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Paula Gaertner of Thomas Dunn Learning Center

Employment Connection is celebrating Women’s History Month this March by honoring local leaders in the St. Louis region. Today we recognize Paula Gaertner, Executive Director and CEO of Thomas Dunn Learning Center.

Paula has been the Executive Director and CEO of Thomas Dunn Learning Center for the last eight years. Her impact on the St. Louis Region and particularly, the South City neighborhood of Dutchtown has been irrefutable in this position. She has reimagined this 92- year-old organization to be one of our City’s great Community Education Centers. With a mission to “enrich lives through engaging learning experiences”, she and her team have developed classes and programs that the community has asked for, even growing their High School Equivalency Program 77% during the COVID pandemic. Not only does Thomas Dunn Learning Center value adult education, but also youth enrichment, arts and humanities, and community and civic partnerships. Paula’s compassion is evident, whether she is teaching financial empowerment or inviting teens to hang out in her office to charge their phones, she sets the tone for the organization.

Paula’s nonprofit leadership began in the 1980s after earning a graduate degree in nonprofit management in California. She was the President of Kern County National Organization for Women, a member of the American Association of University Women, League of Women Voters, and a committee member of the YWCA and Girl Scouts – Joshua Tree Council. She has worked in Domestic Violence, Sexual Abuse, Transitional Housing, Child Abuse and Neglect, Community Development, and now Community Education. She has justly contributed to Women’s History by affecting the lives’ of many women in these roles.

Paula is also passionate about the Dutchtown neighborhood - where she was born, and has served on the executive board of DT2/Dutchtown Main Streets for seven years. She has lived in her south-city home for 25 years, has two (almost) grown children, one dog, and three cats. Paula’s door is always open to her friends and she loves the adrenaline rush of a good auction where she is on the lookout for a unique collectible or piece of art to add to her collections.

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