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Carol A. Goss Biography

Grew Up in a Protective Community, Earned a Social Work Degree, Began Work for Charitable Organizations


President and chief executive officer, The Skillman Foundation

Carol Goss learned about service to the community as a girl working on YWCA volunteer projects. She herself had grown up in a protective and supportive African American community in Detroit, and she wanted extend that protection and support to those who lived in poverty and other difficult circumstances. This desire led her to become a social worker, where she spent almost 20 years working to improve the lives of children and other vulnerable members of society. This deeply satisfying work convinced Goss that creative solutions were necessary to begin to solve society's problems, and that she wanted to be a part of that creative thinking. In 1987 she began to work for funding organizations that donate money to support social service projects. Using the concrete experience she gained as a case worker and her own vision of a partnership between family, neighborhood, and government, Goss has continued to work toward her goal of providing protection and opportunity for society's most vulnerable members.

Goss was born Carol Ann Goings on October 21, 1947, in Detroit, Michigan, one of five children of Booker and Blanche Martin Goings. During the day, Booker Goings worked as a maintenance man for the city of Detroit's Department of Public Works, while Blanche Goings worked nights as a nursing assistant. In this way, they could earn enough to support their growing family while making sure that there was always a parent home to supervise the children. When her children were older, Blanche Goings took a job as a teaching assistant within the Detroit school system.

Grew Up in a Protective Community

The Goings lived in a largely African-American neighborhood that provided friendship and community to the black children who grew up there. Within this protected world, young Carol played field hockey, tennis, and softball, practiced piano, and attended church, Brownies, and Girl Scouts. Like many other black girls in Detroit, she was active in the Lucy Thurman Branch of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), working as a summer camp counselor and volunteering for community service projects.

Booker and Blanche Going were strict and protective parents, determined to shield their children from the harsh realities of racism while making sure that they took their education seriously, as a way to improve not only their own lives, but the lives of black Americans as a whole. Their daughter Carol loved school and did well in her classes, and understood from a young age that she would be expected to go on to college.

While her earliest years had been spent under the protective eye of her parents and in the warmth of the black community, high school began a different sort of experience for Carol Goings. Chadsey High School was half white, and when Goss started high school there in 1961, there had never been a black class president. In 1964 and 1965 her class had two presidents, one black and one white, reflecting the divisions within the school and the community.

Earned a Social Work Degree

After her graduation from high school in 1965, Goss started college at the University of Michigan. She had earned two scholarships to pay for her education, a Regent's alumni scholarship and a Michigan Opportunity Award, a grant designed to help low income students of color attend the university.

Though Ann Arbor, where the university is located, is not far from Detroit, Goss's life at the University of Michigan was very different than it had been in the tight-knit African American community where she had grown up. During the mid-1960s there were fewer than four hundred black students among the thousands who attended the university. It was rare to see another black student in class or even walking across the campus. Though Goss often felt isolated and alone, she did make deep and lasting connections with many of the other black students.

Goss's experience as a teenager doing volunteer work through the YWCA had convinced her that she wanted to become a social worker and help people in need. She started on the path to her goal by majoring in sociology, the study of society. After earning her bachelor of arts degree, she took a year off of school and worked in the field as a caseworker in the department of public welfare of the city of Detroit. She loved the job and became more convinced than ever that she had chosen the right career. Goss had also started her own family upon her graduation from college, marrying Tom Goss, who had graduated from Michigan in 1968.

In 1972 Goss earned her master's degree in social work. Tom Goss worked in business, and, as his career progressed, he and his family moved frequently. While moving to Texas, North Carolina, California, and back to Detroit several times, Carol Goss continued her social work career, taking time off only during the births and infancies of her three daughters. Always seeking to help the disadvantaged, she worked for several different non-profit organizations that offered services and support to the community, such as the Oakland County, Michigan Family and Children's Services, and the Children's Home Society in Oakland, California.

Began Work for Charitable Organizations

"I learned that social work held many options, and mine was working with individuals and families, but always within the context of neighborhoods," she told Pat Materka in an interview for the University of Michigan's school of social work online publication, Ongoing Magazine. Goss knew from her own childhood how important a strong community could be, and she worked hard to find ways to help communities that had been damaged by poverty, racism, and crime.

