Interview with Jeri Royce President & CEO for Esperança
Monday, December 9, 2019
Posted by: Jennifer Blair
President & CEO for Esperança
Jeri Royce is president and CEO for Esperança, an Arizona-based
nonprofit that aims to improve health and provide hope for families
in the poorest communities of the world through sustainable
disease prevention, education, and treatment.
Jeri is an accomplished leader with a distinguished career
leading operational, business development, program
development/management and human resource functions.
With over 25 years of experience in local and national nonprofit organizations, she has a successful track record of building and leading strong partnerships and highly successful teams. Having founded her own consulting firm, 3P-Leadership, Jeri specializes in leadership development and offers training programs, team-building, individual/group coaching services and Interim Executive Director/CEO Services.
Jeri is a capacity-building consultant in the Virginia Piper Trust ATLAS and Good Governance programs and has previously served as Interim ED for Lead for Good, Arizona Public Health Association and Arizona Asthma Coalition.
(its name is derived from the Portuguese word for “hope”) has been dedicated to transforming lives since its inception in 1970. The nonprofit organization began its mission abroad, serving the most under-resourced and poverty-stricken communities throughout the Central Amazon Region. While providing health education and volunteer medical care, including surgical procedures, Esperança quickly became known as a symbol of hope to those who had learned to live hopelessly.
Today, nearly 50 years later, Esperança continues to provide medical missions to such places as Peru, Mozambique, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua as well as its domestic program in Phoenix, Arizona, which partners with Title I schools, dental clinics and community centers. Esperança’s bilingual and bicultural health educators provide children with oral health literacy, referrals for free or low-cost dental care and daily health and wellness exercises.
This nonprofit organization envisions a world where communities across the globe have the tools, training, and support necessary to achieve optimal health through access to clean water, stable sources of food, disease prevention, health education and ecological home-building.
Myrna Beth Haskell, managing editor, spoke with Jeri about her leadership role and the important work Esperança has done to educate and serve indigent communities and to ultimately guide these communities to reaching sustainability and self-sufficiency.
You’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years, but you’ve been with Esperança since 2017. What attracted you to this particular nonprofit?
My consulting business was very successful, but I realized that I could make a big difference with a focus on one organization, rather than working with many as I did through my consulting firm.
I really appreciate Esperança’s advocacy in global health and health literacy for people without a voice - those with language, cultural and social barriers that impede access to education. Nonprofits are either direct service or capacity building. Esperança focuses on capacity building which allows those you help to be empowered to better their own lives which is more sustainable. We use the inside-out model. The community identifies their specific needs, and we support those needs, rather than suggesting what we think they might need.
It’s personal for me, too. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. It became clear to me that everyone we serve is not as lucky as we are. I knew that I needed to get early screening. I had good doctors as well as family support. People in the areas we serve don’t get to the doctor in time. When they do finally get there, it’s often too late for treatment to be effective.
Jeri & Martina Gomez Guispe (left) following her eye surgery:Abancay, Peru
Photo credit: Tom Dugan, volunteer photographer
What does your role as CEO entail?
I have five to six direct reports. I provide a lot of guidance to our young staff. I also lead program management and operational management. I manage our Board and personally connect with our international partners. I recently met with one of our partners who was providing ophthalmology in Peru – I worked the waiting room. I’m a very hands-on CEO. I love the opportunity to do work – I jump at the chance to help at various locations. In 2020, I’d like to visit all of our partner countries. However, there are currently travel advisories in some of our locations, and we don’t want to send teams into dangerous situations, so we’ll watch that closely.
This position has deepened my commitment to the nonprofit sector.
The organization was founded in 1970, and was originally a “hospital ship” that floated up and down the Amazon, helping people in Brazil. How have things changed since then?Esperança partners with local clinics and hospitals now, correct?
Our founder, Dr. James Tupper [later ordained “Father Luke”], literally stepped off a U.S. Navy ship and was moved to do something about the suffering and poverty he witnessed in Brazil. [He loved medicine, but the suffering he witnessed in South America was a catalyst to his pursuit of a priestly vocation, and he later became a medical missionary in Brazil.]
The ship was used to carry doctors and supplies to various locations. He also launched an immunization program. The original ship* became difficult to maintain, but he was later able to open a clinic in Brazil [in 1972]. This became Esperança Brazil, the original location.
