A Brookfield woman was recently recognized as one of 24 Exelon employees given the Powering Communities Employee Volunteer Award by Exelon Foundation, the energy company’s philanthropic arm.
Armanda Killingham, 53, got $5,000 for the Dorcas Community Outreach Foundation, the nonprofit she started in 2019. Dorcas focuses on helping individuals experiencing homelessness primarily on Chicago’s West and South sides.
While the Exelon distinction may be for volunteers, Killingham said she considers what she does with Dorcas more of a mission — one reflected in both her personal and professional life.
“This has always been in me,” she said. “I come from a family of evangelists and missionaries. My grandmother and great-grandmother would both hold soup kitchens and shelters in their homes. They took in and fed everybody.”
When Killingham was a young girl growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she would invite the other children on her block to attend her own imaginary school.
“I always had to be the teacher,” she said. “I’d create the curriculum and the students would be anybody who would listen to me and do what I’d say. I was about 6 or 7.”
When she wasn’t holding court in her own make-believe school, she was holding book fairs for the neighborhood kids and going door to door, offering her neighbors coupons she’d cut out of the papers.
By the time she enrolled at the University of Michigan and joined a sorority, she’d developed a reputation as the girl “who was serving the homeless before it became popular.”
“I’d have my [sorority sisters] all in the housing projects trying to help people,” Killingham said.
Her passion for helping people stayed with her when she left college and started a career. Like her grandmothers before her, Killingham became involved in her church’s missionary work and made several trips to African countries like Nigeria, where she helped establish a school.
She’s also established homelessness programs within the churches she attends, in addition to sitting on multiple homelessness nonprofit boards and volunteering with various shelters, including the Night Ministry in Chicago.
Killingham said her passion for caring and nurturing extends to her work as a senior systems analyst at Exelon, where she’s responsible for maintaining critical parts of the country’s energy infrastructure.
“I work on systems that manage our nuclear power plants,” she said. “I do server maintenance and development. I also work with our emergency preparedness systems to make sure we stay in compliance and that we’re aware of emergencies before they happen.”
As an analyst, Killingham is adroit at spotting security hazards, potential weak spots that might be ripe for exploitation and in need of care and attention — a skill that came in handy when she was thinking about starting Dorcas.
When she noticed that some of the nonprofits she volunteered for were pulling back their services on the West and South sides due to safety concerns, Killingham saw a point of need and worked to fill it.
When the nonprofits stopped showing up, Killingham began leading her own team of volunteers who would serve meals and hand out clothes to people in Chicago communities like Austin and Englewood.
“We go into areas where other organizations won’t go into,” she said.
For instance, last Christmas, Killingham and other Dorcas volunteers created a few hundred Christmas quarantine packs full of items like socks, hats and crossword puzzles, and distributed them to shelters throughout the city.
“Exelon employees’ willingness to contribute their time, energy and resources to helping the people in their communities was especially inspirational and impressive in a year like 2020,” said Paula Conrad, the Exelon Foundation’s president.
Killingham said she’ll use a portion of the $5,000 she gets from the foundation to purchase new winter coats, boots and hats to give out to people experiencing homelessness. She also wants to start a scholarship fund for young college students who, like her, just can’t help reaching out to those in need.
It’s all in keeping with the spirit of her mission, Killingham said, which also speaks to the story behind her organization’s name.
“The Lord gave me the name Dorcas, because in the book of Acts 9:36, there’s a story about a lady named Dorcas who was charitable and who blessed people and helped the poor. I’ve always loved that story,” she said.
For more information on Dorcas Community Outreach Foundation, visit: dorcascommunityoutreach.org.