A Detroit-born nonprofit that made its way to Ypsilanti in 2007 is celebrating its 26th year of service this year, and its service to the Washtenaw County community is still going strong. Destiny and Purpose Community Outreach (DAPCO
) is committed to aiding women and families throughout Washtenaw County, with a mission to "assist individuals in becoming stabilized, well rounded, and anchored members of society."
"We've always had a vision to help women in business," says DAPCO founder and Executive Director Towana Parker. "We started with a dream that expanded and exploded."
When Parker founded DAPCO in her Detroit garage in 1997, the future nonprofit was just a group of women wanting to uplift and promote their entrepreneurial endeavors.
From selling Tupperware to making jewelry, Parker welcomed any and all women to join the group in an effort to lift their voices and find their passion in their own small businesses. But the work quickly evolved into helping young women and girls through positive mentoring, which Parker did while her own children were in high school.
"We started working with young girls in residential homes," Parker says, calling this work the group's entry into the kind of community outreach it would later become known for. "I was using my own money to do this work with the girls. I always was volunteering in the community but never knew I would run a nonprofit."
DAPCO founder and Executive Director Towana Parker.
In 1998, the group officially became Ladies of Destiny and Purpose International, and its work with young women and girls in youth homes and women's shelters expanded. Therapeutic crafting workshops on crocheting and knitting, as well as structured classes to teach life skills to youth, were just as important as promoting women-owned small businesses.
"At that time, we started to see more clearly what we should be doing in the community," says Parker, who noticed that similar nonprofits were mainly visiting larger, well-known youth homes.
As that year ended, Ladies of Destiny and Purpose International achieved 501(c)(3) status and became DAPCO. Parker realized that the work DAPCO had been doing could impact not just women and girls, but the whole family.
"We saw needs that needed to be met," Parker says. "We have program components that cater from infants all the way up to senior citizens. They all have their own purpose and direction."
DAPCO's work in Wayne County easily transitioned to Washtenaw County when Parker and her husband relocated to Ypsilanti in 2007, as Parker says she saw similar needs in the county that DAPCO could meet. One of those needs involved helping new and young mothers who have little to no access to necessary products like diapers, formula, and children's clothes.
DAPCO's Parent and Baby In Need program is open year-round in the form of two Baby Pantries in Ypsilanti. One is at the Prestige Storage center at 626 N. Huron St., and the other is at the Hamilton Crossing apartment community at 596 S. Hamilton St. Moms can make appointments with Parker through the DAPCO website to pick up essential baby items, as well as other home and personal necessities.
A DAPCO baby pantry.
While moms typically would come to the pantry in person to pick up whatever goods they're in need of, sometimes barriers like transportation or weather have gotten in the way. Parker quickly took care of that by personally delivering items directly to mothers' doors.
"Some of the moms who have come to us have more than one child in diapers, or sometimes mom is too far along and needs assistance," she says. "I meet them at their door to have their paperwork signed. Case workers also come to pick up items for their clients. Whatever they ask for, if we have it, it's theirs."
Many of the items in the baby pantries are provided by donations as well as grants, but the pantries also have expanded into an annual event: a community baby shower sponsored by the United Way of Washtenaw County
"United Way has a group of young people who have a drive for us every year to collect donations," says Parker. "United Way is a great friend of ours. We received three grants that helped catapult our efforts in making these deliveries to moms."
Bridget Herrmann, the United Way of Washtenaw County's vice president of impact and advocacy, speaks very highly of Parker and the DAPCO team. Their first interaction was back in 2016 at a United Way of Washtenaw County financial stability coalition meeting.
"Our primary population is families who are income restrained. 27% of people in our community
are working but their wages are not enabling them to meet many of their basic needs," Herrmann says. "DAPCO has been working with moms specifically in that category, and for that reason they've been a strong partner of ours."
Bridget Herrmann, the United Way of Washtenaw County's vice president of impact and advocacy.
According to United for ALICE
, a grassroots movement led by United Way of New Jersey, that 27% Herrmann mentions are considered "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed," or ALICE. Although many households received major financial assistance both at the state and federal levels throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, United for ALICE found that household costs in Washtenaw County were well above the federal poverty level in 2021. That means that despite being employed, many people were unable to pay for essentials like rent and groceries.
The amount of ALICE households varies greatly throughout Washtenaw County, but they're disproportionately located in marginalized communities. With DAPCO targeting low-income women, Herrmann believes that Parker and the DAPCO team can begin to close those gaps in equity.
"I like to think of Towana and her team as community caretakers," Herrmann says. "They are choosing to do really hard work every single day. She has faced budget shortfalls, the pandemic, and she and the team still choose to show up every day and serve the community."
"Showing up" is a trait that other DAPCO members have recognized in Parker as well. Brenda Griffin, who has been a member of DAPCO since its inception, says that even though Parker calls her a founding member of the group, she feels more as though Parker found her instead.
"It is a blessing to be able to show up," Griffin says. "There are so many that want to and for whatever reason may not be able to."
"When you see a need, you tend to want to help," she continues. "All of the programs and activities and projects that Towana has implemented over the years have been worthwhile initiatives, and we want people to see that we are people of integrity who want to better our communities."
DAPCO Executive Director Towana Parker with DAPCO Board of Directors President Sheriane Davis.
Griffin's background in human resources has made her a massive asset to DAPCO over the years, but much of her focus has been on the community baby shower – specifically, providing self-care items for moms in addition to baby supplies.
"The baby shower is just one of those golden type [of] projects," Griffin says. "It's a stellar project we've been able to maintain for years now."
This year's shower is scheduled for Aug. 26. More information will be available on DAPCO's website in the coming months. For more information on the Community Baby Shower, or to learn how to donate, volunteer and participate, visit DAPCO's website
, or email Parker at email@example.com
"It's more important to continue to serve these women and people beyond the community baby shower," says Parker. "We are open to them from that moment on. It's our goal to be more innovative in how we develop ways to sustain our vision and our mission in the community."
Even though DAPCO has grown immensely since its early days of promoting women-owned businesses, Griffin says Parker still has the same passion she did when the organization was founded.
"Towana wants everybody to feel like they have a part, something they can do, something they have," she says. "They may not know it, but she has a way of pulling something out of someone they may not even be aware of."
Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
All photos by Doug Coombe.