Family, giving back and helping others are core values for Jess Kelly, Vice President of Operations at Tanager Place. “To lift others up and support those around me are very important,” says Jess. Having grown up surrounded by a large family, she knew she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. Her late father instilled a devotion to others and a passion for learning, especially in numbers and math. In college, Jess’s plan was to become a teacher because she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and families. However, her aspirations were leading her to a career in social work, so she switched her major allowing her to have many opportunities to positively impact her community.
While working at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Jess realized she needed a change and wanted to help others in a different capacity. She enrolled in a Masters of Public Administration program with an emphasis on health and human services. “I had aspirations to learn and to become a leader. I wanted a new challenge,” she said.
Jess came to Tanager Place in 2014 as the Director of Quality Improvement. She explains, “I was ready to make a change in my previous job as a data analyst at the hospital. There was an opening at Tanager Place and I knew it was my calling – it happened for a reason.” She has worn many hats in her career and brought her data-driven eyes to the table in her roles at Tanager Place.
Focused on improving client success, Jess was excited to dive into the work ahead of her. “I wanted to work towards ensuring good outcomes and to be as effective as possible. I knew there was power in the data – to be able to look at it and identify potential problems so they could be fixed. Here at Tanager Place, I knew I could get into it, I could help lead the charge and be a part of that journey,” she says.
Tanager Place and Jess share similar values and goals: learning while focusing on serving kids, families and the community. “I love that, as an organization, we strive to be better. We collaborate as a team and make strategic, data-informed decisions to constantly improve. I may not be client facing now, but I am in the background supporting all the staff who are doing wonderful work. I get to tell stories with the data we collect. I can showcase significant client outcomes and share positive stories of impact with our staff. Data can pinpoint a place where you can make the change and address a need. It is my own personal goal to instill data-driven knowledge with others here at Tanager Place and empower them with the tools they need to use it on their own.”
When asked what she is most proud of regarding her time here at Tanager Place, Jess doesn’t hesitate. “Expanding knowledge and helping others grow as an agency. I love to be able to see the value in the data and use that to tell a story to make things better.” Even though Jess never became a teacher, her passion for data and mentoring colleagues allows her to fulfill a lifelong interest of hers.
Now, as a Tanager Place donor and member of the executive team, Jess is excited for what the future holds. “I want Tanager Place to continue to be an industry leader, to continue to improve and be better in what we do. I want us to expand our reach and help of families and kids, to increase our outreach in educating the community through the Meraki Institute. I am very excited how we will do that.”
She adds, “my being here at Tanager Place shows that anything is possible. There are no walls. We are all allowed to grow here – from the kids and families to the employees.”