Jennings’ Successor Says There’s Still Much Work to be Done
The Board of Directors of Community Action Lehigh Valley is pleased to announce the appointment of Dawn Godshall as the organization’s next Executive Director. Currently serving as the organization’s Deputy Executive Director for Operations, Godshall has been with the agency since March, 2014, and has held various leadership positions including Associate Executive Director for Community Services and Director of the Sixth Street Shelter in Allentown. She will succeed Alan Jennings, who is retiring at the end of May after more than 40 years with the agency.
“Dawn Godshall inspires confidence in the board, staff, and community we serve. Her comprehensive knowledge of our agency, her first-person understanding of the causes and effects of poverty, and her unflappable presence draw people in,” said Wayne Barz, Community Action’s Board President. “Given the year we’ve just been through as a nation and community, we think everyone who meets her will feel inspired by the future of what this agency and community can accomplish.”
Godshall grew up in Buffalo, New York. Her mother passed away when she was five years old, leaving her father to raise her and her two sisters, ages six and seven, on his own. Despite not making it past sixth grade, her father spoke three languages (Italian, German, and Spanish) fluently and instilled the importance of education in his daughters. When she was 12 years old, her father passed away and she spent the rest of her childhood in the foster care system. Although she had to overcome adversity from an early age, she notes that it has made her who she is today: a fighter.
“I wasn’t born into a life of privilege. I’m a woman of color who grew up in foster homes and has had to overcome many challenges. I learned early on that obtaining a good education was one of the most powerful ways to change my circumstances. I have raised two Black sons as a single mother in a nation filled with division,” said Godshall. “Throughout my lifetime, I have utilized many services similar to those offered by this agency. This agency gives me a platform to speak up for those left behind and serve all people who face obstacles to economic opportunity. I understand their struggles and I will fight for the kind of fairness to which each and every one of us should be entitled.”
Prior to joining Community Action, Godshall managed fundraising and communications at the Allentown Rescue Mission, directed the Ways to Work Family Loan Program at Family Answers, Inc., and managed volunteers at the Children’s Home of Easton. She spent several years working as a journalist, as well as working for ABC Sports and as a producer for ABC News.
Godshall graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Buffalo State College in New York. She serves as the Board Chair for Northampton County Housing Authority and is a member of the Board of Trustees at Cedar Crest College. Currently she resides in Northampton with her husband, Austin Godshall, who owned and operated Austin’s Auto in Bethlehem for 35 years before his retirement in 2011.
One of her first acts as Executive Director will be to hire her replacement, stabilize the agency in a pandemic and then tackle a capital campaign to build a youth center in the City of Allentown as part of Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown’s Neighborhood Partnership Program. The multi-million-dollar facility will be the focal point for a wide range of activities designed to make sure every child is prepared to be a self-sufficient adult. The facility will include space for youth sports and arts programming to enable the kids who attend to be well-rounded, academically capable and earn a decent living.
She also wants to ensure that the agency’s housing rehab effort that currently has 66 properties in play continues to grow and become sustainable.
Godshall takes over an agency that has grown exponentially under Jennings’ leadership, with a budget of $30 million, more than $9 million in real estate, including the buildings that make up the Sixth Street Shelter, Sharon’s Pantry (site of the Second Harvest Food Bank) and the Forte Building, the agency’s headquarters in southeast Bethlehem. The agency has 100 employees, has won countless awards and has established itself as one of the strongest Community Action Agencies in the country.
Godshall’s vision for the agency is to continue to play a vast role in helping our community be a more equitable and economically prosperous place for all residents to live and thrive. She believes that we also need to be able to come together to have conversations about our differences, whatever they may be, in a calm and civil manner. She notes a key priority as implementing the strategic plan being developed by the Color Outside the Lines initiative, which has engaged the Lehigh Valley in a conversation about race and ethnicity that eliminates barriers to fairness and opportunity.
She will officially assume her new position on June 1st but will spend the next two months working closely with the Board of Directors and Jennings on the transition.
About Community Action
Community Action operates a wide range of programs designed to improve the quality of life for low-income people in the region. Those programs include the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, housing initiatives like homeownership counseling and foreclosure mitigation, rehab and new construction. The agency operates entrepreneurial programs that make loans and offer small business training. It also does extensive neighborhood revitalization work in downtown Allentown, south Bethlehem and the Slate Belt, ranging from façade improvements and creating pocket parks to planting trees and streetscaping. Only 32% of its budget comes from government funding, a proportion without equal among more than 1,000 Community Action Agencies in the nation.