Delphia Simmons is the fearless Chief Strategy and Learning Officer at Detroit's largest women and children's shelter, Coalition On Temporary Shelter (COTS). Her compassionate insight made her a wonderful mentor when Rebel Nell was first getting started. She has served and stood alongside women facing some of the most difficult challenges in their lives with unwavering grace and empathy, and her smile is incredibly contagious.
Rebel Nell: What does COTS do, and how does it work?
Delphia: Coalition On Temporary Shelter (COTS) provides housing and services that support families in their path out of poverty. We do this by partnering with them to meet their desired goals toward self-sufficiency.
RN: How did you get started with COTS?
Delphia: I started at COTS a little over 8 years ago. They had just been awarded a 3 year multi-million dollar grant under the America Recovery Reinvestment Act (AARA) and needed someone to direct the project. I was brought on board and the rest is history. We successfully developed and administered processes through the reinvestment funds and helped thousands of Detroit residents. We learned a lot in the process.
RN: What has been the proudest moment of your work so far?
Delphia: When Cheryl P. Johnson, our CEO, and the Board of Directors decided to restore and renovate our Midtown location into Long Term Supportive Housing for formerly homeless families. I smile whenever I think about families that we serve being able to take advantage of the burgeoning job market and amenities in the area. It will provide housing affordable for low-income families who cannot afford the "affordable-housing" being developed in the area.
RN: What does it mean to you to be successful?
Delphia: Success comes from being your best/authentic self, and contributing to the world where you are. The heavy lift is being authentic, but once that is attained success is natural.
RN: What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about your work?
Delphia: Assemble a great team, develop and empower them, and always listen to the people closest to the problem that you want to solve.
RN: Are there unique qualities about the community around COTS that have helped you be successful thus far?
Delphia: Our CEO is a visionary innovator who believes in organizational learning. We learn from the community of those we serve as well as the external community. Support from the individuals in the community in the form of their time, talent, and treasure; along with Foundations and Corporations who see the value of our work is what enables me to be successful in what I do. Awareness of the bigger vision, value of the work, the generosity of the community, and the ability to learn and grow make for success.
RN: What is your next big goal for COTS?
Delphia: There are several in the works now but one that is further in the future includes replicating our model of partnering with families long-term. We want to make it available to other organizations and in communities.
RN: You were one of the very first mentors our Co-Founders sought advice from when Rebel Nell was first forming. What did you think when you first heard the idea for this company?
Delphia: I had just met Amy and she shared the idea over coffee. The idea of an enterprise that focused on helping to support and strengthen women on the economic margins was pretty cool and a breath of fresh air! I knew it would be a challenging endeavor for a number of reasons but Amy's commitment and heart came through her words.
RN: What do you hope for Rebel Nell in the future?
Delphia: On the product side: Increased product line, increased profitability, and model replication. Rebel Nell's jewelry is uniquely beautiful and the company's model can work with other uniquely beautiful items as well. On the mission side: I hope for prosperous lives for thousands of women and men who were once the children and grandchildren of the hundreds of women that Rebel Nell will help in this generation.
Because we're Rebel Nell, we have to know - Who is a woman that inspires you, and why?
Delphia: My Mother. She left our father and eventually ended the marriage to keep us safe. When I think about how young she was with 6 children and what it must have taken for her to leave so much behind to move us to another State, I realize how strong she is. My life would have been very different and maybe non-existent if she hadn't had the courage to leave.
RN: The theme for this year's International Women's Day is "#PressforProgress" – a call for all walks of life to think, act and be gender inclusive. What do these words mean to you, and why do you think this is important for gender parity?
Delphia: I think that gender disparity affects the hearts of both its proponents and its opponents. Whether it breaks the heart or hardens it, both need healing. At the end of the day, gender parity makes us better people to and for one another.