Scholarship Tea to Honor Worcester CAC’s Jill Dagilis
Worcester State University will honor long-time Worcester community leader and alumna Jill C. Dagilis at its 2013 Scholarship Tea on Sunday, May 5th—the 19th such event. Ms. Dagilis, a 1978 WSU Urban Studies graduate, is the executive director of the Worcester Community Action Council, a position she assumed in 2006. She is also a Worcester State Foundation board member.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from WSU and then a master’s degree in public administration, Ms. Dagilis became a major player in Worcester city government for many years before becoming executive director of the Worcester Community Action Council.
Ms. Dagilis originally set out to be a teacher. But local budget cuts and teacher layoffs led her to consider other options. “I decided to try an urban studies course, and that changed my sights to community development,” she recalls. “My love of cities and Worcester made the change in my major a natural transition.”
Dagilis started out monitoring state and federal grant programs and was appointed to head Worcester’s new grants office after which she moved into a research and writing position in City Manager Thomas Hoover’s administration. In her first week on the job, she was asked to be the point person on the Worcester Vocational School project.
“I didn’t know the first thing about vocational schools or the ensuing debate that would occur over a merger with the public schools, or legal battles regarding contracts, unions, and protecting environmental assets,” she recalls. “Nevertheless, I was assigned to the project. That work was a lesson around every corner for me and the project that helped strengthen my professional fortitude.”
Over the course of the next nine years—with the support of a talented city team—she signed off on project changes and $90 million in goods and services that moved the effort from a concept to successful completion. Some critics were doubtful of her ability to serve as contracting officer, but Dagilis says, “We delivered the project ahead of schedule and under budget. The school is magnificent—a flagship for voke-tech education and training and an economic engine for this region.”
She says that the school is truly a testament to teamwork. “The project was full of lessons for me about good communication, collaboration, meeting legal challenges head on, and respecting different perspectives,” notes Dagilis. “When we work together, we can do amazing things and overcome just about anything.”
Her team-building skills and collaborative leadership style served her well as she moved into increasingly prominent positions within city government. She became the first woman to serve as Worcester’s commissioner of code enforcement and commissioner of health and human services. She loved the challenging nature of the work, but after 25 years in city administration, she was ready for the next chapter of her life. Today, as head of the Worcester Community Action Council, she says, “I am in one of the most rewarding positions of my life; absolutely on the front line of making a significant difference and helping so many people!”
With a $20 million budget, the organization serves more than 72,000 individuals annually through 20 programs that focus on education, employment, energy and asset development while also encompassing work on homelessness, hunger and food insecurity.
In fall 2007, Dagilis delivered the keynote address at WSU’s Senior Capping ceremony. “Live life to the fullest,” she advised students. “Seize every moment. You never know what’s around the next corner. And definitely have fun along the way.”
Those words of wisdom seem to capture the philosophy that has served her well in a remarkable and meaningful career.
The WSU Scholarship Tea recognizes outstanding citizens whose work stimulates the vitality, health, and success of their communities. The Scholarship Tea will be held in the Blue Lounge of the Student Center, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.