New executive director Gary Renville brings to Project Access Northwest a wide range of leadership skills and experience with nonprofits, but perhaps what qualifies him most to take the helm is his personal experience with poverty and how hard it is to navigate a health care system without insurance.
New executive director Gary Renville brings to Project Access Northwest a wide range of leadership skills and experience with nonprofits. His career includes a decade in education, as both an elementary school teacher and administrator, and then a variety of positions with nonprofit organizations — including the Points of Light Foundation and the National Kidney Foundation — where he specialized in raising donations and mobilizing volunteers. But perhaps what qualifies him most to take the helm is his personal experience with poverty and how hard it is to navigate a health care system without insurance.
“I was really drawn to the mission of this organization, and that goes back to my own story,” he explains. “I grew up in a family of poverty and while fortunately I overcame that for myself, my mother didn’t overcome that in her lifetime. When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we faced all the challenges of how to navigate the system, find resources and get the care she needed.”
Gary became a staunch advocate for his mom at social services agencies and Medicaid offices, fighting to get the benefits she qualified for in a timely manner. As her primary caregiver and companion, he did all he could to make the last months of her life as comfortable as possible.
“So it’s that mix of my own upbringing and understanding the struggles of individuals and families who are living in poverty— knowing why people go to the emergency department rather than a primary care physician—that make me feel connected to the work of Project Access Northwest,” Gary reflects. “And I want to do anything I can to help that population and also to increase the number of volunteer physicians who serve those in need.”
Gaining insight, gaining weight!
Gary has spent his first couple of months reaching out to partners, sponsors, providers and other stakeholders to get their insights on Project Access Northwest through a series of breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings.
“I’ve probably gained five pounds with this approach,” he joked. “But I’m not done yet.“
Gary invites all who are connected to Project Access Northwest to reach out, meet him and share their stories and ideas.
“Your next meal is on me!”
Finding a voice in the national conversation
In the meantime, Gary has started to share his own vision for the organization, which includes having a more active social media presence, building a robust volunteer program, increasing interaction with the program’s patients, and becoming more vocal in the ongoing health care debate.
“I envision us being a more vocal, activist brand,” he says. “I’d like to further position us as experts in the health care conversation. There is heightened concern about health care, and people are fired up.”
“I want them to know we’re fired up too!,” Gary adds. “Whatever happens on the national level, we know our services will be needed. We’ll be here to make sure people aren’t falling through the cracks.”
Gary is also very committed to increasing volunteerism and civic engagement. Following the Points of Light Foundation model, he wants Project Access Northwest to become a “service enterprise,” which will embrace volunteer contributions across all levels of the organization.
“Trained volunteers can fundamentally help the business of the organization,” explains Gary. “Beyond answering phones, volunteers can take on key jobs—like recruiting and training volunteers—allowing staff more time to focus on their core work.”
These are just a few of the ideas likely to become part of a new strategic plan now in development.