Pierce cherishes work with non-profits

Published 10:22 am Monday, January 2, 2017

On the list of its board of directors on the United Way of West Central Mississippi’s website, Jill Pierce is described as a “community advocate,” but people won’t find her in the public eye promoting a cause.

“I’m a behind the scenes person; that’s where I prefer to stay,” she said. “ I feel like I do the jobs no one else likes to do. I don’t usually help with fundraising or promotion, but I’ve written a lot of plans and policy manuals in my day, just picking up kind of the jobs people don’t want to do. I take a burden off the organization.”

A native of Vicksburg, Pierce lived in Jackson for 12 years while her husband, Dr. Paul Pierce IV, was in medical school. It was during that time she became acquainted with the need for volunteering.

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“I’m a licensed psychologist, and when I was in Jackson, I worked 12 years for a non-profit children’s mental health agency,” she said. “That really shaped my outlook of what I wanted my career to be and what I wanted to do with my time.”

While Pierce was in her residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, she worked with two active nonprofit organizations in the Jackson area. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’ve always known my calling. When we have blessings and talents, we’re called to be good stewards of them; they’re not ours to keep.”

When she completed her residency, she worked as an associate psychologist for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, and later with the Mississippi Children’s Home Society as its director of clinical services.

“They worked directly with a private, nonprofit psychiatric facility for children, and they had residential treatment and group homes and shelters; we even have one in Warren County that’s affiliated with the children’s home, which is now called Canopy Children’s Solutions,” she said.

“That shaped me. It was working for kids that were wards of the state. Vulnerable children, and that just kind of the place where I knew I could give back, I never envisioned my career being that vehicle, but it was. I knew then that’s what I wanted to do to — work with the most vulnerable and the most needy children and people in our state.
When they moved back to Vicksburg in 2007, Pierce was unable to find someplace locally where she could work as a psychologist in a clinical setting, and she began volunteering with United Way and the Vicksburg Catholic Schools Advisory Council. It was through the advisory council she became a member of United Way’s Board of Directors.

“When I was on the advisory council for Vicksburg Catholic Schools, Michele Connelly was the principal,” she said. When Connelly became United Way director, she invited Pierce to serve on the board.

“I think through the United Way, it’s plugged me into organizations that I quite honestly didn’t know existed — the people that take care of some of the most vulnerable and needy people in our community; the people that really couldn’t exist without their services,” she said.

“United Way is into so many aspects (of life) in Vicksburg and Warren County and West Central Mississippi, that I didn’t even know what they were, so it’s been very rewarding to be a part of that particular group that has a particular impact in our community. It’s a real honor.”

Pierce’s work with United Way involves helping Connelly meet her vision of developing measurable outcomes for the programs it supports.

“She wanted to ensure the organization was being a good steward of the money our donors give us,” Pierce said, “So we are taking the programs we serve and I’m going in and helping them develop objective and measurable outcomes, so we can go back and tell the people who donate to United Way and give them statistics of how their dollars make real changes in the community.”

And that involves a lot of time, she said, adding she recently finished working on the project with the Community Council of Vicksburg and will soon start working with staff at the Cary Christian Center to help it develop measures for it programs.

She is member of United Way’s Excel By 5 task force, which is working to get Vicksburg and Warren County certified in the program, which focuses on ensuring children from birth to age 5 and their parents have access to the programs they need during the critical early years of a child’s development.

Pierce is also on the organization’s governance committee and helps the local United Way answer to United Way Worldwide, by helping rewrite policies and portions of its strategic plan to fit in more into the board’s vision for the organization.

“That’s just the stuff the director of a nonprofit just does not have time to do, and when you’re a part of a volunteer organization, that’s just not the kind of thing people gravitate to,” she said.

Besides her work with United Way, Pierce is also a member of three boards of nonprofits in Jackson, the Canopy Services Board of Directors and its professional practices committee, and is on the Cares School board.

“I’ve always gravitated toward volunteer projects that serve children,” she said. “It’s what I pay attention to.

“What has really plugged me into the children in our community is the United Way. They touch so many different areas, once I was a part of them, then I could directly get in there and get to the people I really wanted to have an impact on.”

Working with nonprofit agencies in the past, she said, has given her an appreciation of the importance of volunteers and donors, “And how dependent they are on us for help, and so United Way just lets me be a part of providing that support and taking the burden of them so they can do what they really need to do and I can take some of that burden off them.

“I feel when I do that, that’s a really effective way to give back,” she said.

“I have genuinely felt that way for a long as I can remember.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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