The Doris and Victor Day Foundation has had a rocky four months, as it discovered the former executive director embezzled thousands from the nonprofit, and it’s hired a replacement.

Tyla Sherwin-Cole, former executive director of Dress for Success Quad Cities, started her new job March 14 with the Day Foundation, and is also continuing her Dress for Success role through its major fundraiser in April.

“Tyla will lead us forward in a continuance of the role the foundation has played,” Day Foundation board president Bill Stengel said this week. The 35-year-old organization (based in downtown Rock Island) is facing challenges maintaining momentum on some projects that are in initial stages of development, Stengel said.

The Doris & Victor Day Foundation does not accept donations and has distributed over $22.5 million since it started in 1987. The foundation mainly funds organizations in Rock Island and Scott counties that provide educational opportunities, child care, and serve human needs, Stengel said.

The executive director is the only paid employee of the foundation, which has $17 million in assets. Dave Geenen (former head since 2013) was charged with a felony, alleging that since December 2020, he knowingly and unlawfully obtained control over funds managed by the Day Foundation in excess of $30,000.

Charges allege a series of transactions, where Geenen diverted funds appropriated to local organizations and wrote checks for his own personal use. Bank statements were altered to disguise the missing monies.

Geenen was fired from the Foundation on Nov. 4, 2021 and soon thereafter resigned as 7th Ward Alderman on the City Council, on Nov. 19. The State’s Attorney’s Office found sufficient evidence existed to file felony charges against Geenen, for theft of between $10,000 and $100,000, a Class 2 felony.

Geenen is set for a preliminary hearing March 22 in Rock Island County Court, according to court records.

“When you move into a role that has discrepancy issues in the past, all I can do is keep my head down and keep looking forward,” Sherwin-Cole said this week. “I’m serving the community and being able to make it just a better place for all of us.”

“The Day Foundation is not about Dave Geenen or Tyla; it’s about what we do to make the community better,” she said.

A new Day in 1987

Doris Dammann Day’s father and uncle founded Bear Manufacturing Company, the first company in the nation to manufacture wheel alignment equipment for the automotive industry.

Doris and Victor Day were married in Evanston in 1930. In 1953, Mr. Day became president of Bear Manufacturing Company, and Mrs. Day became board chairman. Both served until 1972 when the firm merged with Applied Power Industries, Inc.

Doris and Victor Day established a private foundation bearing their names in 1965, as a means of giving financial support to charitable activities. Funding in excess of $10 million occurred following the death of Mrs. Day in 1987. “Rock Island will be a better place,” were words Doris included when she shared plans for the foundation with a friend.

The foundation office opened in August of 1987, and in subsequent years the trustees have sought to bring Doris and Victor’s dream to life. The foundation is intended to exist in perpetuity to meet basic human needs. Emergency assistance, affordable housing, child care, job training, support programs, scholarships, and education have been the focus of many grants. Rock Island residents are the direct beneficiaries.

Sherwin-Cole (who’s in her 40s) is also a Rock Island native, whose stepmother is Liz Sherwin (head of the Illinois-Iowa Center for Independent Living). Her dad is white and mom is Black. Sherwin-Cole dropped out of high school in 10th grade and later got her GED.

She attended Black Hawk College, and got an associate’s degree at Scott Community College. She her bachelor’s in sociology from Ashford University in Clinton, and master’s in museum studies at Western Illinois University in Moline.

Making history in QC

“I love history; I love the texture of textiles; I love research,” Sherwin-Cole said. “My focus was in archival studies afterward, and I was employed by the Diocese of Davenport.”

“Museums have such a rich history,” she said. “I love being surrounded by art and I think my current position, my archival side will come out. There are records I get to organize and purge, according to retention policies.”

Tyla Sherwin-Cole became executive director of Dress for Success Quad Cities in July 2019.

She was the Diocese’s archivist for seven years and also worked for the African-American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids.

“That was creating programs throughout the state of Iowa,” Sherwin-Cole said.

“Museum opportunities in the Quad Cities are quite limited,” she said. “It’s very competitive. One of my colleagues told me about the opportunity for Dress and I felt I was supposed to be doing more in the community. Who wouldn’t want to be part of an organization that empowers women?”

“I am a living example of where you can go and who you can be,” Sherwin-Cole said. The Day Foundation job gives her the chance to serve a greater slice of the public and do more good.

“They offer funds for affordable housing, job training, education,” she said. “To be on the other side is to be able to assist the board in making those grant decisions – to me is beyond what I have been doing.”

“This is the ultimate responsibility and the ultimate opportunity to create a better place,” Sherwin-Cole said. “That’s the main focus of what Doris and Victor were trying to do.”

“She wanted to create a better place in the community and I think this foundation tries to do that…Having this opportunity is beyond anything I could have imagined for a little girl that dropped out of high school,” she said.

The Day Foundation grant guidelines aren’t as rigid as some other foundations, she noted. They take applications in the spring and fall, with the spring deadline of May 31 and announcements made by Aug. 1.