In 1987, the Goss family was once again living in Detroit when Carol Goss learned about an interesting project. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a charitable funding organization that had been founded in 1930 by cereal industry leader William Keith Kellogg, was planning to start an innovative program in youth development. By chance, Goss met someone who worked for Kellogg, and when he heard about her experience and dreams, he asked her to interview for a job on the project. She got the job and began to supervise the two-and-a-half year project to improve the lives of children living in one impoverished Detroit neighborhood.

After the neighborhood project ended, Goss continued to work at Kellogg for four more years, supervising grants for youth and education. The work was different from her work as a social worker, but the goal was the same: to improve the lives of children and other vulnerable people living in difficult situations. Funding foundations work to seek out and identify good ideas for aid programs and to support them. In this role, foundations often have more freedom than government or even non-profit organizations to support new and creative ideas, and Goss enjoyed seeking out inventive ideas for solving society's problems.

At a Glance …

Born Carol Ann Goings on October 21, 1947, in Detroit, Michigan; married Tom Goss May 24, 1969; children: Anika, Fatima, and Maloni. Education: University of Michigan, BA sociology, 1969, MSW, 1972.

Career: City of Detroit, public welfare department, case worker, 1969–70; various social work jobs for non-profit agencies in Michigan, Texas, and California, 1972–1987; W.K. Kellogg Foundation, program director, 1987–1994; Stuart Foundation, program officer, 1994–1998; The Skillman Foundation, senior program officer, 1998–2002, vice president, program, 2002–2004, president and chief executive officer, 2004–.

Selected memberships: Grantmakers for Children Youth and Families; Association of Black Foundation Executives; Women & Philanthropy.

When Tom Goss's career took the family back to California, Goss continued her work by getting a job as a project officer for the Stuart Foundation, another funding organization that had been founded in 1937 by E.A. Stuart, who started the Carnation Company. Like Goss, the Stuart Foundation is primarily interested in protecting and improving the lives of children and youth.

Goss had worked for the Stuart Foundation for almost four years in 1998, when Tom Goss was hired as athletic director at the University of Michigan. Once again, the Gosses returned to Detroit. When Goss had worked for Kellogg during the late 1980s, she had met and worked with Leonard Smith, the president of the Skillman Foundation, a funding group that had been founded in 1960 by Rose Skillman, widow of Robert Skillman, who had helped develop the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M). Smith respected Goss's work and ideals, and he offered her a job.

Became Head of The Skillman Foundation

Goss joined Skillman in 1998 as a program officer, doing much the same kind of work she had done at Stuart, seeking creative ways to offer support and opportunities to the children of poverty. In 2002 she was promoted to vice president in charge of programs. Skillman had undergone several changes of administration since Goss had joined the organization, and in 2004 the new president left. While the Skillman board of directors planned a nationwide search for a new leader, Carol Goss's friends and coworkers encouraged her to apply.

One of the important requirements for the president and chief executive officer of a charitable organization like Skillman is a vision of what the foundation wishes to accomplish. Goss had a vision that she developed from the security she had felt as a child growing up in a stable community, the years spent working in the field with vulnerable youth and families, and her experiences in foundations that sought creative solutions to social problems. She envisioned a partnership between Skillman and those actually living in the community. This idea of partnership included supporting those in the community who were already working for change, making the best use of government programs, and encouraging other granting foundations to join in the effort.

With the support of family, friends, and colleagues, in 2004 Goss applied for and won the job of president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation. She began to put her vision into practice, identifying six problem Detroit neighborhoods to work with over time, drawing together business, government, charity, and community resources to solve problems and build a strong future.



Crain's Detroit Business, February 2, 2004, p. 36; May 23, 2005, p. 35; July 4, 2005, p. 23. Detroiter, September 2002, p. 3.

Michigan Chronicle, August 11-August 17, 2004, p. A1; January 5-January 11, 2005, p. B-4; March 2-March 8, 2005, p. A3; July 27-August 2, 2005, p. A1.


"Carol Goss Shares Vision for Foundation's Future," The Skillman Foundation, www.skillman.org/whatsnew.asp?PID=401 (September 20, 2005).

Materka, Pat, "Alumni Profile: Carol A. Goss, MSW '72," Ongoing Magazine. University of Michigan, School of Social Work, www.ssw.umich.edu/ongoing/05-sp/alumgoss.html (August 29, 2005).


Information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Carol Goss on September 20, 2005.

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