition site and kitchen within the apartment building. 

“At the time, our senior nutrition program in Clyde was in an old historic downtown building.” Don said. “Suddenly, we were able to create a brand new space with a brand new kitchen that was fully handicap-accessible with much more space plus the opportunity to offer affordable senior housing.” 

Since the completion of Laurelhurst and Leewood, Don and WSOS completed other affordable housing projects, the most recent project being Commons at Little Bark Creek in Fremont, a unique senior living community that includes intergenerational units for multiple generations of individuals living together. 

 “These projects are rewarding, because you end up seeing something that wasn’t available before and you played a role in creating that,” Don said. 

No matter what role he was in at the time, Don has been a strong representative for community action and those whom community action serves. 

“You’re certainly not in it to get wealthy, but when you know you’ve made a real difference in someone’s everyday life, that’s a pretty cool thing.”

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