Heidi Budaj took over as Michigan region executive director in November, when Betsy Kellman retired after 11 years in the post.
"I reached a point where I thought to myself, 'How do I want to spend the rest of my life?'," she said. "I wanted to make a difference."
Budaj said the ADL is "truly on the front lines" with its pro-diversity message. The organization's centennial theme is "Imagine a world without hate".
"I think the work we do is incredibly important, and I find it extremely gratifying," she said.
The organization does research into hate crimes and tracks international terrorist and hate groups and works with national and local law enforcement, but its education programs make Budaj most proud.
ADL's "No Place for Hate" initiative is in 80 Michigan schools, and some entire districts, with anti-bullying and pro-diversity activities. Through "A World of Difference," the organization works with small groups of up to 30 students.
"The kids really go deep inside and examine their own prejudices, and find ways to combat them," Budaj said.
Training future leadersStudents also take part in a training program that makes them pro-diversity leaders among their peers. At Waterford Mott High School, she said, student leaders run workshops for a freshman English class every year.
At Berkley and West Bloomfield high schools, students are taking part in "Dream Dialogue", where they take field trips to places that evoke discussions on diversity, Budaj said, like a Detroit church that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
"We are also on the ground fighting real prejudice in real ways," she added. "We get complaints from people who are the victims of prejudice. We help them work through the system and work through the scars that are left because of that."
On Thursday, the ADL honored Mark Reuss, Vice President, GM and President, GM North America, during its Centennial Gala at GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights. Budaj said he was selected based on GM's embracing diversity "at every level of their business", but also for his own youth initiative.
Reuss developed a program for young people who worked with GM retirees and students from the Universtiy of Detroit Mercy on projects that beautified neighborhoods in Detroit. Students earned a paycheck and picked up valuable life lessons, like interviewing skills and filling out college applications, Budaj said.