Volunteer Detta Kissel Rocks the Vote

Benedetta Kissel, known to most people as “Detta”, began her volunteer work when she retired.  “I thought, well now I can do what I want to do, what I think is important to do.” She got involved in the local political scene.  “Voting is the key to change, we can’t really change anything without getting the right people in office.”

“We were working at APAH’s Buchanan Gardens property when one of the residents approached our table.  He seemed sort of blasé about registering to vote, but he did it and [his registration] was denied because of a prior conviction (long, long ago). I saw him again the next time we went to the property and he brought me the denial letter.  Together, we applied for his rights to be restored.  It was fairly close to the deadline so we kept in touch and kept checking so we could register him when the time came.  Out of the blue one day, he called me and said, ‘I just voted!’  He had found out his rights were restored, went immediately down to the registrar, registered to vote, and even though it wasn’t even in the system yet, he went next door to the polling place.  They called to confirm he was actually registered, and he voted.”

Detta’s voter registration booth is open and
ready to roll at The Springs Apartments.

It’s stories like this that keep Detta inspired, motivated, and moving.  In a pandemic compressed voter registration drive, Detta and her team of NAACP and APAH volunteers registered 134 people over 60 events.  Starting in mid-August “we checked registration [statuses], witnessed mail-in ballots, helped people get their rights restored, urged people to vote early, and gave out citizenship info.” Detta smiled, “more than anything we were building community and sending a living message that every vote matters.”

“It has been wonderful working on this issue with a group of people who are so committed,” noted Detta.  “When I first got involved 4 or 5 years ago, I didn’t know I could join the NAACP. I didn’t know its history, I just knew it was a wonderful organization. When I joined I was welcomed with open arms.”

She enjoys her activism with the NAACP and wanted to take it a step further. “I’m interested in all sort of issues connected to civil rights, so I volunteered to be the political action chair—one of the responsibilities was Get Out the Vote. There are lots of other great registration efforts going on, but I saw that there was a niche and need that wasn’t being filled in affordable housing outreach.”

Volunteer Detta Kissel led the NAACP’s
registration efforts. “APAH has been so
inviting and welcoming to this effort
over the years and activated its own
volunteer network to join us in getting folks
registered.”

Raised in in Buffalo, New York, Detta’s journey to activism began early. After finishing college, she headed to Vermont. “I envisioned being a ski bum for a season, but there was no snow that year,” laughed Detta. With no time on the slopes, she focused on her job at the newly created WIC program (the federal Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children).  “It was a brand-new pilot program at the time. I witnessed the extreme poverty and that affected me. I wanted to do something about it.  It was a real eye-opener for somebody who grew up with a privileged background.”

The experience took her to law school. Thinking she would focus on family law or children, Detta shifted after taking a tax course.  “We read The Rape of the Taxpayer which is all about how our tax structure creates incredible income inequality and I ended up being a tax attorney.”  She worked for the IRS for 32 years, “trying to inject some balance in the tax system.  But of course, that was impossible because really, it was politics that was driving all these inequities.”

Today, through her work with the NAACP and APAH, Detta has found her way to make a difference. “I want to relax during retirement, but with a good balance of doing something worthwhile.”

She finds satisfaction in every new voter, every story. With registration season over, she has been working the polls so sometimes she sees people that she registered coming to vote which is fantastic.

“You ask why I do this?” Detta asks with a smile, “well, it feels wonderful.  It’s important to do and it feels wonderful.”