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Life & Work with Katrina Kerns

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katrina Kerns.

Hi Katrina, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
When I was 8 years old, I started volunteering with my mom at The People’s Home and Foreign Mission in Houston, Texas. We would serve meals and provide resources to the homeless. I’ve always enjoyed helping people. Growing up in a family where service work was a top priority, I always knew I wanted to give back and be a social worker from a very early age. I attended the University of Kentucky where I obtained my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work.

The social work field opened me up to a lot of diverse jobs and experiences, such as residential treatment, children’s crisis center, domestic violence program, drug and alcohol treatment, and behavioral health counseling. I discovered that my passions were most prevalent working in substance abuse recovery treatment. I was fortunate to be promoted at most of the opportunities I worked and was exposed to love for social work administration. Social work administration provided me the opportunity to be a change agent for my clients and staff.

As my career progressed I began learning the business side of the agencies I was involved with, increased my supervision time, became a clinical director, a Chief Operating Officer, and eventually a Chief Executive Officer in the behavioral health arena. I often reflect on the frustrations of being a frontline worker and not being able to make changes that were needed for my clients and staff. Today, I make it my mission to be an advocate for those most vulnerable and underserved, and to provide unconditional support for the behavioral health staff. I have a moral and social justice responsibility to help others and to be a voice for those without a voice. I am a servant leader which allows me to put the staff first and to be available to listen and understand their concerns. This has enabled me to build a unique culture at North Community Counseling Centers (NCCC) where I currently reside as the President/Chief Executive Officer.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
There have been many challenges and obstacles throughout my career. The behavioral health care field has a lack of parity with medical services.

Funding is a continuous issue and the risk of funding being eliminated is an obstacle for advancing our work. In 2019, we (NCCC) were able to purchase a 6,400 square-foot Victorian-style home in Old Town East, which was built in 1910, with a plan of providing housing and treatment for 16 women struggling with mental health issues, addiction and homelessness. When we began working with our contractor and architect, renovations were well underway and progressing without incident. Then the pandemic arrived and construction shut down on the property. This forced NCCC to shift the focus from this project to implementing ways to continue running a behavioral health agency in a pandemic while keeping the staff and clients safe. We had to move most of our services to telehealth, acquire PPE, cleaning and hygiene supplies, and manage the influx of new clients. The pandemic disproportionately impacted those most vulnerable and at-risk increasing the need for our services.

Like most, we were facing challenges we had never experienced. We had to get creative and come up with ways to care for our community. Not only were our staff were adjusting to living and working in a pandemic, but they were simultaneously trying to take care of their own mental health while still providing services to the clients. Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for staff and ensuring clients are receiving their services all in a safe and healthy way has by far been the biggest challenge of my career.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
In 2015, the previous CEO was retiring after 28 years of service and I was hired to fill that role. At that time, staff turnover was above 40 percent, and the board was on the brink of making a big decision of whether to merge with another organization or attempt to grow the agency. NCCC had 28 employees, two programs and an operating budget of $1.28 million. Fast forward 7 years later, NCCC has 144 employees, eight major programs, and an operating budget of $10.4 million. The staff and management are on the same page and know what affects one of us, affects all of us. I am a true servant leader and have created a culture where the staff are able to work and thrive. The culture is different from other social service agencies because the attention is placed on the staff first and then the clients. My goal is to take really good care of the staff, so that they can take care of our clients and community.

The ways we implement this is by encouraging staff to take vacation, focus on self-care and self-development, they have flexible schedules and are able to achieve work-life balance by putting their needs first. I believe compassion is a verb and means taking action. This means not just expressing verbally to the staff that you care about them, but implementing changes that are beneficial and important to them. The staff have full access to me and the leadership team. We are available to call, text, e-mail, or schedule a meeting with anytime, which really helps with communication and gives the staff a well-deserved voice in the organization. I am grateful and humbled to be the President/CEO of North Community Counseling Centers and know how fortunate I am to do what I love and to be in the business of changing lives.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts, blogs or other resources you think our readers should check out?
Podcast: A Different Kind of Leader, Tales of transformation, Hidden Brain.

Blogs: Girl boss, Healthy Women Leaders

Books: Servant Leadership, A Promised Land, Power of Vulnerability

Contact Info:

Image Credits
North Community Counseling Centers

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1 Comment

  1. Margie caudill

    February 17, 2022 at 10:07 pm

    What an achievement 👏👏proud of you and your continuing dedication to much needed service for humanity ❤️

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