In her former life, she was an attorney, serving as Lakewood Hospital’s legal counsel for 11 years. Then a string of life-changing events put Dianne DePasquale-Hagerty on the path to becoming CEO of Medina Creative Housing. The first was the birth of her son.
“When I had my son I realized that life wasn’t about winning the next case or writing the next contract. It’s about my son. It’s about my family,” she says.
“That was a big eye-opener and that changed my course. It caused me to give up my career that I had worked very hard for and to become a stay-at-home mom. And that was difficult for me, but it was the best thing I ever did.”
The second event was an auto accident that led to her brother developing reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a chronic condition that causes excruciating pain and mobility issues. One year later, compounding his problems, his son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
Her family’s struggles led her to realize it takes many people coming together to help someone navigate their changed world. So once her son was more independent, DePasquale-Hagerty decided to go back to work. MCH was looking for its first director at the time, “and I thought that was something I can really wrap my head and heart around,” she says.
“I knew that life could change in an instant,” she says. “And I understood you could be born with a disability that would present challenges for the rest of your life. So it was a group I felt very strongly about and wholeheartedly committed to serving.”
Starting from scratch
Eleven years ago when DePasquale-Hagerty started, MCH looked much different than it does today.
“We had a few houses, and were in the red. We were not very visible in the community. It was a grass-roots parents’ organization, so they were struggling trying to maintain what they had let alone trying to envision what the future could be and how they could get there,” she says.
“I came on and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot through a very strong board and incredible community support. We were able to accomplish things I don’t think anyone ever thought possible,” she says.
Today MCH is known throughout Medina County, the region and the state as a multifaceted, nonprofit organization that provides housing and services to individuals with disabilities, helping them live life with dignity and opportunity. Its services include opportunities for employment and independent living with support in apartments and single-family homes that are integrated into the community.
It has 48 housing units that house 80 people and provides services to more than 400 people through its various programs. It employs 110 people, half of whom have a disability.
Since 2008, MCH has developed ancillary services, such as Medina Creative Produce, which offers the chance to grow food that’s provided to the community; and Medina Creative Pet Play, which offers pet care. She says these services create opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be a bigger part of the community.
Looking to grow
Still, MCH has challenges. One of the biggest is providing services to all those who need it. DePasquale-Hagerty says some 260 people are on waiting lists for housing or to get into a program.
Helping MCH overcome this hurdle is a planning grant awarded from the Cleveland Foundation that could lead to it duplicating its housing model in Cuyahoga County. The planning would help MCH work with groups in Cuyahoga County to compose a comprehensive plan. But MCH will only thrive in a supportive community with the right amenities, so site selection is key.
“That’s a big undertaking,” DePasquale-Hagerty says. “Medina Creative Housing was developed (over) more than 22 years, so … we now have a model to do it. But it takes resources and various groups coming together and supporting this.”
MCH assembled a diverse 12-person advisory committee that will help identify community needs, potential funders, the challenges and how to overcome those, and to help put a plan together for the planning grant.
Six years ago, DePasquale-Hagerty was MCH’s only employee. Since then her efforts have helped the organization grow exponentially, but there are always more people to serve.
“My biggest challenge is I want to do it all,” she says. “I don’t like to say no to anyone. I understand we have limitations, but if there’s a way that we can do something I’m going to try to do it.” ●