Anti-poverty organization names director
CHARLESTON — After a six-month search, the WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition announced it has hired Jennifer Wells as its next director.
Wells, of Huntington, will start her new role on Oct. 22, with outgoing Director Stephen Smith staying on for six weeks to help with the transition.
“We could not be more excited,” said Board President Michael Tierney in a news release. “Jennifer is a first-rate organizer and leader, and we can’t wait to see what she and our staff do next.”
Wells was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and moved to Huntington in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Marshall University and her master’s from West Virginia University.
For eight years, Wells served as a social worker and development director at Children’s Home Society, before joining the WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition staff in 2015. She has since launched the Young West Virginia program, which hosts an annual youth-led conference and has trained and funded more than 28 student leadership chapters around the state.
Wells also serves as state chair for Care International and board president for the WV Center on Budget and Policy. Earlier this year, NASW-WV Chapter named her the West Virginia Social Worker of the Year.
“I was drawn to this organization and its incredible work as a volunteer,” Wells said in the release. “I became a staff member and now have the honor to take the lead. Even more
powerful — I can now work side by side and support West Virginia community members and leaders as we break down the systemic barriers that I, too, have faced: poverty, sexism and racism.”
The WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. From 1998 to 2012, the organization made its name as an advocate for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and oral health for children. Through its Our Children, Our Future campaign, the coalition helped organize working families to win more than 28 policy victories, such as expanding Medicaid to more than 210,000 families, raising the minimum wage and expanding school breakfasts by 5.2 million meals per year.
Its nationally recognized Try This WV program has recruited, trained and funded 266 rural teams to build community gardens, walking trails and other healthy community development projects, as part of an effort to “knock West Virginia off the top of the worst health lists.”
To celebrate its anniversary and accomplishments, friends, allies and partners of the organization are invited to sponsor or attend its annual fundraiser, which also will mark the leadership transition. The event is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at Temple Israel in Charleston. For more information or to get tickets, visit https://actionnetwork.org/ticketed_events/20th-anniver-sary-hkfc-fundraiser.