Saturday – February 16, 2019
MATC Graduate and U.S. Army Veteran Debbie Buchanan Continues Legacy of Service
Debbie Buchanan was recently appointed executive director of the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative. She is shown here with donated furniture which is shared with veterans as they move into homes.
Milwaukee Area Technical College graduate Debbie Buchanan has a clear philosophy about life: “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” She uses this quote by civil rights activist, educator and author Booker T. Washington as part of her email signature.
Buchanan, recently named executive director of the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative, knows all about doing for others. She has spent the past 20 years in various roles in the nonprofit sector and has loved every minute. Her new role began Oct. 1.
Buchanan earned an associate degree from MATC’s Supervisory Management Accelerated Program in 2000.
“I chose MATC because of its flexibility,” Buchanan said. “I knew I could go to school at night, and still maintain my life and full-time job.” The accelerated supervisory management program is designed for working adults, and includes online and evening classes. Classes are offered year-round, so students can complete the program in less than three years.
The program worked well for Buchanan. She said she applies what she learned to help others.
Living her Passion
“The nonprofit sector is where the rewards lie,” Buchanan said. “It is where I am most satisfied and most fulfilled.”
This attitude can be traced back to her childhood, she said. The oldest of three daughters, Buchanan remembers her mother and father consistently helping people in need.
“In our household, it was not uncommon for my sisters and me to meet someone new at our dinner table,” she said.
This altruism led Buchanan to imagine a future helping others. All through middle school, she planned to become a teacher. “My teachers were my heroes,” she said. “I always saw myself in some kind of instruction or facilitating role. But when I got to high school, I became interested in business management.”
Then, a family tragedy changed everything. The death of her middle sister at age 17 altered Buchanan’s perspective. Doing something completely different suddenly made sense. She joined the military, following in the footsteps of her father, a U.S. Army veteran.
The Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative keeps an emergency food pantry to help veterans in crisis.
“My father served in Vietnam,” Buchanan said. “Uncles on both sides of the family served, and I remembered seeing my dad’s uniform hanging in the closet, and wondered what it would be like to serve in the military.”
For the next six years, Buchanan served her country as an administrative specialist in the U.S. Army. She gained valuable professional experience and rose through the ranks. At the end of her tour, Buchanan knew she needed additional education, so she enrolled at MATC.
“As an adult, I knew I needed an educational environment that would accommodate my busy life,” Buchanan said. “The Army provided professional leadership experience, but I needed the education. MATC was the perfect choice.”
A Familiar Path
Attending MATC followed a trail blazed by the two people she loved and respected the most: her mom and dad.
“My dad worked third shift in a factory and attended college part time at MATC back in the 1960s,” Buchanan said. “He graduated from MATC, then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Then he worked for 30 years as a cameraman for Channel 4.”
Buchanan’s mother earned an occupational therapy assistant associate degree from MATC and completed her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Both of my parents have always been a huge influence,” Buchanan said.
After she finished her supervisory management degree at MATC, Buchanan transferred to Cardinal Stritch University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in human services. She then landed jobs related to her desire to help people succeed.
As a service navigator with the Wisconsin Veterans Network, Buchanan used her administrative experience as a veteran to interact with other vets and connect them with community resources. She helped them find jobs, and sometimes food, clothing and shelter as well.
At another local nonprofit, Buchanan served in workforce development to assist low-income women enter non-traditional jobs.
“This was when the welding, printing and construction industries were first hiring women,” Buchanan said. “Women were having a hard time adjusting because employers were not understanding their needs.” Buchanan worked with staff members to identify obstacles the women faced. She served as a mediator, creating strategies to keep them on the payroll.
"As an adult, I knew I needed an educational environment that would accommodate my busy life. The Army provided professional leadership experience, but I needed the education. MATC was the perfect choice.”
“Single mothers have different needs than other employees,” Buchanan said. “Women were being terminated because of obligations and responsibilities that other employees didn’t have. These women were often the heads of their households, and needed time off to care for children, or apply for energy assistance and the like. I spent a lot of time educating employers and showing them how to eliminate turnover.”
The team also worked with people in poverty, whose families seemed hopelessly broken. She remembers one woman in particular, whose sad situation had a remarkably happy ending.
“We worked with a woman with six children,” Buchanan said. “She had lost them to foster care, only because she was unable to provide for them. This young mother had lived in foster homes herself, suffered abuse, dropped out of school, and had no training or employable skills.”
The team helped get her into a short-term training program where she excelled. The woman not only regained custody of her children, she continued to achieve. Today, this mom has a well-paying job and more than adequately supports her family.
“This was a total success story,” Buchanan said. “This mother was able to get her children back and get into stable housing. We also engaged the fathers, and got them hooked up with services, so they could go to work. We helped introduce them back into the lives of their children.”
Education Opens Doors and Minds
Sometimes, a new perspective can open our eyes, according to Buchanan. For instance, Buchanan chose to attend classes at MATC’s Mequon Campus “because it helped me learn to become comfortable in environments where not everyone looks like me,” she said. “It also helped me learn to talk to different groups and get out of my comfort zone.”
A graduate of MATC's accelerated supervisory management associate degree program, Buchanan has worked for several non-profit agencies.
Today, Buchanan is excited about her executive role at the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative. She also hopes to eventually expand upon the educational legacy started by her parents. “Once I get my footing, I hope to pursue a master’s in business administration,” she said. “That is definitely something I am considering.”
This lifelong learner said she knows the goodness and power of knowledge, and how it can help individuals serve others.
For more information on MATC’s accelerated Supervisory Management Program, visit: http://www.matc.edu/business/accelerated/supervisory-management.cfm