Community News

Women Take the Lead at Nonprofits Dedicated to Deep Ellum

For the first time, all of the nonprofits dedicated to Deep Ellum’s history, community and future are now helmed by women. 

There’s a lot of good happening in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas from the work of residents to generous businesses. Much of the good work comes from nonprofits, many of which are led by women. These nonprofits specifically focused on the district’s culture, people and growth are leveraging partnerships with the vast array of Deep Ellum stakeholders and each other to keep the unique neighborhood thriving. 

Deep Ellum is known for its iconic music venues, vibrant street art, bustling bar and restaurant community and, of course, its rich history as the birthplace of jazz and blues in North Texas. It’s less well known that the neighborhood has long been a hub of innovation and a launching pad for entrepreneurs and startups. And it’s the perfect setting for these executive directors and presidents to pursue innovative approaches to serving the community. 

From leaping to action to support service industry workers at the onset of the pandemic to offering the first free group mental health care services program in the country to establishing the first neighborhood-wide rideshare drop off/pickup zone program in an entertainment district in the U.S., these leaders are working to keep Deep Ellum the special place where so many have unforgettable memories.

At the Deep Ellum Community Association, president Breonny Lee leads the all-volunteer community group established to keep Deep Ellum a diverse, urban, sustainable walking neighborhood built upon a culture of independent creativity.

At Deep Ellum 100, Gianna Madrini leads the effort to directly support the musicians, visual artists, service industry workers and small businesses in the district. 

At Foundation 45, Lauren O’Connor is at the head of providing free mental health services in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

At Life in Deep Ellum, Baranda Fermin serves as the interim executive director and lead pastor of the community center that houses a coffee shop, gallery and worship.

At Shared Housing Center Inc., Maria Machado has been steering the mission to offer housing options and supportive services for most of the nonprofit’s existence.

And at the Deep Ellum Foundation, Stephanie Keller Hudiburg works to promote the neighborhood and its rich culture and history, enhance public safety and create an inviting and accessible environment.

These and other organizations help keep Deep Ellum invigorated and advancing. To learn more about some of the women behind these organizations, see below.

Breonny Lee


Breonny Lee is the president of the Deep Ellum Community Association and a Dallas-born artist and curator. A lifelong live-music junkie, you can find her haunting Deep Ellum’s most beloved music venues. 

About the Deep Ellum Community Association:

  • Manages the Deep Ellum Outdoor Market, hosted (almost) every Saturday on North Crowdus Street between Main and Elm streets featuring local artists, artisans and vendors
  • Over the past year and a half, has worked diligently to bring COVID testing and vaccination efforts to the neighborhood 
  • Is currently most focused on opening a community center and history exhibit to be launched in celebration of Deep Ellum’s 150th anniversary in 2023 
  • Is developing a series of walking tours to explore the culture, history and artworks of Deep Ellum

Gianna Madrini

Gianna Madrini is a fashion editor, writer, producer, long-time resident of Deep Ellum and the head of Deep Ellum 100. She has served as a neighborhood advocate for many years and founded the Deep Ellum Residents Council, a sister organization to the Downtown Residents Council, and is a former member of the Deep Ellum Foundation and past president of the Deep Ellum Association. She says she feels fortunate to have met so many of the artists, residents, small business owners and service workers who make up the fabric of the neighborhood. The arts and music scene are what make Deep Ellum so special, and Deep Ellum 100 aims to help neighbors and bring back the vibrant, eclectic community.

About Deep Ellum 100:

  • Has provided 12 grants and raised more than $30,000 to support small businesses, workers, artists and musicians in the district
  • Regularly shares stories of the people who make up Deep Ellum through engaging videos

Lauren O’Connor

After losing many friends to the struggles of substance abuse and suicide over the years, Lauren O’Connor made it her mission to help as many people find the support and help that they need. In 2004, Lauren obtained her certification for recording arts and business of music in Dallas. As a passionate music enthusiast, she wanted to gain more knowledge of the music industry and be part of the music creating process. In 2012, she started working with other nonprofit organizations to help more in the community and dedicate her time to volunteering specifically in music and the arts. In 2016, she met with Anthony Delabano, founder of Foundation 45, after a large event and joined the board shortly after. With all her experience in the nonprofit and music world, Foundation 45 was the perfect fit. In addition to leading Foundation 45, Lauren is a Reiki Master practitioner which she plans on incorporating the Reiki practice with her nonprofit work. She also enjoys playing drums, painting and being a mom to a fierce 3-year-old daughter.

