Vice President of Community Development – CityWide
Karen DeMasi is a native New Yorker who came to Dayton to pursue a degree in social work at the University of Dayton. A twist of fate placed her in an internship with the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, focused on homelessness. Following graduation, she was offered a job working on the creation of the St. Vincent Hotel, Dayton’s first homeless shelter. Another early experience with the Montgomery County Fair Housing Center as a “tester” for racial discrimination in housing shaped DeMasi’s worldview and commitment to social justice.
Other jobs in Dayton have included roles with Montgomery County Children Services, developing programs to preserve families, and Family Service Association (FSA), where she launched a neighborhood development program that began to look more deeply at the role of social workers in comprehensive community change. DeMasi credits fellow social worker, friend, and mentor Bob Nelson for fostering and encouraging her interest in community organizing. Through her work at FSA, Karen met Michael Eichler, a pioneer in consensus organizing methods that she embraced and continues to practice today.
In 1999, DeMasi joined Eichler at the Consensus Organizing Institute, a national community building training organization (now part of the school of social work at San Diego State University) where she led the organization’s national consulting division. Later, she wrote about her work in collaboration with colleague Mary Ohmer in Consensus Organizing: A Comprehensive Guide to Designing, Implementing and Evaluating Community Change Initiatives, published in 2008.
The DaVinci Project, the Phoenix Project, the Pineview Neighborhood lake restoration, and onMain are just a few of the projects she has successfully managed, and she helped lead the effort to secure New Market Tax Credits for YWCA Dayton’s Renovating Lives, its first full-building transformation in more than 55 years. She is a member of the Montgomery County Long Term Recovery Operations Group, the Homeownership Center Board, and the Montgomery County Housing Advisory Board.
DeMasi’s current role is vice-president of community development for CityWide, a nonprofit community and economic development organization in Dayton. Karen leads a staff of six in the design and implementation of comprehensive community development plans in partnership with residents and community stakeholders. In 2019, DeMasi was one of eight Dayton leaders selected for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and graduated from the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce’s Empower program.
“Karen has worked tirelessly to improve housing and development within the City of Dayton for more than 25 years,” writes her nominator. “Her thoughtful method of empowering the underrepresented in our community to face the challenge of rebuilding is the embodiment of helping to promote peace, striving for justice, and demonstrating dignity to all.”