Will Wilson steps up as new CEO of DNWM

A familiar face will lead Disability Network West Michigan. Will Wilson has been with the nonprofit for 14 years, and for the past nine months has been the interim CEO. He replaces Diane Fleser, who stepped down to pursue her doctorate degree. 

He credits the success of his interim leadership and his now-permanent role to the support of the Disability Network staff and board as well as leaders of other organizations.

“The directors from other nonprofits have reached out to me extending their hand in regards to support, so I know that support is there,” Wilson says. “That helped reassure me that I made the right decision to take on this role.” 

During his time as interim CEO, Wilson demonstrated that his leadership style was a good fit for the organization, says Lynne Bosma, board president.

“His willingness to support the organization during this time allowed the staff and board to complete strategic planning,” Bosma says. “This time was critical, as it allowed some time to assess and reflect on the needs of the organization and community to make sure we had a solid strategy in place to meet the mission of DNWM. This diligent planning made it crystal clear that Will was the best fit.”

She adds that Wilson was selected to helm the nonprofit because of his longtime commitment to serving the organization and the DNWM community. 

“Will has been with the organization for over 14 years. With that history comes a unique ability to understand and partner with the community closely. Will's servant leadership, passion for collaboration, and shared vision for the future growth of the organization are why the board hired Will as CEO,” she says. “We are excited to see how DNWM services will expand in 2024 and beyond.”

New chapter of 'transformative growth'

Monica Turnbull, Boys and Girls Club of Muskegon Lakeshore CEO, and a member of the DNWM board of directors, adds that Wilson's unwavering commitment to advocacy, demonstrated leadership within the organization, and his comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by the disability community were instrumental in his selection.

"His strategic vision, combined with a deep sense of empathy and inclusivity, aligns seamlessly with the qualities we were seeking in our next leader. Will's passion for fostering an inclusive society and his innovative approach to addressing the diverse needs of individuals with disabilities make him an exceptional choice to guide Disability Network West Michigan into its next chapter of transformative growth and impactful service," Turnbull says. 

DNWM has a staff of 14 and is looking to bring on a few more people. The organization serves five counties: Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Newaygo and Lake. Its main office is in Muskegon County, and satellite offices are in Oceana and Newaygo counties.

“My goal for 2024 is to increase our presence in those other counties. I just want to be able to ensure that people with disabilities are able to get the resources they need,” Wilson says. 

Background in youth services

Prior to coming to the Disability Network, Wilson worked as director of youth services for Webster House. He brought his passion for helping youths to Disability Network.

Wilson, who majored in criminal justice and sociology at Michigan State University, says he has always loved working with people, especially youths.

When he became a full time employee with DNWM in 2009, he knew the organization was a good fit because of the staff. 

“The makeup of the staff was very diverse, and everyone had a passion for their work. You could tell by your interactions with them,” Wilsons says. 

When it comes to supporting the nonprofit’s clients, the goal is to find ways to overcome barriers. 

“We want to empower our consumers to be as independent as possible. So we'll find a way to work with individuals to help them overcome whatever barriers are in place,” Wilson says. 

One way they try to solve issues for clients is by partnering with other organizations.

“If there’s an opportunity for us to not have to reinvent the wheel, we make sure we incorporate other local agencies, local resources, and connect those to our consumers,” Wilson says. “But if there isn’t a resource available, then we have to get creative and sometimes think outside the box and start something new. We'll do that as well.” 

‘Above and beyond’

Oscar Hernandez, credits Disability Network West Michigan for providing services for his son, Phillipe, over the past 17 years that prepared him for independence, and a dream job position at BOLD Furniture. 

Hernandez has worked with the organization since Phillipe was a toddler, and with Will Wilson, who previously served as Deputy Director of DNWM.

“He went above and beyond. Everything that we threw at him, we figured out a way to help us,” Oscar says of Wilson. “Without Disability Network West Michigan, we wouldn’t have known how to help Phillipe. Willie would say contact this person or that person. He always had a suggestion.” 

More than half the DNWM staff has a disability, a requirement of funding for the organization.

Wilson has an invisible disability. 

“I have severe high blood pressure, or hypertension. I'm managing it right now,” he says.
“Severe high blood pressure is the leading cause of death in the Black community. My mom passed away from it at a young age, and so have several uncles. It's definitely something that is significant and I remain mindful of. 

“When it comes to disabilities, we often say if you continue to live long enough, you may have a disability.”

This article is a part of the multi-year series Disability Inclusion, exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.