About Foundation 45:

  • Serves the Dallas-Fort Worth creative community by providing free top-tier mental health and recovery services while working to destigmatize the conversation around mental health. All groups are led by licensed professional counselors available to those 18 and older
  • Currently holds groups support services 3 times a week (2 virtual, 1 in person). They also have focus groups, such as the substance abuse group, remix recovery, women of color and art therapy (led by Dallas Art Therapy).
  • Will be implementing a LGBTQIA+ group, in addition to the other focus groups. 

Baranda Fermin

Baranda Fermin is the interim executive director and lead pastor at Life in Deep Ellum, a cultural center with an art gallery, shared work center for city change-agents, and a coffee and tea house that hosts live and virtual music, dance and art events, along with a fully inclusive worship gathering. The Reverand Doctor has numerous published articles, including those in Social Forces, College & University, Better Homes & Gardens, Visible Magazine, and her book of prayers and prose published in 2017, For Our Boys: A Mother’s Prayers. She makes life beautiful by using words to share the stories of our lives, as a writer, singer and preacher. Baranda holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Michigan State University; a master’s in human development from Teachers College, Columbia University; a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from The University of Oklahoma; and she is completing her master of divinity from Iliff School of Theology. Her favorite things are yoga, tacos and her son, Montgomery James.

About Life in Deep Ellum:

  • Hosts some of Dallas’ most creative in-person and virtual meetings and groups events
  • Showcases a wide variety of Dallas’ most talented visual artists in its Umbrella Gallery, which has a new installation every month
  • Completed a neighborhood study to understand the organization’s unique role in the continued life and evolution of Deep Ellum
  • Deepens the community ethos from appreciating the art, music and commerce of Deep Ellum to invest in the artists, musicians and business owners of Deep Ellum
  • Serves smooth lattes and delicious teas in house at Mokah Coffee and Tea

Maria Machado

Maria Machado has an undergraduate degree (sociology) and a minor (Spanish literature) from the University of Texas at San Antonio. During her tenure, she has been selected to participate in numerous national efforts to enhance her leadership, nonprofit management and fundraising professional skills. Under her direction, Shared Housing has grown from an operating budget of $35,000 to just over $750,000. She has steered the agency to pursue successful capital campaigns totaling $5,000,000 during the last 15 years. Along with the growth has come a calculated plan to expand and enhance the services for the clients, volunteers and donors. The agency has gained a positive reputation locally and nationally because of her endeavors, commitment and compassion.  Machado has just completed working at Shared Housing Center for 36 years, and she contributes her successful tenure on staff, volunteers and donors who share in the compassion and vision for the clients. Year after year, she has stayed involved with the clients. From assisting with the delivery of case management to developing programs and activities, her dedication to the clients is pivotal to her ability to introduce services and activities to benefit both adult and children clients. 

About Shared Housing Center Inc.:

  • Provides and facilitates affordable housing options that foster independence, empowerment and self-worth
  • Helped nearly 300 people (94 families) find shelter in 2021
  • Provides housing with homeshare, group residence and housing with the help of government funding

Stephanie Keller Hudiburg

Stephanie Keller Hudiburg is the executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation, where she oversees the Public Improvement District’s efforts to promote the neighborhood and its rich culture and history, enhance public safety and create an inviting environment. She also spearheads community input on major transportation and infrastructure projects as part of DEF’s plan to shepherd the district on a sustainable growth path. Stephanie lives in Dallas where she has been actively involved in the community through the Mayor’s Star Council, the Junior League of Dallas and the International Rescue Committee. 

About the Deep Ellum Foundation

  • Works to advance the interests of the neighborhood as a whole
  • Provides public safety and homeless casework services throughout the district
  • Markets and promotes the area including through major events and initiatives such as Deep Ellum Blues Alley, artistic streetlight pole banners and Deep Ellum Open Studios
  • Works to create an inviting and accessible environment through litter and graffiti abatement, funding advocacy, and major transportation planning

Underwent a yearlong process to develop the Deep Ellum Public Improvement District Strategic Plan 2019-2025, which serves as a roadmap to guide the Foundation’s activities

  • Partnering with DECA to create a community center and history exhibit to be launched in celebration of Deep Ellum’s 150th anniversary in 2023 
Deep Ellum Team
Author: Deep Ellum Team