You would be surprised to know that someone who is the president and CEO of a major organization has a huge fear of speaking in public, especially because every time we see her, she is speaking in public. That major organization is Volunteers of America, which houses its regional headquarters right here in Louisville and served 23,000 people just last year. That’s about as many people who live in Frankfort, Kentucky, if you are looking for some perspective. This organization refers to U2’s song “One” when informally describing their mission with the poignant lyric — “We’re not the same, but we carry each other.” The person in charge of servicing those thousands of people in need is a Louisville native, who has been in her role since 2014 and in the social work and nonprofit world for her entire career. She’s polished, smart and has a servant’s heart: three things that propel her success in this unique organization. Meet Jennifer Hancock, our FACE of Louisville today.
Tell us what Volunteers of America is and what services it provides.
Volunteers of America (VOA) is a full-service behavioral health and social services organization that supports more than 23,000 people each year. We serve veterans, homeless children and their parents, individuals and families dealing with addiction, individuals with disabilities and so many more. We are headquartered in Louisville and serve Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Southern Ohio and Clark and Floyd Counties in Indiana. Our mission is to create positive change in individuals and our communities through our ministry of service.
What makes this organization unique?
People who work at VOA see it as a personal calling and mission — not just a job. This commitment means we give everything we have to ensure people in our community get everything they need. The passion and dedication of our staff, volunteers and board of directors is unmatched, and it shows in our results. Also, the individualized and comprehensive care we provide every single person we serve is truly exceptional. For instance in our Freedom House program we allow young women who are pregnant and parenting to come into our program and bring their children with them. This approach to treating the whole family in the most comprehensive way is unique and extremely effective.
You have a background in social work. How did this prepare you for the job you have today?
My clinical social work training helped me develop two things that I use every day at VOA. First, to hone my critical thinking skills, which have helped me solve new, complex problems, and second, to build respectful and authentic relationships with a very diverse group of stakeholders.
What is the most challenging part of your job, and what’s the most rewarding?
The most challenging part is keeping up with the demand for our services and ensuring we have all the resources we need to support our employees so they can do the very best work for our clients. The most rewarding part is knowing that we change the lives not just of those we serve directly, but of their entire families. And working with the smartest, most committed and caring colleagues imaginable is incredibly rewarding.
What are some ways people can help Volunteers of America?
We need a lot of community support right now! We need volunteers to mentor our kids, serve meals, rock babies and so much more. We need advocates who gather items for welcome kits for our clients or who can take a tour of our programs and help us think about new ways to connect with the community. And we always need the financial investment of our compassionate community. As government dollars shrink, it is up to all of us to ensure those who need a hand up have access to it!
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
I would be a private investigator or I would love to be a reporter on NPR, but I think I would need a new voice first [laughs].
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I have public speaking anxiety that I have to work through in my head every single time I open my mouth in public.
What are three words that describe you?
Driven, empathetic, reflective
What advice do you treasure?
Find the nearest high road, and take it. That doesn’t mean avoid conflict; only find the most diplomatic way to manage it.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my ___.
Plan A and plan B. In the work I do I must to be ready to respond to a crisis on any given day and to do so with a contingency plan in my back pocket at all times.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
I consider two Heine Brothers’ locations my mobile offices.
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Bike, run and walk at The Parklands.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
What are three things you can’t live without, aside from faith, family and friends?
Thank you to Jennifer who took time out of her very busy schedule to meet with us. To learn more about Volunteers of America, visit voamid.org.
Thank you to Adele Reding Photography for the beautiful photos of Jennifer.
To be inspired by other great women in Louisville, check out our other FACES of Louisville here.