Corey Dobbs left his parents’ Washougal home for good when he was 14. By 16, he had dropped out of high school. He had worked three part-time jobs, but after losing them all, Dobbs worried he would become homeless.
Things changed after Dobbs went to WorkSource in Vancouver to get some help with his resume.
“Somebody from Clark College popped into the room that I was in to make a quick announcement that they had received some funding from the Clark College Foundation to help people get their GED (general educational development) degrees,” Dobbs said. “All you had to do was sign up and show that you were working with WorkSource, so I figured, ‘What do I have to lose? Anything at this point is better than what I have.’ That was really the point when everything changed, and I actually felt optimistic for the first time in years.”
Dobbs applied for and received a foundation scholarship to complete his GED. This was in 2013. Eight years later, he is a Clark College graduate, Portland State University student, the foundation’s development specialist for annual giving and alumni relations, and, most recently, an award winner.
On April 15, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), a global nonprofit dedicated to educational advancement through alumni relations, communications, development, marketing and advancement services, announced Dobbs as one of four recipients of its District VIII “Rising Star” award, which recognizes educational fundraisers in the Pacific Northwest who demonstrate leadership potential and exhibit enthusiasm for volunteer service.
“I didn’t know that I was nominated,” said Dobbs, who still lives in Washougal. “My bosses and our communications director and a couple other people that I work with nominated me, but they didn’t want to tell me just in case I didn’t win. I got the email that (said) I had won, and I actually thought it was spam. I went and talked to my boss, and when she said, ‘No, this is real,’ I burst into tears. I was so happy and excited. It’s been over a month since I found out and I’m still emotional about it.”
The recognition is “indeed very timely and most deserving,” according to Ed Boston, Clark College’s director of alumni relations.
“This award reflects the contributions that Corey makes daily to Clark College Foundation in so many ways,” Boston stated in a news release. “Those who work with Corey know his unwavering commitment to all that’s associated and affiliated with Clark. He is a valuable asset to the organization. For all he does, he makes us proud, and we are fortunate to have him on the team.”
Dobbs “conducts himself as a model alumnus,” according to the nomination letter the foundation submitted to CASE.
“He speaks with love and warmth of his alma mater to people inside and outside of Clark College’s community,” foundation officials wrote. “And he brings that passion for Clark College and Clark College Foundation into his work every day. In his work with the alumni program, he is dedicated to developing and evolving our alumni program by increasing alumni engagement at every opportunity. … As was the case for all academic institutions, our alumni relations events for 2020 were either postponed or re-imagined. Corey offered ideas of how to use this time as an opportunity not just to get through the pandemic, but to enhance alumni engagement.”
Clark College helps student get through ‘dark times’
Dobbs said he had “a very different upbringing,” with family issues that forced him and his sister to leave home at very young ages.
“I had to navigate a lot of things myself,” Dobbs said. “It was terrible. It was depressing. I ended up going to high school at Excelsior, and while I didn’t ultimately end up graduating, those teachers really left an imprint on me. (I learned) that even though you messed up or had unfortunate circumstances happen to you doesn’t mean that you can’t ever climb back up. Those words stuck with me — that I can always make a change.”
He found the change that he was looking for after he enrolled in Clark College in 2014. At first, he was nervous that he wouldn’t succeed or fit in; he was 20 years old at the time and hadn’t been in an academic setting since he was 16.
But he quickly became comfortable in his academic and social settings and began to flourish, attaining a straight-A, 4.0 grade-point average in his first semester.
“(I was concerned that) this was going to be like high school, because clearly high school didn’t work out for me too well,” he said. “I just didn’t know what to expect. I remember the very first day I was so nervous, and I don’t remember much of what anybody said because I was so in my own head. But by the end of that first week, I just kind of felt that I was at home — like when you get home from a long day and take a breath.”
“I loved everything about being here. And l loved how I felt inside, that I was finally retaking control of my life. I was taught back at Excelsior that it was never too late to change my life, and (enrolling in Clark College) was me changing my life,” he said.
Dobbs still faced challenges during his time at Clark College. He was coping with mental health emergencies, suffering through family deaths and was coming to the end of what he said was “a really bad relationship.”
At one point, Dobbs said, he felt like he might have to drop out of school again. Through it all, Clark College supported him, Dobbs said.
“Their mental health counseling services gave me free therapy, so I was able to work through what was going on in my life,” he said. “In some ways, Clark College is responsible for saving my life and (helping me) get over that extremely dark time. The scholarships, the instructors, the mental health counseling, the free tutoring — I cannot think of a way that Clark College did not help me at that point in time.”
Dobbs joined the Clark College Foundation in 2017 as a student “phonathon” caller and was promoted to his current position in 2019. He assists with the foundation’s direct mail campaigns, social media communications, alumni outreach activities and fundraising events, but has other duties, too.
“This position calls for me to be a jack-of-all-trades,” Dobbs said. “I love the variety. Because I have to focus on so many different things at once, I never get too overwhelmed by one particular task — I can jump to something else for 30 minutes or whatever. (I love) talking to people, especially our students and our donors, and building relationships. I have heard so many stories about people who have overcome such adversity and really come out stronger for it that every day it’s an inspiration for me to keep going”
Those inspiring stories are what drew Dobbs to the foundation.
“I wanted to use my time and energy to help raise some funds or help make some of those connections with donors,” he said, “so that maybe somebody else would be helped that same way I was helped.”