July 7, 2018 / Author: Michele Johnson

Dear Iris Society Member,

We are so grateful that your overwhelming support means that TJC is stronger than ever.

At the halfway mark in 2018, TJC has already accomplished a lot. We have represented 852 individual clients and conducted 68 trainings. Our media advocacy generated coverage in 81 newspaper and TV stories, and it paid off. By shining a light on the state’s broken eligibility redetermination process, we prompted officials to pause terminations of coverage for nursing home patients, the most vulnerable population served by TennCare. We won a significant victory for child nutrition by convincing state legislators of the impact of hunger on children’s academic performance and life prospects, prompting them to expand funding for school breakfast programs.

We had an overwhelmingly moving Mother’s Day Luncheon honoring righteous partners and Mothers of the Year who are a constant inspiration.  The Mothers came from across the state, and a local salon treated them to makeovers on the morning of the event.  Our partners’ acceptance speeches were moving, and the music was inspiring.

Since Mother’s Day, the joint hasn’t stopped jumpin’. Last month Gordon was in Washington to accept the prestigious Kutak-Dodds Prize from the National Legal Aid and Public Defender Association. Kinika Young, our Director of Children’s Health, was honored by the Nashville Medical News as a 2018 Woman to Watch. Kayo Beshir, an extraordinary young man with an inspiring life story, started as our inaugural Melkus Family Fellow and is already helping clients. The Center for Nonprofit Management announced that TJC is a finalist for Salute to Excellence Awards in two categories. To advance our Bring It Home campaign to expand Medicaid to uninsured Tennesseans, we held a successful forum, co-sponsored by The Tennessean, at which national experts discussed the research data on the broad economic, social and health benefits of expansion. The office is buzzing with 16 full-time summer interns from schools all over the nation. And TJC is playing its part in this moment of national moral crisis related to the treatment of strangers seeking refuge in our land; we are proud to have been awarded a competitive grant to partner with the Tennessee Immigrant Rights and Refugee Coalition to defend health coverage and nutrition assistance for immigrants’ children.

In other words, TJC is working at the same exciting, pell-mell pace we have maintained since our founding. Recognizing that it will always be thus, I was persuaded to take a 3-month sabbatical designed to strengthen TJC’s resilience and my personal capacity for leadership.  After 22 years at TJC with almost no time off, this will afford me time and space for our family to enjoy our boys’ fleeting childhoods (can Thomas really be starting college next month?!) and for me to gain new perspective and resources for TJC’s road ahead.   This has been made possible by the generosity and wisdom of the board and the generosity and strategic clarity of The Healing Trust. The Trust awards sabbatical grants to nonprofit leaders based on the conviction that a strategic sabbatical can strengthen an organization in powerful ways.  It not only makes the leader more resilient but enables the staff and board to grow and mature.

I begin this season with overwhelming gratitude for the “village” that makes my sabbatical possible. Supporters like you constantly find ways for us to serve our clients better and make our state more compassionate. The contributions of TJC’s board of rock stars and legion of volunteers are immeasurable. Two extraordinary leaders, Susan Drury, C.O.O., and John Orzechowski, C.F.O., are sharing my responsibilities in my absence. Theirs and Gordon’s willingness to pick up the slack while I am gone is a wonderful gift.

Thanks, y’all, for enabling me to have a job that makes me so incredibly passionate and that has consumed so much of my waking hours for the last 22 years. I look forward to seeing you soon, as together we continue the work of justice.

Warm regards,

Michele Johnson