Through perseverance and hard work, having earned all those letters that now adorn her name, Stacy K. Doctoroff MA LLPC NCC is a licensed therapist. She is building her young practice on what she considers the cornerstone of her own family life—compassion, trust and love. “Oh, I can be somewhat controlling,” she admits. “In self-reflection—as in therapy—you have to be honest. If you are going to describe yourself, it can’t be in all positive light.”
When meeting Stacy, however, it’s easy to see her in a positive light and appreciate the attributes that led to her selection this year for Federation’s Young Leadership Award. “I have to laugh at the whole ‘young’ thing,” she says modestly. “Who gets a young leadership award at the ripe age of 45? But I’ll take it for what it means – that others have recognized my work and potential – and I’ll run with it.”
True to Jewish Detroit, Stacy grew up in Southfield and West Bloomfield and now proudly calls Huntington Woods her home. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies from Grand Valley State, she took an internship with the U.S. Attorney Office as a paralegal – a position that empowered her to embrace conflict and life’s challenges.
Fast forward to her being a paralegal in downtown Detroit: through a colleague who arranged a threesome for lunch, Stacy met Andrew (Andy) Doctoroff, then a young attorney with Dickinson Wright. Celebrating 20 years of marriage, Andy and Stacy are parents to Nicole, 18, heading for the University of Michigan in the Fall; Alana, 16, spending the summer in Israel and a rising Junior at Berkley High School; and Matthew, 13, a recent Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Beth Shalom who will soon begin 8th grade at Norup International School in Oak Park.
On family background and early influences
mJDet: Please share a little about your family and educational experiences.
I’m a Detroiter through-and-through. The furthest I’ve moved from the area was to Grand Rapids and that was for college. I have lived in this general vicinity all my life.
It’s hard to believe, considering what I do today, but I was a timid kid. I don’t know how in the world my parents got me to go to Tamarack’s Camp Kennedy at 15, but it was a push that changed my life. I had been to Tamarack before, but not like the kids who start today from the second grade. I went to Brighton for a couple of years, and then to Dance Village (I can’t dance, but I went to camp with friends who could). That summer, in 1985, at Tamarack, was pivotal for me. I got on a bus not knowing a single soul and came home with the confidence that I can make friends and enjoy new people anywhere.
I was not exactly a passionate student either. I never put myself on the path to becoming a lawyer, but there was a phenomenal criminal justice program at Grand Valley and somehow legal studies just clicked with me.
After college, I became a paralegal and then paralegal manager, managing all these different personalities and interactions with lawyers, and that’s where I started to visualize the possibility of my becoming a therapist. After Matthew was born, I became a full-time, stay-at-home mom. But that didn’t last long. About a year later, I arrived at a crossroads: I knew I was either going back to work or going back to school.
I chose school. And my husband — always the proponent of education – couldn’t have been more pleased with the decision and supportive at home. It was hard work, going to school part-time, and it took me a few years to get my Master’s degree in counseling (2011 from Oakland University). Going back to school as an adult was a wonderful experience for me. Striving for an advanced degree was way outside my comfort zone. But much to my surprise, I discovered that I have a thirst for knowledge and, really, that’s what education is all about.
Who do you consider to be your mentors?
I’ll stay close to home on that one. My parents (Susan and Dennis Kay), sister (Sherri Ketai) and brother (Marc Kay) each played a major role in helping me grow and evolve.
My mother also was a working mom. She raised three children, went to school at the same time and worked to become a neonatal nurse and then an administrative role. She got her Master’s degree when I was about 12. I remember admiring her for carrying so much on her shoulders and never being anything other than fully attentive to us and in calm control of her life. Dad was very supportive of Mom and set a great example, helping out at home in a way that was unconventional for a dad at the time.
A leader in his own right, my father is the family member who has the biggest heart. It’s not uncommon for him to shed a tear or two, particularly when one of his kids or grandkids touches his heart. Dad is my “mentor in compassion.” He’s truly a happy person who has shown me the importance of cherishing close family and friends.
When it comes to community service, Sherri has been my role model. Our parents married young. They had to struggle to support a family. So, community service couldn’t have been their focus. But when I watched my sister contribute in so many ways (not just in the Jewish community, but with PTA and other volunteer activities), I saw how you can have young children, a busy home life, a husband who works long hours, but still find time to give back to communities of which I am lucky to belong.
I also so respect Marc, who has spent much of his life mentoring kids – at camp, in schools, at synagogue. He’s now the Director of an alternative school and a natural in his job, which calls on him to help kids who struggle and need more care and attention.
On community involvement and roles in Federation
In what ways has Jewish Detroit inspired your engagement?
Volunteering started out very slowly for me. At our shul, Beth Shalom, I sold bagels and did a little fundraising for the religious school. Then, I became a leader for Mitzvah Day and brought the kids in tow – so they could learn first-hand the importance of community involvement. Ultimately, when I saw friends serving on boards and more deeply involved, I asked myself: Why isn’t that me? Why shouldn’t that be me? If I could step out of my box to go back to school, why not step up to help the community?
But what I needed was a passion. That’s where Sherri entered the picture. As Chair of Federation’s Israeli Camper Program, she suggested that Andy and I start hosting campers in the summer of 2009.
