Carmine: Leader. Community Member. Executive Director
by Lee Chambers
Carmine DiCenso and his dog River at Mutts & Mimosas (photo by ibby & Eric)
When Carmine DiCenso arrived for his first day of work as executive director at Dakin in August 2016, he was grateful to see that others on staff shared his enthusiasm for this new adventure. There, affixed to a wall in his office, was a large handmade sign created by a group of children that had visited a couple of weeks earlier that read “Welcome to Dakin.” There were also some Spider-Man stickers on display. Word had apparently preceded him about his favorite crime fighter.
Two years later, it's our turn for gratitude for the many ways Carmine has led Dakin to new heights. A 401k plan, considered an impossibility for most non-profits, was implemented last year. Solar panels, donated by Brian Adams and Morey Phippen, were installed at both our Springfield and Leverett locations in 2018, enabling us to efficiently harness energy. His familiarity with the Jackson Galaxy Foundation's Cat Pawsitive Pro program helped Dakin's staff and volunteers better understand – and excel at – the application of several elements of the program. Even during the stressful moments, he doesn’t falter.
“When the pressure is on, he’s calm and reassuring to his team, and makes good decisions,” says Lee Chambers, media and public relations manager. “That’s true leadership.”
Upon his arrival, Carmine embraced Dakin's newly-implemented Guiding Principles, a list of attributes including compassion, effectiveness, integrity, optimism and innovation.
Animal care specialist Danielle Cookish says, “I’m thankful to have a leader that so passionately believes our guiding principles and sets a positive example of humane care and compassion every day.”
The guiding principles had been designated the previous year to guide the organization through all circumstances, decision-making, strategies and work efforts. “It was very easy to accept them,” says Carmine. “I find them to be something that I believe in.”
Not content to rest on his laurels, Carmine is constantly thinking about long-range plans for Dakin. “I want to leave Dakin in a better place than it was when I arrived,” he says. “I want to see growth and evolution...to know that I led us in a right direction for helping animals.”
“Carmine understands the big picture on behalf of his organization better than most leaders I've work with and for,” says Allie Thorpe, associate director of marketing.
“We're fortunate to have such a versatile executive director who isn't afraid to work on the front lines and get his hands dirty,” notes adoption counselor Madeline Nagy.
Knowing that an organization is only as strong as its staff and volunteers, Carmine is unfailingly accessible to all.
“When I approach him with concerns or ideas, I feel like he really listens to what I have to say and values my opinion,” says veterinary technician Danielle Stuart. “If there is something that I disagree with that cannot be changed or should not be changed, Carmine will take the time to explain it to me. He always speaks to me as if I was his equal.”
DiCenso says that’s part of his goal. “I try to help people be the best they can be, so they can learn and grow and advance themselves. We hope to see these people grow to become managers and directors at other shelters. It's important to build the next generation of animal welfare leaders.”
It takes a special strength of leadership to travel outside the doors of an organization and into the community that supports it, but Carmine understands that necessity at Dakin. “We're seen as more than a place to adopt animals,” he says. “Dakin is a resource for any needs people have regarding animals.”
“Carmine understands that compassion and kindness towards animals does not begin and end with animals only,” states Stacey Price, director of development and marketing. “The most integral part of the equation to make the world a better place for animals is people, and how we treat them. Building a community of compassion and kindness involves programs and services that center around people and their pets in need. And Carmine is the biggest advocate of this.”
Before joining Dakin, Carmine was executive director at the Providence Animal Rescue League, program director at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) and a manager at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. In addition, he served as a former board member of the New England Federation of Humane Societies, the Ocean State Animal Coalition, and as the Rhode Island State Representative for the Humane Society of the United States Companion Animal Advisory Council.
He's especially excited about his recent unanimous appointment to the board of directors for The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, a national organization dedicated to working with the best and the brightest. “I’m humbled by this honor,” he notes.
Ever ready to learn more about his industry and pay it forward, Carmine anticipates “being inspired by this new experience. I want to bring this knowledge to Dakin to assist animals and people in the Pioneer Valley.”
In this spirit of Thanksgiving, what is Carmine grateful for? He cites “an amazing group of people within our circle of staff, volunteers and supporters who are open-minded and not willing to settle for ‘good enough.’ They always want to challenge themselves and look for ways to improve.”