By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
With more than 28 years of public, governmental, and nonprofit accounting experience, DaShana Jelks is no stranger to managing finances for large organizations.
The Birmingham native, who once managed more than $70 million in governmental and private funding as director of finance for Grady Health Foundation (GHF) in Atlanta, Georgia, recently returned home to assume the role of chief financial officer (CFO) at the YWCA of Central Alabama.
Jelks, who grew up in the Pratt City area, was back in Birmingham in December to take the position at the Y, where she is responsible for financial planning and management to support the organization’s mission.
“It’s been great being back in Birmingham because most of my family is here, my 95-year-old grandmother is still here, so those things are great,” said Jelks, who stepped into her new role in January.
“It’s a little bit of a transition because I’ve been gone for more than 20 years, so things are different. I would come home on the weekends sometimes but never during the week, so it’s really enlightening to see how the city has grown. I’m loving that.”
Jelks, 50, wasted no time in getting right to work.
“[I’ve] been getting into the weeds of the finances, and I’m working really closely with our auditors to make sure we’re very transparent,” she said, adding that transparency is key to the Y’s finance department.
“We want people to see the work we do,” Jelks said. “They are interested in the work the Y does, so we want them to be comfortable with how we’re performing … and show that we are the best nonprofit organization for people to donate.”
Jelks has been an all-Birmingham girl since childhood. She grew up in the Pratt City neighborhood, where she lived with her mother, Angela, and older sister, LaZandra.
“We were born and raised in the Central City Projects, and then we moved into Section 8 housing in South Hampton. When I was in college, my mom finally got her own home,” said Jelks. “Growing up in Central City, I was a member of the Girls Club, where I went every day and did all of the recreation center things, especially in the summer and after school. … [I also] spent a lot of time at the McAlpine Recreation Center, which is where I learned how to swim.”
Jelks attended Scott Elementary School and P.D. Jackson-Olin High School in Ensley. In high school, Jelks was a member of the choir and in the marching band, for which she was a member of the color guard, serving as captain during her senior year, and a clarinet player.
After graduating from Jackson-Olin in 1988, Jelks attended the University of Alabama (UA) in Tuscaloosa, where she initially majored in nursing. She struggled with being a minority on campus.
“It was a huge shock,” she said. “I was the only Black female on my floor in my dorm, and no one wanted to room with me. … I was in the dorm room by myself, a freshman away from home for the first time. I didn’t really have any friends or people who wanted to be my friends, so I transferred to [Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU)] in Normal, Alabama.”
AAMU was a much better fit. She had relatives in the area, as well as people she knew from high school and her community.
“It was a great experience—a great learning experience, a great social experience. … just a great experience of a young lady growing up, trying to become an adult, and successfully completing college,” she said.
While at AAMU, Jelks switched her major from nursing to accounting.
“I started excelling in business classes at [AAMU],” she said. “I didn’t want to just focus on business, though: I wanted to specialize. I always had been good at numbers, so accounting just came to me.”
Off campus, Jelks began to gain valuable work experience.
“I worked for [a department store], where I sold maintenance agreements,” she said. “I did my classes in the morning . . . I had to be at work at 2:30 [p.m.], and left work after 11 [p.m.].
In addition to working at the department store, Jelks worked for a certified public accounting (CPA) firm in Birmingham before she graduated from AAMU in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting; she also earned a Master of Science degree in management from Faulkner University in 2000.
Working Her Way Back Home
Jelks’s first job out of college was an accountant with the City of Birmingham’s finance department and she was promoted to senior accountant. After working with the city for seven years she moved in 2001 to Pennsylvania with her then-husband, who was in the military.
“That’s where I began working for an organization called Women Against Abuse, a domestic violence shelter and transitional home that offered legal services,” she said. “I was the director of finance for about a year before I took a position with the city of Philadelphia Housing Authority.”
After a divorce, Jelks moved back to the South to be closer to family.
“I didn’t quite want to move back to Birmingham, so I moved to the Atlanta area in 2005,” said Jelks, who has a 13-year-old son, Marlon. “I took a position with a nonprofit organization, [Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers], where I worked for 14 years.”
In 2019, Jelks left Sheltering Arms to work for GHF. After leaving Grady in May, she learned of a position that would become a good fit.
“I was [browsing an online job listing site], saw an opening for the [YWCA of Central Alabama CFO] position, and thought it would be great,” she said. “They not only provide child care and transitional housing but also serve as a domestic violence shelter, so I was very familiar with every aspect of the organization because of the type of work I’d done for different companies. … This [position] kind of put all of that together, so I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to lend my fiscal expertise.”
Jelks has come aboard at the Y during a difficult time, as the COVID-19 pandemic still lingers.
“I manage the day-to-day finances of the organization,” she said. “I make sure there is cash flow, know how much money is in the bank, know how much money is out there, recognize the revenue. … It is no small feat to successfully manage the fiscal activities of a nonprofit organization, especially during times like these. I am honored to be given the opportunity to positively contribute, empower, and impact the YWCA Central Alabama community.”