Chief Operations Officer, Caring Health Center; Age 31
Jacqueline Johnson has more than 15 years of professional experience working as a grass-roots community organizer and leader of diverse teams. But it’s her life experience that has shaped her success.
Raised by a strong, single Latina mother in Northampton’s Florence Heights projects, Johnson’s upbringing not only prepared, but motivated her to be the best she could be.
“My mom was 15 when I was born. Growing up, I saw a lot — drugs, alcohol, poverty. If it weren’t for my mom, my life could have turned out very differently,” said Johnson. “She told me to go to school, work hard, and do well.”
So she did, overcoming whatever challenges she faced. “I went to school in Northampton. None of the kids looked like me or spoke like me. They were mainly middle- to upper-class, and predominately white. There were a lot of economic and racial barriers, but I took every opportunity I could to grow.”
She started volunteering when she was 11, using her own street smarts and know-how to help kids at risk. She says the youth-development work gave her a sense of identity, and the beginning of a lifelong investment in social justice and community advocacy.
Johnson graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in politics and urban development. She went on to earn a master’s in social justice from UMass Amherst, and started working for Springfield’s Caring Health Center when she was 21, as an HIV program director focused on management and prevention for people at high risk, specifically Latina intravenous drug users.
“I realized the odds were against me,” said Johnson. “I was helping people I grew up with, and it hit home that I could have been one of the program’s participants.”
Today, she’s the center’s chief operations officer, who never loses sight of what sustains her: the personal and professional relationships she’s made throughout her life. “I respect them all — friends, co-workers, and, of course, the people who come through our doors every day. They all inspire me and are the reason I love coming to work.”
Besides leading CHC through its development and expansion of new sites and services, Johnson also works tirelessly to secure funding and improve healthcare accessibility for the region’s diverse residents. She’s also served as a liaison to Northampton’s mayor and to the Latina community, and is a frequent public speaker and motivator — following in the footsteps of the mother who inspired her.