Rising to the top was always a goal for Danielle Summerville, executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters Colorado, but what sets her apart is her devotion to lifting others up with her.

“Innately I’ve always just wanted to strive for the top,” Summerville said. “… I always felt like if I’m going to do something, I want to do my very best. I’ve seen that in my progression out of high school, college, and into the workforce.

“I ask my employees and people around me what their next step is, what’s exciting to them, and ask if this is their dream path. And if it’s not, I ask how we can help them pursue their dream while still being a high-performing and engaged employee.”

Summerville previously worked with an agency that assisted people with disabilities in locating employment and found her way to Big Brothers Big Sisters through her most influential mentor: her mother.

“She’s my No. 1 and pushes me to be my best self, so when she recommended I apply at Big Brothers Big Sisters, I listened,” she said.

Summerville has no shortage of supportive mentors and sources of inspiration. An active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and The Links Inc., she’s energized by her sisters, colleagues and the Colorado Springs community.

“I definitely try to draw from different perspectives, opinions, and life lessons that others have learned, and try to weave that into my leadership. … I don’t think there’s enough ink to list all of the people that amaze and inspire me,” Summerville said.

Starting as a program specialist at the nonprofit, she worked her way up to management and tried her hand at fundraising before becoming executive director, a position she has held for seven years.

“When I first applied, they asked where I saw myself in five years, and I said executive director,” Summerville recalled. “I didn’t really know what that was, but I knew it was something I wanted to strive for. Over the progression of my career, those in management positions were always making sure that I was working on a project or learning a new skill like writing grants or interacting with the board to prepare me to one day become the executive director.

“I believe they saw a seriousness in it for me, and that I was doing all of the things that I needed to do to get there.”

Anna Parish, manager of fund development with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, said Summerville is always trying to improve her city.

“Danielle has been with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado for over 16 years,” Parrish said. “Throughout her tenure, she has served our agency in many roles — from a program coordinator to the executive director of the Pikes Peak office. This experience has provided her with a unique understanding of the demands and responsibilities of the team she now leads. She is not only respected amongst the staff of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, but throughout the Colorado Springs community.

This has been demonstrated through the other ways she has been recognized in her endless pursuit and playing a part of making our city a better place to live, work and serve. She’s humble and leads with passion, excellence and a service-oriented approach. Her contribution to our community through her service on various nonprofit boards, committees and volunteer groups is incredibly inspiring to all.”

Being driven is not without its challenges. Summerville has learned to adapt her leadership style to help others avoid obstacles — but she believes some are worth facing head on.

“I now know the world is not going to end if you make a mistake, and you can learn from mistakes,” she said. “I see people coming into the work force, moving up in leadership, and I try to instill that upon them. You may feel like you must do everything perfectly every single second but that’s impossible and unrealistic.

“I’ve become more comfortable in my job duties and responsibilities and that’s helped me adapt and grow as a leader. By having a practical understanding of the organization, I think I’m able to impart that to others. Let’s be realistic about what one person can do, but let’s also dream about what all of us together can make happen.”

By pushing her employees to grow personally and within the organization, Summerville has become well-known as a leader and influential member of the community.

“I’m so honored and humbled by this award,” she said. “I certainly didn’t set out for accolades. I just follow my passion and devote the skills I can to the community I love.”

— Hannah Caproon