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Deidre Anderson, a voice for children of color in poverty, receives Wasserstrom Award

Deidre Anderson honored for work in early childhood development

Deidre Anderson, who leads the United Inner City Services, is being recognized with the 2019 Wasserstrom Award for her work in early childhood development during the annual Interfaith Service, part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.
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Deidre Anderson, who leads the United Inner City Services, is being recognized with the 2019 Wasserstrom Award for her work in early childhood development during the annual Interfaith Service, part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

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Deidre Anderson describes her upbringing and life’s work as a product of suburban, rural and urban settings.

Anderson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, spent her childhood in Iowa and Minneapolis, and along the way attended a Quaker boarding school in rural Iowa. Later, in Kansas City, she served as the director of at-risk programs for the Hickman Mills School District.

Today, Anderson brings those personal and professional experiences to her current role as the chief executive officer for United Inner City Services, an early childhood development and social service agency located in the urban core of Kansas City.

“I have always tried to help people understand that no one arrives in their circumstances and wants to stay there,” Anderson said. “It is all of our obligation and duty to support those that are finding themselves on the fringes of economics or on the fringes of academic outcome.”

For those reasons and others, Anderson is the recipient of the 2019 Evelyn Wasserstrom Award, presented Jan. 13 during the Interfaith Service held at the Community Christian Church as part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

The annual worship service brings together members of the Protestant, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist and Baha’i faiths.

“Deidre was selected because she is a champion for all people, but especially for children and families who face myriad challenges every day,” said Judy Hellman, an event organizer. “The overriding challenge is, of course, poverty — and its outcomes. Her passion is not limited to the children and families at UICS/St. Mark. She is a visible and highly respected presence in community-based organizations whose missions, like her own, seek to improve the lives of our city’s disadvantaged citizens.”

The Wasserstrom Award, named for a founder of the annual interfaith service, recognizes work on behalf of minorities and oppressed people.

Wasserstrom, who died in 1988, was the director of the Kansas City branch of National Conference of Christians and Jews. The program is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.

“Although her ‘home base’ is UICS/St. Mark, Deidre’s influence is regional. We are proud to recognize her service and accomplishments,” Hellman said.

Phyllis Stevens, a member of the JCRB|AJC advisory board, nominated Anderson for the award.

Anderson said she was surprised and honored to receive the award.

“I am overwhelmed. I am extremely humbled by the recognition,” she said. “I have just tried to be a voice for people that sometimes are not the loudest voice in the conversation about them.”

Earlier this year, Anderson served on Mayor Sly James’ Citizens Task Force on Violence.

The task force held numerous community meetings, and after more than a year of study the group rolled out suggestions for addressing the city’s chronic violence problem.

Those included better coordination of youth and community services, a full-time city staffer assigned to anti-violence efforts, and robust engagement and mentoring from civic and business leaders.

Anderson said urban gun violence is an issue that tugs at her heart because of its impact on the community.

“I have known people who have been victims of homicide,” she said. “I have had students and a very close friend’s son who have been victims of homicides.”

“So whenever there is a report of a homicide or shooting, the first question is do I know them.”

Even while serving on the task force, Anderson said two parents of children that attend her agency’s childcare center were murdered.

Young children at the childcare center are now taught how to peacefully resolve their conflicts and how to manage their anger.

“Deidre’s dedication to the children and families she serves in her community is unparalleled,” said Mayor Sly James. “She has been an invaluable advisor and fierce advocate for our plan to make sure every 4 year-old in Kansas City has access to the same kind of high quality Pre-K education she provides for children at St. Mark’s.”

“Her hard work and leadership have made thousands of families’ lives better, and I can’t thank her enough for her service.”

Anderson has also served on the Missouri Department of Mental Health African-American Task Force and as a member of the board of directors for the International Bullying Prevention Association.

She earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education and social work from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and a master’s in public administration with an emphasis on urban administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Anderson is guest lecturer for graduate level courses at UMKC and serves on the university’s public affairs advisory board. Anderson has two daughters and lives in Kansas City.

“Deidre Anderson has exhibited profound and consistent concern for the children of the greater metro area, but particularly children of poverty and children of color,” said the Rev. Bob Hill, a co-chair of the Interfaith Service.

“Her extraordinary career is a testimony to her dedication and passion for all children, especially in the earliest years of their lives.”

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