As executive director of the San Francisco Department of Disability and Aging Services (DAS), Kelly Dearman ’90 oversees a vast network of programs that support vulnerable city residents.
But before taking over the helm of a major city department, Dearman studied at UC Law San Francisco, where she said her experiences with Moot Court, the Black Law Students Association, and a summer internship with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office helped shape her future career.
Now managing a department with a $400-plus million budget and 375-person staff, Dearman’s work helps ensure seniors and people with disabilities have access to nutritious food, in-home care, and a wide range of other services. The agency also works to prevent neglect, abuse, and isolation.
Dearman talked more about her role and why she likes working in public service.
Describe your job with the City of San Francisco.
My department provides all the support and services that we can for older adults and people with disabilities. We fund many senior day-care centers and ensure food is available through congregate meals, home-delivered meals, and meal pickups. We also have a robust in-home supportive services program so people can stay in their homes and live with dignity.
I’m proud of the diverse programming and services we offer, including day programs and mental health services for the LGBTQ community. We work hard to meet the needs of all people in this city, not just one particular group. We also offer intergenerational programming that brings older and young adults together.
Why is this work important?
San Francisco has the fastest growing aging population in the state. Nearly 30% of city residents will be age 60 or older by 2030. The work I do hopefully helps ensure people can age in place, gracefully, and with dignity. It’s also essential that people with disabilities have access to support and services so they can live full, independent lives.
How did law school help you in your career?
Law school opened up many doors for me. In law school we learn how to spot the issue, think critically, analyze, and write and speak clearly and concisely on issues. These skills are critical in most professions and have served me well.
As a law student, I participated in Moot Court, which taught me how to look at issues from a more global perspective and present arguments from either side. I also enjoyed working at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office one summer during law school because you could immediately see how your work was helping people.
What advice do you have for law students?
Going to law school is not just about taking classes that will help you pass the bar. It’s also about doing internships to figure out what is interesting to you, joining clubs, working on law journals, and meeting people who share your interests.
I would encourage law students to consider a career in public service, whether working for government or a nonprofit. It’s important to be able to pay off your debts, but I think you can find good jobs in public service that fulfill you. If you want to wake up every day and feel good about what you’re doing, this is the way to do it.