ACTG's Next Chapter
ACTG’s Next Chapter: Erica Dickerson
The winds of change are blowing at A Chance To Grow. In June, founders and directors, Bob and Kathy DeBoer retired after 35 years leading this exceptional, life-changing organization. On July 1, Director of Clinical and Home-Based Services, Erica Dickerson, assumed the helm as ACTG Executive Director.
Erica’s journey to this role began at Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders. As an intern in both voice and adult therapy clinics, her passion for language development and non-verbal language grew. Erica received a master’s degree in Speech Pathology from Kent State University in 1997.
After graduation, Erica and her husband, Greg, relocated to the Twin Cities where she pursued a career in adult speech pathology. Working with NovaCare Rehabilitation, she served several different clinics including one that primarily served children.
“I didn’t anticipate working with kids … all my training was with adult populations,” said Erica, “but after I was assigned to a pediatric clinic, I discovered how much I absolutely loved working with children and the impact it could make on the whole family.“
Soon after, Erica was hired as a full-time speech pathologist at Therapy Connections for Kids in Coon Rapids, where she spent the next three years practicing her passion in pediatric speech pathology. Although she enjoyed her job, Erica was receptive to the opportunity as Rehab Director at A Chance To Grow.
“I walked into the building and I knew immediately: It was a no-brainer,” said Erica. “There was great energy and amazing facilities. It’s everything a therapist could need and more.”
Erica accepted that role, as well as a half-time position as a speech therapist, in 2001. She was thrilled about her new opportunity, but was even more excited about everything else ACTG had to offer--audio-visual entrainment, vision clinic and auditory therapies.
Over the next few years ACTG added new therapies and departments under Bob & Kathy’s leadership. Erica enjoyed collaborating with other therapists, learning new techniques and incorporating them into treatments. “It always felt like we were trying to catch up to their ideas and visions,” she said, “and for every challenge or roadblock, they just figured out a way to make it work.”
Erica learned a great deal from the DeBoers. She admired Kathy’s never-ending quest for new information and Bob’s ‘don’t-take-no-for-an-answer’ mentality. She learned that it’s OK to not to know everything; that sometimes, it’s more important to ask the right questions and listen to clients.
The Rehab department’s three clients in 2001, today number more than 180 children and adults. Erica considers this a testament to Bob and Kathy’s commitments to helping children achieve their full potential.
“Bob and Kathy want to make a real impact in the community,” said Erica. “Their goal to get children ready for kindergarten, college and adulthood is inspirational and motivates me to take on new challenges with the same determination. It’s one of the reasons I truly enjoy coming into work every day,” she said.
Over the next several years, Erica’s role expanded into nearly every ACTG department. As Director of Clinical and Home-Based Services, she utilized her talents to support practitioners and professionals by ensuring they possessed the best knowledge and tools to do great work. She organized fundraising events, established partnerships and wrote grants that funded many groundbreaking initiatives. “It’s been amazing to be a part of so many of the success stories for families we’ve touched,” she said. “What I really love, now being a parent, is watching the impact we can make on an entire family in working with their child.”
In 2016, Erica’s management responsibilities grew to include the Turnquist Childcare Enrichment Center, where she helped grow the parent transportation program. With the potential to improve the lives of multiple generations, this program holds a special place for Erica.
As Erica transitions to her new role as Executive Director, she aspires to continue the work of the DeBoers in listening to the needs of parents and providing the essential services to help their children lead happy and healthy lives.
Looking forward, Erica will work to ensure the sustainability of the agency’s programs and services. As well as executing new outreach strategies to create greater awareness of ACTG, she will assist with the implementation of the Emotionally SMART pilot-program that addresses ways to help children who have experienced emotional trauma.
“Parents don’t have 20 years to wait around for the research,” she said, “they go out and look for what works now. Thanks to the work of our founders and amazing practitioners, we have 35 years of experience and successes to share with parents. We have the passion to help…and ability to provide hope.”