Raymond Damm settles in nicely with ACCEL

By Annelise Krafft

North Valley resident Raymond Damm comes from a selfless family, with service deep in his roots—especially military service.

“My grandfather served 37 years in the United States Marine Corps, my father served 30 years and both of my uncles served 20 years,” Damm says. “Because of this, I moved a lot and lived in about a dozen states throughout my childhood, almost exclusively on military bases.”

After years of hopping from state to state, Damm settled in Virginia in 2004 and enrolled at The University of Virginia-Wise, earning a full academic and athletic scholarship to play football.  After graduating with a degree in business administration in 2007, Damm made his way to Miami to pursue a career in the luxury magazine industry.

“That role gave me the opportunity to move to New York City to manage a portfolio of business and attempt to grow market share,” Damm says. “I didn’t know at the time, but moving to New York was what helped me discover my passion.”

While living in New York City, Damm was exposed to the harsh realities of the real world—for the first time.

“I was seeing so many homeless people living on the street that I caught myself becoming desensitized to people sleeping on the corner just trying to survive,” Damm says.

“Homelessness does not exist in this capacity on a military base, so this was really my first experience witnessing people in misfortune. The stories I heard from some of these people weighed heavily on my heart and called my whole life into question.”

Following in his family’s footsteps, Damm felt compelled to service—this time, serving those who are underserved and underrepresented.

In 2008, at just 22 years old, Damm quit his job in the publishing industry during the height of the Great Recession.

“I spent the next several months soul searching and living off of lentils, really looking for my true calling,” Damm says. “It may not have been the smartest decision financially, but taking that risk helped propel me into the mission-driven work I was craving.”

In 2009, Damm came across The Doe Fund, a nonprofit and social enterprise that offers transitional work and training programs for men coming out of the prison system and homeless shelters. He found his true calling.

“The nonprofit sector was exactly what I had been looking for,” Damm says. “I started working on the business side and applying my experience to create opportunities and programs for these men who wanted a second chance at life.”

In 2012, after noticing he was the only executive without a master’s degree at the organization, Damm enrolled in New York University’s Stern School of Business. In 2015, with his MBA under his belt, Damm was open to new opportunities, and was asked to consider taking on a C-suite role with a struggling marketing firm and be a part of its turnaround efforts.

“Accepting this role was another big step for me. It was a new industry for me and a new environment, but it took me away from the nonprofit sector,” Damm says.

“While I’m grateful for the experience, stepping away from the mission-driven environment was exactly what I needed to understand that nonprofit organizations are where I need to be.”

With his commitment to the nonprofit sector back in focus, Damm set his sights on his next opportunity. In 2016, he packed up and moved across the country, this time to Phoenix to work with ACCEL, a nonprofit that serves children and adults who have developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, cognitive disabilities and behavioral disorders.

After two years of serving as the chief financial officer and chief development officer, Damm was chosen in 2018 to lead ACCEL as its chief executive officer, succeeding the previous CEO of 25 years, Connie Laird.

“ACCEL is an amazing organization that works with underserved, underrepresented and underfunded individuals who have so much potential but have had to fight for every resource,” Damm says.

“Being able to advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities and help them continue to progress in their lives is a tremendous responsibility, and one that I am grateful for every day.”

Founded in the Valley in 1980, ACCEL is celebrating 40 years of serving individuals who have developmental disabilities, providing programs that offer exceptional education, therapeutic, life skills and employment opportunities.

“My driving force in life is to continue finding ways to serve others and raise the standard of care for individuals who have developmental disabilities,” Damm says.

“All individuals—regardless of ability level—deserve a life of dignity and self-worth, and ACCEL does everything in our power to help them achieve it.”   

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