Julie Johnson has been a member of Koinonia’s Board of Directors for five years, bringing a unique nonprofit and person-first perspective to the organization. With over 20 years of experience providing fiscal, strategic, and operations leadership, Julie has increased growth and community relations for organizations such as Boys & Girls Club of the Western Reserve, Malachi House, Substance Abuse Initiative of Greater Cleveland, and others.
Julie is presently the CEO of Hunger Network, Cuyahoga County’s largest consortium of emergency food and hot meal providers. She is also the Co-Founder and Vice President of Akron Youth Alliance, a Capital Campaign Committee Member of Grace House, and an Alumni Member of Leadership Akron and the Cleveland Leadership Center’s Cleveland Bridge Builders. In addition to serving on Koinonia’s Board of Directors, she is also the Chair of the Board’s Supporter Relations Committee.
How did you first hear about Koinonia?
I first learned about Koinonia through a mutual connection of mine and Diane. Diane and I met for coffee to discuss my interest in serving on the board. With my nonprofit background and my experience working with underserved populations, she thought I would be a good fit.
I had not heard of the organization prior to our meeting, but once I learned more about it, I was intrigued and thought, “Yeah, this is something I can get behind and help people.”
Was there anything in particular about Koinonia that you were drawn to?
The mission of helping individuals with developmental disabilities and other conditions really spoke to me. I have a background working with people struggling with substance abuse and mental health conditions, and generally, a history of working with underserved populations. Individuals with disabilities, in addition to having complicated health factors, have extra barriers to receive adequate community services. These individuals have issues accessing food, employment, housing, and so many other things. I wanted to make sure that I was there to try to help, and do what I could to make them feel included in the community and like they were being heard. I always focus on the folks that I feel are underserved and I like to be a voice for those who may not have a voice themselves.
In your time on Koinonia’s Board of Directors, do you have a favorite or most memorable initiative that you’ve worked on?
I love being a part of and going to the Spring Fling. It’s great seeing all of the residents come and enjoy the music, and they are so happy to see each other. You can tell that everyone has a lot of anticipation to attend the event and they are genuinely excited about being there. You witness and experience the love the residents and their caregivers have for each other and life as they dance and enjoy the food.
Anything where I can interact with the residents is a great opportunity. As Chair of the Supporter Relations Committee, I’d love to see Spring Fling and other events become more community inclusive. While I’ve seen strides for the personal rights and quality of life for people with IDD, unfortunately, they still experience a lot of isolation and social stigma.
As you said, you’re the Chair of the Supporter Relations Committee. Can you tell me a bit more about your role and your key objectives?
One of the things the committee and team is really focused on is growing grant support and increasing individual donations. It’s really important to me that we diversify our revenue stream. Coming into Koinonia after working with nonprofits for so long, I don’t like to see an income pie that’s heavily concentrated with one particular revenue source. Koinonia relies heavily upon governmental reimbursements like Medicaid. I see a huge opportunity to grow individual donor gifts and find income outside of the organization’s traditional funding sources that aren’t reliant on political or governmental changes. I want to make sure we’re cultivating relationships with longstanding supporters who will personally champion Koinonia, regardless of the financial climate.
You mentioned earlier that you’ve focused on caring for underserved populations in your past professional experiences. Can you tell me a bit more about how those experiences play into your role on the Board of Directors?
I operate from a nonprofit perspective and have a different viewpoint than most Board members who run for-profit organizations. Not that we don’t utilize a lot of for-profit strategies to make a stronger nonprofit organization, but nonprofits are unique beasts, if you will. Nonprofits aren’t independently making decisions based upon the profit margin. We’re trying to help people, and our decisions are made in the best interests of the people we serve; not exclusively in the best interest of the bottom line.
In my previous jobs, I worked a lot with people who were struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues, so I understand the complications and barriers of accessing services. It’s hard enough for a person who has a knowledge of available community resources to navigate that space, let alone someone experiencing life challenges. I’m not sure that many of my colleagues on the board have been a service provider with that type of background.
Koinonia has had a lot of exciting changes so far this year. What’s it like for you to be a part of it?
I am so excited about the new brand launch. I love the symbolism of the colors that represent the diversity and equality of not only the people we serve, but also the people who work for our organization. It’s a great public awareness tool that embodies all of us working together to assure we reach our highest potential. I think that refreshing the brand will resonate with the community and let them know we care and that we’re there for them.