Jennifer Hancock, CEO of Volunteers of America, on a vaccination mission
Heading a social service agency in four states, Jennifer Hancock has traveled throughout the region overseeing addiction treatment, veterans services, mother and baby programs, and shelters for people. in need.
But Hancock, CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States, had yet to attend a professional wrestling match – until September 17, when she joined enthusiastic fans at an outdoor arena in Clay County for a Ohio Valley Wrestling game.
The event, which Hancock helped organize, doubled as promoting COVID-19 vaccines in eastern Kentucky County where vaccination rates are lagging and new cases of the virus are skyrocketing.
“I never thought I would get to this point in my career planning a wrestling match,” said Hancock, whose Louisville-based agency provides drug treatment services in County of. Clay.
But as the pandemic rages on in Kentucky, getting more people vaccinated is now part of Hancock’s mission at the $ 40 million a year agency that serves 25,000 people a year.
“I’ll do just about anything at this point: stand on my head, figure out how to juggle, go to a wrestling match,” she said.
Its goal of getting people vaccinated against COVID-19 began with its own agency of 650 workers in a four-state region of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Indiana.
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VOA was one of the first Kentucky employers to require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when it announced in January that it would be mandatory.
Now nearly 100% are vaccinated, and Hancock said that leaves the agency in a much stronger position to continue working with vulnerable people across the region as the delta variant is fueling a new wave of the virus.
Her mission, she said, includes anything VOA can do to help improve immunization rates.
“We now feel responsible for taking what worked for us and sharing it with the public,” Hancock said.
Meanwhile, VOA continues to manage and expand programs throughout the region with an emphasis on addiction services.
A native of Louisville and a graduate of Assumption High School and the University of Kentucky, Hancock, 46, is a licensed clinical social worker who began her career in Lexington at a nonprofit agency working with families affected by drug addiction.
She came to VOA in 2007, impressed with similar work within the agency, particularly with Freedom House, a residence in Louisville where pregnant women with drug addiction can undergo treatment and live for a period of time after giving birth with their children. children.
Hancock said the program has been very successful in helping mothers stay drug free and keeping mothers and babies together.
“That’s really what brought me to this organization,” Hancock said. “I fell in love with the work of supporting families struggling with drug addiction. “
She became CEO in 2015 and oversaw VOA’s growth and program expansion, including the opening of a second Freedom House for pregnant women in Clay County, hit hard by the opioid epidemic that has started to flood the state in recent years.
Hancock said she was encouraged by local Clay County officials concerned about the impact of opioids and other substances where increasing numbers of infants are being born with exposure to the drug.
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After identifying funding sources and a location – a former Clay County orphanage – the restored and renovated Freedom House opened in March 2020, just as the first cases of COVID-19 began to emerge .
But the pandemic did not slow down the program.
“We opened the doors in March 2020 just as the pandemic was descending in Kentucky,” she said. “We’ve been full since, now with a waiting list.”
VOA has also helped align federal funding and run a Family Recovery Court in Clay County, one of two in Kentucky aimed at helping drug-addicted parents get sober and reunite with their children. The other is in Jefferson County, funded by private donations.
VOA is also working to expand the Clay County Freedom House into a second building.
“The need is enormous and it has continued to grow throughout this pandemic,” she said.
And the organization is exploring the possibility of opening similar programs in northern Kentucky and Owensboro.
In addition to looking to expand its programs, VOA is looking to merge or acquire smaller programs to increase their reach, Hancock said.
Last year, VOA acquired Louisville Restorative Justice, a program designed to help people resolve disputes and help offenders make amends with victims. The organization is now working to expand the program to public schools in Jefferson County and seven counties in southeastern Kentucky, Hancock said.
Funding for the program has grown from around $ 200,000 to over $ 1 million per year, she said,
Hancock said she presents each project to potential funding sources – public and private – as an economic and social benefit. About 90% of the agency’s funding comes from the government and 10% from private donors.
Hancock said he is backing the money case with data to show the results.
“When we move a family from homelessness to housing, it’s obviously good for that family’s trajectory of stability and livelihoods, and it’s obviously good for taxpayers who would otherwise subsidize care,” she declared.
Hancock declined to estimate the number of hours she works each week, but said she enjoys the job.
“It doesn’t look like a traditional job,” she said. “I am really energetic and can’t wait to go to work every day.”