Staying connected: Attorney displays passion for giving back

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By Jeanine Matlow
Legal News

With his own law practice and his work as an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Dennis J. Clark has a lot on his plate. But that hasn’t stopped him from being a lifelong volunteer in a variety of organizations including his current position as board chair for City Connect Detroit.

In the past, Clark, who practices alongside his son John at Clark Law Firm PLLC in Detroit, served as Vice President of Compliance and Ethics for the Auto Club Group and he was previously an attorney and shareholder for Plunkett Cooney, where he practiced compliance, criminal law, civil rights, and personal injury law.

He is also a past president of the Eastern District of Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, past member of the National Board of Directors and past national president of the Foundation of the Federal Bar Association. His current involvements include being a trustee and treasurer of the Federal Bar Foundation of Detroit and a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Clark, who earned his law degree from Boston University School of Law and his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame, has been honored with an Outstanding Service Award from the Catholic Youth Organization and received the Distinguished Service and Commitment award from the University of Notre Dame.

Since 2008, he has been involved with City Connect Detroit, a nonprofit organization that tries to address community problems by facilitating and mobilizing funding in support of collaborative community solutions.

For the past 15 years, City Connect Detroit has organized, managed, and led community change initiatives and mobilized more than $135 million in support of this work. The organization has addressed a number of issues, such as the need for better data for decision-making, a lack of afterschool programming, the threat of home-based lead hazards, and limited access to healthy foods and safe recreational opportunities.

The nonprofit is also behind the city’s well-known youth employment program, Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, which Clark says has been very successful, through a youth summer jobs program, at working with young adults and children and families.

“We connect people and organizations. There is a great need to work together to solve local problems and for funding to support the work,” he says. “I care deeply about the organization and the work we’re doing. It’s an opportunity to serve the community.”  

On occasion, Clark has the chance to interact with people who have been participants in the program.

“It’s heartening to hear about and reflect on their success stories,” he says. 

As he explains, the organization is concerned with measuring the effects of their programs, which is done through statistics and reports that show the results.

“It helps to keep us going,” says Clark who first heard about City Connect Detroit from a colleague on the board.

Though he says it can be frustrating to not be able to do more, the positive effect they are seeing is rewarding.

“We’re helping young people in getting that first job and learning skills they can use for when they join the workforce.”

His legal and corporate governance background and expertise allow him to help the organization with their mission and goals.

“I feel personally privileged to be involved in the organization,” says Clark. “We’re trying to do our part to respond to what’s good for Detroit.”

Dierk Hall, president and CEO of City Connect Detroit, values what Clark brings to the table.

“Dennis understands the nonprofit sector. He’s a great asset to the organization and he takes it very seriously,” he says. “Most of all, Dennis has a big heart. He cares about the city and, in particular, youth. He helps them to be the best they can become.

“Dennis also helps the organization to think bigger, broader and deeper,” Hall says. “He believes there is more work to be done and he’s very focused on the success of the organization. He wants to make sure that we’re doing the best we can, so he keeps a professional eye on it. He’s constantly asking how the work we do impacts the lives. He gets that we’re a community intermediary.”

Clark has made a positive impact on Hall’s life along the way.

“Dennis has helped me professionally and personally as well,” he says. “From our conversations, I’ve picked up pearls of wisdom that are important to me as a CEO.”

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