Home » Meet Ryan Hertz – Executive Council Member and CEO at Lighthouse MI
Meet Ryan Hertz – Executive Council Member and CEO at Lighthouse MI
Ryan’s holistic approach to addressing poverty and homelessness in Oakland County will help shape some of the broader goals of the Pontiac Collective Impact Partnership
When Ryan Hertz envisioned his career upon finishing graduate school, he thought he’d be working in academia.
“My focus was on international human rights, specifically in post-conflict situations,” he recalls. “But through my non-profit work, I found that the biggest human rights issue we face locally is poverty.”
So, he pivoted. Trained in social work, Hertz began his journey as Executive Director at HOPE Adult Shelter in Pontiac in 2008, moved to South Oakland Shelter in 2010, and, after merging with Lighthouse of Oakland County, became President & CEO of the combined organization in 2019.
As one of the Pontiac Collective Impact Partnership’s foundational members and part of the Executive Council, Ryan sees the collective framework in alignment with how Lighthouse has always operated. “We try to address poverty from a holistic perspective, so we’re not only providing emergency services,” he explains. “We’re also focused on it from a systems level, or, how we can address environmental barriers to ending poverty, such as housing affordability, as well as working on advocacy to help influence relevant public policy. Because, honestly, emergency shelters and food pantries, and individual-level emergency services are unfortunately necessary—they’re needed now—but ultimately our goal would be not to have to offer them at all. The ideal would be to address the issues that contribute to poverty or to someone experiencing homelessness at a systemic level. ”
And that’s where Lighthouse’s work with the Pontiac Collective Impact Partnership comes in. Hertz became aware of the Collective Impact framework several years ago and was excited to take part in it. “I began my career focusing on homelessness in Pontiac, but a lot of my work more recently has been on the wider Oakland County and Metro Detroit area,” he notes. “So I feel humbled and honored to have the opportunity to work through this partnership with many of the folks who have been championing change in Pontiac for decades.”
What’s Ryan Reading?
“This probably won’t resonate with a lot of people, but my favorite book at the moment is Chovot HaLevavot (Duties of the Heart) by Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda.
“As a Hasidic Jew, this 900-year-old book serves as a bridge between my faith and my work.”
One of the issues that Oakland County faces is that, in many ways, its economic disparities have been rendered somewhat invisible by the higher quality of life across much of Oakland County, and so the needs in Pontiac and other lower-income areas are often overlooked. Affordable housing is an issue facing many people across the nation, and Pontiac is no different. “For a thriving economy, though, we need to have economic diversity,” Ryan asserts. “Our local businesses need employees, and those employees need to be able to pay for basics like food and housing, but also have access to the kind of opportunities that underpin a solid quality of life—like good schools and reliable community services.”
Even with Pontiac’s deep history of civic engagement and a community focused on social change, no one can do this alone. “Everyone is needed,” Hertz says. “We need to work together, across business and non-profit and government, because that’s the only way we can address some of these deeper, systemic issues.”
“If there’s anything positive to come out of the global pandemic, it’s an increase in engagement around poverty,” he adds. “These issues have been here for a long time, but people have had some extra time to sit and think, to see where the cracks are, to recognize their own vulnerabilities in our community—and to be grateful if they had the luxury of doing something like sheltering in place. Because not everyone could do that.”
In terms of what’s next for Lighthouse and their work with the Pontiac Collective Impact Partnership, Ryan is optimistic. “At Lighthouse, we’re participating in a pilot to collect data on the long-term impact that a guaranteed income might have on a portion of the population. And those learnings are definitely something we hope to incorporate into our work with the Partnership.”
Learn more about how you can get involved in Ryan’s work at Lighthouse by visiting lighthousemi.org.