By Anastasia Romanova, Program Specialist, NACHC-Community HealthCorps®
Gerrard Jolly (@JustJolly), Deputy National Director of Community HealthCorps® since July 2009, has been selected as the next National Director of the National Association of Community Health Centers’ (NACHC) national AmeriCorps program. Officially assuming his new role on October 1, 2014, Jolly succeeded Jason Patnosh (@NACHC_JPatnosh), the program’s National Director for the past eight years, who is now transitioning into a new position at NACHC as an Associate Vice President focusing on partnerships and resource development.
Jolly joined NACHC as Community HealthCorps®’ Manager of Program Monitoring & Compliance in 2007, helping to strengthen the program’s policies and procedures. Before NACHC, Jolly served as Program Director for community engagement, visitor experience, and volunteerism programs at the National Park Foundation.
In light of this leadership change, we took some time to sit down with Gerrard to discuss the personal and professional journey leading him to where he is today and what he sees for the future of Community HealthCorps®.
Anastasia Romanova, Program Specialist (AR): Gerrard, can you tell the field and the readers a little bit about yourself?
GJ: First of all, Anastasia, I am extremely honored to be entrusted with this opportunity to use my skills and abilities to lead this program and the team for which I have so much respect into the next generation of its operation. I am a proud native of central Alabama! I grew up the second oldest of four brothers and a sister to working, but impoverished, parents in rural Shorter, Alabama, just outside of the historic city of Tuskegee. We did not gain access to primary health care until I was entering the 11th grade when my mother began working for the VA Medical Center and received health insurance for the first time. My family’s excitement quickly turned to frustration as my parents learned that paying the monthly premiums did not negate out of pocket medical expenses. Their lack of knowledge on how to best utilize their new insurance benefits often resulted in foregoing the preventive care our family needed.
AR: What motivates you as you enter this next phase of your career?
GJ: My family, upbringing, and an awareness of the power of national service to change lives and address some of the nation’s most pressing problems. I am convinced that if my family had understood how to better utilize their insurance, they could have better managed, maybe even staved off the diabetes and high blood pressure that my father now deals with on a daily basis. I am a husband, father of three, son, brother, and uncle to many—if I can help them understand how to better utilize their health care then I am helping to break cycles in health disparities. I view Community HealthCorps® as a bridge linking millions of medically underserved individuals to the knowledge they need for a healthier future.
For nearly two decades, I have witnessed the value of AmeriCorps programs like Community HealthCorps® and the tremendous impact their presence in a community can have. While visiting our Program Sites, I have seen firsthand how Community HealthCorps® Members can reach the individuals that may have fallen through the cracks, and truly help them overcome the barriers to accessing the care that they need. It’s impossible not to be inspired listening to alumni of the program talk about how their service experience had a direct influence in shaping their career goals to become the nation’s future leaders in community health and public service.
AR: How did you get to where you are today?
GJ: Thinking back to Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, AL, I learned that “success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” My kids hate it when I tell this story, but my first summer job as a teenager was working in a cotton field 9 hours a day, 5 days a week for $100, but that was the start of my journey in understanding the value of hard work. With the help of a supportive family, many mentors, and tremendous growth and development opportunities, I earned my BA in history from Alabama State University and an MA in U.S. History from the University of Akron. I became a park ranger with the National Park Service to help pay for my education.
AR: What were you doing prior to joining NACHC and Community HealthCorps®?
GJ: I was at the National Park Foundation developing and directing programs focusing on volunteerism, community engagement, the park visitor experience, and the Foundation’s African American Experience Fund. Prior to that I served as a national park ranger, where I was first introduced to national service, in my role supervising several AmeriCorps members serving through the Student Conservation Association. Some of whom I still keep in touch with today and have continued to inspire me for the past 15 years.
I originally came to NACHC and the Community HealthCorps® as the Manager of Program Monitoring & Compliance. In that role, I developed policies and procedures to strengthen the program’s operations, positioning it for further impact and growth. About five years ago, I became the Deputy National Director where I really got an opportunity to see the impact and the potential the national team has to empower our AmeriCorps members in truly making a difference in the lives of individuals and communities they serve.
AR: Have you been able to continue developing yourself throughout your tenure at NACHC?
GJ: Absolutely, NACHC has been incredibly supportive of my growth. I am currently pursuing a Certificate in Nonprofit & National Service Management from the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2013, I was encouraged to apply by my NACHC colleagues and was then selected as an American Express NGen Fellow through Independent Sector’s NGen: Moving Nonprofit Leaders from Next to Now leadership development initiative. As a Fellow, I helped to shape an important report for the non-profit community – Strategies for Talent Diversity.
AR: Jason Patnosh came into the program during a very challenging time and had to rebuild many aspects of how we developed and monitored our programs. How do you hope to keep the momentum of the program moving in the right direction?
GJ: I am forever grateful for the opportunities that Jason has afforded me to develop personally and professionally. His mentoring, guidance, and friendship have given me the freedom to fail, to learn, and to be fearless when it comes to taking necessary risks to strengthen and grow Community HealthCorps®’ impact. I appreciate the solid footing on which the program has been built under Jason’s leadership. Working closely with our staff here at NACHC, our partners at the Corporation for National & Community Service and in the community health centers, primary care associations, and health center controlled networks, I look forward to charting a path of continued success for Community HealthCorps®.
AR: I actually asked Jason why he thought you were ready for this move. He said:
“Gerrard continues a long belief for the program that we can grow leaders who will do amazing things. Already very accomplished as a past National Park Ranger and non-profit leader, Gerrard has become one of the most respected voices in the movement by his colleagues for his knowledge, leadership, and humor. I have full confidence he will be a transformational leader in the years to come and I will be there to support him along the way.”
GJ: I am humbled and honored for the confidence that he has in me to lead the program at this pivotal 20th year of operation. It is great to know that he is just moving down the hall and that his commitment and support for the program will remain as strong as ever. Since 1995, Community HealthCorps® has engaged over 7,000 individuals to serve over eight million hours directly within the most medically underserved communities in the country. As a part of their service, they have earned over $23 million in scholarship awards allowing them to pursue further education or to pay off prior student loans. Knowing all this inspires me to put forth my utmost effort in continuing the program’s legacy and commitment to grow the next generation of health center leaders.
Jolly is succeeded as Deputy Director by Pamela Ferguson, a 15-year veteran of Community HealthCorps®, serving as the national team’s Director of Program Site Leadership for the past five years. A perfect example of fulfilling the program’s workforce development mission, Pam served two terms as a Community HealthCorps® Member with the Regional Medical Center in Lubec, ME and another four years as the Program Coordinator for the same site, before being brought on as a Program Officer for the national team at NACHC. Look for our interview with Pam over the next couple of weeks.