What an amazing experience that proved to be. How lucky we were to have wonderful teens in our home, playing and laughing with our children, teaching them about different cultures, all while deepening our own Jewish identifies and love of Israel. It was only one short weekend, but I was hooked. Right away, I felt I knew what my connection to our community could be. I found my passion: the Israeli Camper Program.
Many great campers have stayed with us over the years, but one stands out in my mind. It was 2010 – a rough summer. That was when Andy was home recovering from heart surgery. We almost canceled, but we’re so glad we didn’t because that’s when we had the good fortune of meeting Adi. She was such a trooper, so resilient and happy and so excited to be a part of our family. We kept in touch. In 2012, the year she was supposed to come back to Michigan with the Teen Mission, Adi was diagnosed with cancer. Today, she’s fully recovered. Andy visited with her in Israel in November when he was on a mission, and I saw her just a few weeks later when I visited the region with Federation’s Partnership2Gether Committee. Adi exudes happiness. She has added a new and special dimension to our lives.
As a volunteer and leader in the Jewish community, my role continues to expand. I served as Chair of the Women’s Mosaic Mission IV and expect my involvement with Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy to continue in my service as Co-Chair of a new initiative of the Women’s Board, focusing on membership education and engagement. Currently, I am a board member of Federation and Tamarack Camps. The Israeli Camper Program is what still motivates and inspires me the most. It fuels my desire to go back to Israel and to serve today as chairperson of the program and as a member of the Israel and Overseas Committee. I am so fortunate to have found myself on a path that frequently puts me in contact with such exceptional people.
In your view, how has the role of Federation changed over the years?
On all levels, there seems to be a new vitality within the organization. People are now working to re-imagine and re-create their roles. And, on the whole, I think Federation is doing a better job of reaching out to people who may not be wealthy, but can give generously of their energies and time. Federation is letting people know about all of the invaluable things it does to strengthen and protect the Jewish community here.
How has your profession influenced your leadership role?
I think my training as a therapist has helped me understand people better. In my counseling job, I meet people from many different backgrounds; I encounter all personality types; I have gained insights into how people can better cope with problems and challenges. This new awareness makes me more empathetic. It makes me a better communicator, a better leader.
On running a private practice
I love what I do. I love my practice. And I love my clients and what they share with me, as hard as that can sometimes be for them. My clients are everyday people who have relationship issues, depression, anxiety and difficulties with changes of life, everyday stuff. My professional philosophy goes hand-in-hand with volunteering. I try to find a way to help anyone who comes to my office, irrespective of his or her income or lack of insurance coverage. Money is not the reward. It’s the opportunity to do my best to try to help others and grow at the same time.
On what’s next
My goal now is to keep growing my practice – but at my own pace. I am still a busy mother, and the kids will always be my first priority. I opened for business just four years ago and, ideally, it will grow to be a robust practice by the time all of the kids leave for college.
The Israeli Camper Program is also part of my medium-term plan. It’s a three-year stint, but my hope is to do an extra year. Actually, I’ll never be “done” with it, as long as there are other volunteer roles to play.
Actually, running is no longer my sport. When I ran the Cleveland marathon in 2008, I called my parents and told them that they ought to be there, because my intention was to do it once and never again.
I never thought I had the disciple or the stamina to run a marathon, but a friend challenged me to try. So, I started on a treadmill, then trained for a 10K with a group in Huntington Woods. Chatting with girlfriends running alongside me made the miles fly by. The training for the marathon by far was more fun than the event itself. But I did it. My kids celebrated the feat by running with me for the mile leading up to the finish line.
Andy, a marathon runner, who has run a handful of marathons himself, joined me at Mile 18. Talk about support! I’ll never forget how, when I “hit the wall” and was losing faith in myself, he put his hand on my back and told me, “You can do this.” His words pushed me, as did the gentle push of his hand. That’s Andy in a nutshell. That’s who he is. He will not do it for you, but he will give you the encouragement that helps you get to where you want or need to go.
Restaurant: Mr. Kabobs on 12 Mile. (Honestly, I’m not a foodie.) I’d say I’m a functional cook, but I like to bake.
Place to meet for coffee: Commonwealth in Birmingham, Great Lakes Coffee at Maple Theater and any Starbucks
Building in the Detroit skyline: The Ren Cen, where I worked for many years. It’s not the most beautiful building, but it’s still the most iconic and the Detroit landmark that has most meaning to me.
Places to take kids and visitors in Michigan: Mackinac Island and Greenfield Village
Vacation places: Saugatuck, Michigan. And family visits with Andy’s brother’s family in Quogue on Long Island or with cousins at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. It doesn’t get any better than the warmth of family at the beach!
Places in Israel: The Partership2Gether Region; recommending a visit to the nearby Spicy Way Herb and Spice Farm in Bet Lechem HaGlilit
Jewish Holiday: Passover for sure! Because everyone has a voice around the table.
Jewish Food: Chopped liver the way my grandfather used to make it (now attempted by my mother and sister)
Guilty pleasures: Chocolate chips and “Days of Our Lives”
Reading now: Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen. I read lots of memoirs about people struggling with mental issues.
Words to live by: 1. If you have something to say, speak up. I can’t read your mind. 2. It truly takes a village.