Michael Corey is getting the Human Service Chamber “invited to every table.”
When Michael Corey took over as executive director of the Human Service Chamber of Franklin County in 2017, he had very little professional experience with nonprofits. But his background in law combined with a passion for social justice and a knack for building relationships made him an attractive candidate.
He became the fifth director in the organization’s eight years of existence, representing members such as the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, Children’s Hunger Alliance, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus and Catholic Social Services. Nearly two years later, the chamber’s membership has grown from 48 member agencies to nearly 70.
“I had a lot of energy to drive this work, to be a cheerleader and a champion for all of these agencies and also to be a connector,” he says. “I could not have crafted something out of the blue that fits my personality and my passions better than this job.”
Corey has become a trusted partner to organizations including Columbus City Council, United Way of Central Ohio and the Columbus Foundation, says Rachel Lustig, CEO of Catholic Social Services and vice chairman of the Human Service Chamber’s board of directors. “He’s invited to every table,” she says.
The Columbus Foundation provides funding for many chamber members, and Corey has been able to help organizations work together, says Dan Sharpe, vice president for community research and grants management at the foundation. “It’s impressive to see how much forward momentum he has brought to the platform,” he says.
The chamber was founded with the “noble but nebulous purpose” of being one voice on behalf of the sector, Corey says, and he sees his role as amplifying the voice of central Ohio agencies.
The chamber provides benefits to members in five areas: government relations; fundraising advocacy and support; convening and collaborating; training, programs and services; and communicating and educating. The primary focus is on educating elected officials and their staffs in a way that is above partisan lines.
“They’ll reach out to us now and say, ‘We want to learn about this issue and maybe draft some legislation on it.’ And I connect them quickly with our agencies,” Corey says.
Corey sends member agencies legislative and political updates plus upcoming events, grants, staffing resources and even real estate opportunities.
Corey has his finger on the pulse of the central Ohio community and brings people together to make an impact on poverty and community needs, says Board Chairman King Stumpp, CEO of Netcare Access.
One example is the chamber’s conversations with the Central Ohio Transit Authority to partner on how best to give low-income people in the region the mobility they will need in the coming years. Thirty-five chamber member CEOs met on the topic last fall.
Lustig credits Corey’s “courageous and bold vision.”
“Sometimes human service agencies fly below the radar. His vision is to help move the contribution that human services agencies make in this community out of the shadows and realize what their true impact is,” Lustig says.
Corey sees a long-term vision where the chamber shapes human services in central Ohio for the next 100 years, similar to what the Columbus Partnership means in the business arena and what Experience Columbus has done in the tourism industry.
“We need to be the thought leaders in conjunction with partners across the civic, corporate, higher education and so forth worlds to show the public what this is going to look like and drive us toward that,” he says.
Corey wants to position the chamber to meet the needs of a fast-growing region that “not only has entrenched poverty, but poverty that’s breathing out across the community.” He tells legislators and other partners that infrastructure as elemental as sidewalks and streets is needed, and it must be built in a sustainable way.
“We’ve got a long way to go, and we don’t want to be satisfied with just moving needles—we want to move mountains.
“But I’m grateful we’re in a collaborative community that genuinely wants to address its weaknesses while building upon its strengths.”