Jerilyn Keit Dressler, CPA, began her commitment to community service when she was a 6th-grader in Queens, N.Y. The precocious 11-year-old gave away her classmates’ leftover food and snacks to help feed the hungry. The school gave her a Humanitarian Award which, she recalls, she didn’t expect but which meant a lot to her.
She left New York to earn a degree at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, then moved back to Manhattan to pursue an audit career with Ernst & Young. When her then-fiancé accepted a faculty position at Villanova University, she returned to Philadelphia. But in the back of her mind there was always a dream of wanting to do more to help the community.
That opportunity presented itself in 2007, when she was accepted into the Business On Board program of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia. The Council strengthens the management and operations of arts and cultural organizations and provides development and leadership opportunities for business professionals in the world of the arts. The six-month Business On Board program has trained more than 400 business executives in nonprofit governance to enable them to serve more effectively on more than 100 area organizations’ boards and committees.
As part of the program, she shadowed Art-Reach, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing arts accessibility for underserved audiences. Dressler was hooked. “I was immediately enthralled with the concept, because Art-Reach connected my two passions: the arts and community service,” she says.
Dressler has been a dancer “for as long as I can remember.” She also plays the drums, and she and her husband have a band. Being able to see the business side of an arts organization was an eye-opener for her – and a career-changing experience.
The shadowing program at Art-Reach quickly led to her doing volunteer work, helping to document financial controls and implementing whistle-blower, conflict-of-interest, and document retention policies. By March, 2008 she found herself being named to the board of directors. Within a few months she was elected treasurer.
She’s facilitated RFPs for the organization’s auditors, and prepares schedules for the audit. She does the monthly financial reconciliations, prepares the annual budget with the executive director, and presents reports at board meetings. She also serves on a committee organizing the annual fundraising Jazz Brunch and silent auction.
“One of the biggest things I took from the Business On Board program was that I could take my skills as an accountant and apply them to a nonprofit,” she says. “I do spend a lot of my time volunteering for Art-Reach, but I love doing it because I believe strongly in the mission and what they do.”
The Art-Reach experience changed her life. She took several months off from her auditing job and decided she wanted to switch careers. “I realized that I wanted my work life to be dedicated to helping others and have an impact on my community,” she says. In August, 2008 she joined Your Part-Time Controller where today she provides controller services for the Lutheran Settlement House, Philadanco!, and the Korean Community Development Services Center.“I couldn’t be happier working for YPTC and everything we do,” she says.
Meanwhile, the Arts & Business Council was noticing all that she was doing. In December, 2009 she was named a winner of the prestigious Business On Board Member of the Year Award and will be recognized at the Council’s awards ceremony on April 27, 2010.
“I’m excited,” she exclaims. “I never got anything like this before. It means a lot to me. I can’t believe they picked me!”
She’s a little intimidated about having to write an acceptance speech, but she’s thrilled by the opportunity to continue serving Art-Reach and helping the community arts organization enrich people’s lives. “When you volunteer you don’t expect to get awards,” she says, “but it’s pretty amazing to be recognized.”