Jennie Johnson: A step down from City Year, a step up to CCRI

Posted 1/18/23

“I think Jennie is an extremely bright and talented person with an unlimited future in public service.”

That’s how Rhode Island’s Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi …

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Jennie Johnson: A step down from City Year, a step up to CCRI


“I think Jennie is an extremely bright and talented person with an unlimited future in public service.”

That’s how Rhode Island’s Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi describes Warwick resident Jennie Johnson.

Lofty words from RI’s most powerful political person, who also happens to be her State Representative.

He ought to know. Jennie is not the least bit shy about advocating for her causes, the organizations she works for or the causes she believes in.

Last Wednesday, after 16 years as Executive Director of City Year Providence, Jennie was confirmed as Vice President of Workforce Development for the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), working directly for CCRI President Meghan Hughes.

In her new position, she will be responsible for a myriad of activities including working to align workforce training program with academic, industry and public sector needs, developing partnerships with businesses and overseeing marketing strategies and outreach for increased enrollment.

Asked what her initial focus would be, she explained “In the early stages I will be learning the culture and operations of the division and the landscape nationally. Part of CCRI’s plan is to increase workforce partnerships across the state and continue to strengthen adult education, career services, and closely align and partner with the academic division to do so.”

A little background on Jennie.

Her childhood in Warwick was somewhat unique.

“I spent my childhood riding in the back of a station wagon dropping off flyers at houses for my grandfather (Walter Constantine who served on the Warwick School Committee for 20 years) and then stuffing envelopes at headquarters. It was so much fun!”

“My grandfather even spoke at my graduation from Warwick Vets High School in 1993 – which was very cool, especially because it was his last year on the school committee.”

Her devotion to public service and community organizations started at an early age, mostly due to her parents’ involvement with their church and local politics.

After high school, she attended CCRI and later earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing and psychology from Rhode Island College.

Prior to joining City Year Providence, Jennie worked as a community director for the March of Dimes Rhode Island chapter.

But it was at City Year that she made her most prestigious mark, starting in 2006 where she greatly enhanced the organizations reach through fundraising, shareholder engagement and strategic development,

She quickly expanded the footprint of AmeriCorps (a small army of volunteers supporting students throughout Providence) to where it now supports thousands of students.

Her work ethic and enthusiasm for her job was recognized by her peers, culminating into her selection as a recipient of the “Women of Excellence” award from the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, as one of GoLocalProv’s “12 people who made a difference in 2012” and the Providence Business News “People Under 40 Award”, who were people to watch.

Leaving City Year was not an easy decision, but she thought it was time to move on. She said, “Sixteen years is a long time. Thousands of our AmeriCorps members, ages 18 to 25 have come through the programs. It’s time to pass the torch. There’s a lot of talent out there.”

She continued “I was looking for new challenges. I am very passionate about what I do and the new position at CCRI (she officially starts in March) is the perfect fit. I went there. I know the college well. I think it’s the perfect change for everyone. What I will miss about City Year the most is the people.”

City Year was a family event for Jennie.

“I took my son Kevin, 12, to events (she has two children – Kevin and Camden – who live with Jennie and husband Andy in the Buttonwoods section of Warwick) and he enjoyed it! “She laughed “I think he may have a future in Warwick politics!”

CCRI President Hughes had this to say about Jennie in a statement released Tuesday, “Jennie is a transformative and widely-respected community and education leader with strong and trusted connections to local, state, and national public and private stakeholders. Among the many assets she brings to this role is her ability to leverage relations to broaden CCRI’s employer partnerships and to develop new opportunities for growth for the Division.”

Appointment by Gov. Raimondo

In 2018, Jennie was appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo to the State Board of Elections (one of seven commissioners) which she relishes.

“I was on the campaign side as my job (at City Year) interacted with candidates and elected officials.   Now I have to be non-partisan. For instance, I can’t go to fundraisers anymore, as we handle campaign finance and a host of administrative duties.”

She said, “I was obviously raised a Democrat, but I vote for the person and the issues.”

She also had her share of controversy over her recent commentary on an act of racism in Warwick, a disgusting act of vandalism at a school (where some jerk painted a racial remark on a door).

Not uncommonly, Jennie penned a letter to this newspaper calling out the racism.

It was meant with both praise and scorn, with one response calling for an apology.

Asked if she thought racism was prevalent in the City, Jennie said, “I’m passionate about this City. I love this City. I would love to see Warwick more diverse.”

“I don’t think Warwick is a racist City but let’s just check each other. Let’s learn from each other. Being raised here – it’s a homogeneous City.” She continued, “When I went to City Year, most of the people that I worked with were people of color. I learned about their experience directly. We need to honor each other’s experience.”

Will we see the Buttonwoods resident’s name on the ballot some day?

“I don’t know – but I take nothing off the table …. I never say never to anything that would allow me to serve. If the right time came along and I was needed I would consider it.”

She also likes to quote American poet Maya Angelou who wrote “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It’s refreshing to see someone who has spent the last 16 years helping people still have the boundless enthusiasm for her City and State.

Joe Shekarchi got it right.

J. Michael Levesque, a former West Warwick Mayor is a regular columnist for these newspapers. If you have an idea for Mike for a future interview, email him at: jmichaellevesque@verizon.net.

CCRI, city, year


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