Programs that connect people with resources and inspire action are an essential step to building more vibrant communities; more importantly are the programs co-created by the community the organization serves.
It’s the programs that are about inclusion that Jamie Johnson, Manager of Performance Improvement at New Sun Rising, has a real passion to support. At NSR, Johnson leads risk management, program evaluation, and process assessment to improve the outcomes of the organization, but her keenness for doing so comes from her own experiences with Youth Places at the age of 15.
“We pretty much internally ran an organization as youth for our own community and it was a great experience,” Johnson said. “I feel like it taught me about nonprofit process and program development, but also taught me a lot about leadership.”
Johnson went on to serve her community through AmeriCorps before and between attending Edinboro University for psychology and sociology, and earning a Master’s of Education in Marriage and Family Therapy from Duquesne University.
It was at Edinboro where Johnson met Ebony McQueen-Harris. The two stayed connected, and later during their careers McQueen-Harris told Johnson about NSR and Ignite Northside, an accelerator program that supported entrepreneurs from idea to action in support of the goals of One Northside. At the time, McQueen-Harris was the program manager.
“I was a behavior specialist for an after school program at Faison [Arts Academy] and then I fully moved into social services and worked for an organization called Touching Families,” Johnson said. “I became the program director there, but [Ebony] knew I always had an interest in starting my own business.”
That nudge resulted in Johnson founding Build You Up!, a business based on applying her counseling skills to entrepreneurs and “being able to help business owners and leaders work on themselves internally, so they grow and become their best selves for their organization.”
By the time Ignite Northside 2.0 launched, McQueen-Harris had brought Johnson on board to help facilitate the program. Anne George was a program participant during that time and had regular meetings with Johnson and McQueen-Harris to pin down her business goals. George created the app iXMessage, designed for tween girls to socialize online in a trusted environment.
“[Johnson] really helped me step out of my shell,” George said. “Here is a person who has never worked with someone like me before, in that field, and she wasn’t daunted by it at all. She helped me advocate for myself and did that when no one had a product like mine; I just think that speaks to how good they are and how they know what to do for people to get their business started.”
There is a sincere commitment that Johnson has to the people she works with, and that was on full display during Ignite Northside where she helped participants like George dig into who they are as individuals and find out how that connects them to the work they do. This commitment, along with her passion for process and performance, come together to provide unique benefits to those she supports.
“She is a very [strategic] and detailed person,” said Brettney Duck, Executive Director of G.O girls, a nonprofit that serves young women transitioning out of foster care into adulthood.
Duck was a caseworker at Touching Families when she met Johnson, who was program director at the time. After Johnson left to join New Sun Rising, Duck soon followed suit to create her own venture: G.O girls. Because of Johnson’s inherent ability to lead and direct, she was the first person Duck thought of when creating the board of directors for her organization and asked Johnson to be the president.
Both Johnson and Duck work together facilitating My Place, a program created by ACTION-Housing for young adults between 18-24 who have aged out of the foster care system and need assistance. Earlier this year, NSR was contracted to build upon the success of the program and provide increased support for residents’ employment stability, entrepreneurship, and leadership.
“We don’t want to be another program offering services to young people who have gone through the system,” Duck said. “We are very intentional about that and always ask ‘What are you getting from this program?’, and the feedback we get is, ‘You make us feel comfortable.’”
“Jamie is a good partner to have, because she doesnt take over. I’m the lead consultant for the program and she gives me my room; it’s always nice to have those types of [allies].”
It’s through the lens of inclusion, performance improvement, and a genuine commitment to meet people where they are at that she shares her appreciation of professional awakening with business and nonprofit leaders.
“I want people to know that they can establish things for themselves and they can make an impact in their communities, they don’t have to wait,” Johnson said. “They can do it now.”