As the only staffer, “It’s a little lonelier in here, but coming from the archival background, they used to call us ‘Lone Rangers’,” Sherwin-Cole said. “We’ve always been by ourselves.”

She meets with grant applicants and the board makes decisions on all grant awards. The Foundation averages about 150 applicants a year and gives out between $500,000 and $700,000 a year.

“The two biggest ones we support are the Spring Forward Learning Center and the YWCA,” Sherwin-Cole said.

She’s also leading the revamp of the foundation website (with Augustana Web Guild), which is down now and should be back up in mid-April, so people can apply. “We’ll at least have the grant portal on the home page,” she said.

Highlights from Dress for Success

Betsy Green, the Dress for Success board president, thanked Sherwin-Cole in a letter, citing these accomplishments:

  • Successfully completing our $350,000 Capital Campaign – ahead of schedule – allowing us to pay off our mortgage.
  • Responding immediately to the needs and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to offer virtual programing, keeping the women we serve, our staff, and volunteers safe.
  • Expanding the HireHer program to include American Job Center cohorts.
  • Providing career services to hundreds of women in the Quad Cities.
  • Collecting thousands of pieces of professional clothing.
  • Piloting our successful Fill-A-Bag Friday sales, which not only help women buy career clothing at an affordable price, but are a consistent source of income for the organization.

Sherwin-Cole became executive director in July 2019, three months after the Dress downtown Davenport location was flooded out. They moved to a temporary location on Elmore Avenue, Davenport, before finding a new permanent spot, a 5,000-square-foot building at 423 E. 32nd St., Davenport, in September 2019. They moved to a space half the size of the old one downtown and just paid off the mortgage, Sherwin-Cole said.

While the nonprofit (part of a global women’s empowerment organization) was mainly known for providing professional attire to succeed in job interviews and jobs, the pandemic “gave us time to pivot to online services,” she said. “That gave women access from wherever they were.”

“That was the first time I saw community support first-hand,” Sherwin-Cole said of many organizations and others helping Dress for Success recover. “It was so overwhelming, being new in my position and getting support in the clothing, in the software we needed. We needed laptops.”

During shutdowns, women could pickup clothing after they filled out an online request form. The group transitioned to emphasize more workforce and professional development services.

“The clothing piece was good, but it’s just a piece,” Sherwin-Cole said. “That’s a big thing I was trying to work on. To create that brand awareness and name recognition.”

The number of women served dropped during 2020-21, including many women staying out of the workforce to care for children, she said. “It was a choice, that women put their careers on the back burner.”

The HireHER program started during COVID. They also recently started offering programs at the American Job Center, 500 42nd St., in Rock Island on Wednesdays. “That’s open to anyone – men or women,” Sherwin-Cole said.

HireHER programming offers career and professional development workshops designed to provide women with the skills and knowledge necessary to find a job, keep a job, and build a successful career.

HireHER workshops are the first step to accessing any other Dress for Success QC program. In order to be eligible for an Interview Outfit Style Appointment or 1:1 Career Coaching, you must take at least one workshop.

HireHER workshops are offered on a weekly basis and available virtually and in-person (post-COVID). Registration is FREE but RSVP required

Sherwin-Cole said her top accomplishment was paying off the new Dress building, and reinvest its funds into programming.

“Being with a global organization, obviously it was a highlight,” Sherwin-Cole said. “Just being able to work with women and empower women in the Quad Cities was another highlight. And spearheading the HireHER program was very important.”

She serves on the boards of Eastern Iowa Community Colleges and SAL Family and Community Services. She and her husband, Thomas Cole, don’t have children together, but she has a stepdaughter and two step-grandchildren.

Recycle the Runway coming up

Dress for Success’ main fundraiser is Recycle the Runway, April 21 at Rhythm City Casino Resort. The last in-person one was 2019, a week after the flood hit downtown Davenport, and destroyed the old location of Dress for Success.

An example of a “Recycle the Runway” outfit.

Recycle the Runway is a “Project Runway” style fundraiser where local designers compete for a cause. Up to 10 designers or teams are chosen to showcase runway-ready ensembles crafted from bags of recycled clothing and accessories.

Before the designers are even chosen, volunteers fill bags full of random clothing, shoes, accessories, etc. After the designers are selected, each one gets to come pick out a bag with no idea what is inside. The designers then have 6 weeks to craft a “runway-ready” outfit out of whatever they find in the bag.

They can add things like zippers, buttons, tulle, etc., but at least 65% of their final design must come from the bag. Their designs are judged on craftsmanship, quality, creativity, overall head-to-toe presentation, and stage presence.

During the show, you’ll see not only the final reveal of their design, but a glimpse into the design process itself. You’ll hear from each designer about what inspired their creation and see first-hand how it came to life. Check out some photos from previous years’ live events HERE.

All the night’s proceeds will go to providing free job-search assistance, group workshops, career coaching, and professional clothing for women in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois searching for full-time employment, transitioning into a new industry, or working to advance their careers.

Tickets are $75 each, available HERE.