Today, we work with local partners for infrastructure and support. The medical facilities run year round due to people being trained in the location, enabling them to provide services whether we are there or not. The Brazil location is completely self-sustaining today.
*The ship sailed up and down the Amazon for years, serving as a symbol of hope to the people of Brazil, offering free vaccines, surgeries, and dental care. When Father Tupper arrived, this large population of 230 thousand was served by 6 overworked doctors located in one city. (Esperança’s website)
Let’s talk about the volunteer surgical program. How do you find these volunteers?
It’s a team-focused program, and the doctors find us (doctors who are looking for medical missions). We’re unique because the lead surgeon recruits other medical personnel to be part of the team. This works very well because the surgical teams are used to working together. Most of the locations are in desperate need of specialty surgery. They often have general surgery, but there are waiting lists, and patients often wait two to three years for special surgeries. When our teams arrive at these locations, there is no longer a long wait and the medical treatment is free.
We send out 14 to 15 teams a year, and these teams interact with local surgeons and teach them news skills. Surgical teams bring their own equipment and supplies and often wind up leaving them there for future use.
Could you tell me about some of the health education and disease prevention programs? What is the focus in the Phoenix community?
In Phoenix, Arizona,* we are targeting the Latino community. This community is more at risk for chronic health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, etc., so health education is imperative.
There is a focus on health literacy in communities with Title I schools. [Schools that receive financial assistance from the federal government because of high percentages of children living in poverty.] We provide health education concerning oral health, proper nutrition and disease management.
We also have an evidenced-based program for seniors and adults that has worked extremely well. We teach them how to make their favorite foods in a healthier way. We don’t want to teach them to eat like Caucasians eat. Instead, we work with the diet they are familiar with, but teach them how to make their dishes with healthier ingredients.** We also teach them how to read labels, such as sodium content.
Many countriesreach out to Esperançafor aid, and establishing a new partnership requires research, site visits, and a written Memorandum of Understanding. Jeri Royce, president/CEO ofEsperança, happily signs an MOU solidifying Esperança's newest surgical site in Ecuador.
Photo credit: Elena Burr, Esperança Marketing Manager
*Esperança’s Phoenix Program is uniquely positioned as the leader in providing health education and resources to Maricopa County’s most at-risk and under-served youth, adults, and seniors to create true social change. In these communities, where 64% of kindergartners have been inflicted with untreated tooth decay and over 47% suffer from obesity, poverty and health disparities, children are often caught in the cycle of inter-generational poor health. (Esperança’s website)
**Salud con Sabor Latino (Health with a Latin Flavor) is an evidence-based, four week interactive course that focuses on changing behaviors and improving knowledge about nutrition and physical activities in families. (Esperança’s website)
I read on your site that only three percent of the world’s water is fresh, and only one percent of that water is clean and accessible. In which communities are you providing clean water and improving sanitation?
Our partner in Nicaragua (Association of Volunteers for Community Development, AVODEC) has expertise in water systems. There is actually a ‘Water Committee.’ The community is able to manage the water issues because they are able to provide the maintenance for the systems. Again, this is a more sustainable process – we provide the money and supplies and they are capable of handling the rest.*
In Mozambique, there were serious problems with sanitation that needed to be addressed. For instance, we built water stations for washing hands.**
*Esperança is helping to improve the health of Nicaraguan families through various public health programs including: water filtration systems, community gardens, improved housing, latrines, wells, micro-loans, and health education. (Esperança’s website)
**Esperança is also supporting Mozambican families through access to clean water, improved nutrition, and HIV/AIDS support. (Esperança’s website)
If someone wants to volunteer, besides medical personnel, what are some of the opportunities available?
We send medical supplies to Nicaragua; so locally [in Phoenix], we need volunteers to help sort the supplies and log them into a data base. A few times a year, we also need volunteers to load a shipping container with the supplies being sent overseas. We are always looking for Spanish speaking volunteers as well.
Other ways to help
: donate medical supplies, become a donor, send a gift, etc.
Tell me about Esperança’s Christmas Angels program.
We realized there was a high rate of diabetes in our local senior HUD housing [government subsidized housing for low income residents]. So, we partnered with the HUD’s housing coordinator who was aware of which residents were alone during the holidays. Many of these seniors don’t have anyone, or they don’t have the money to travel to a relative’s house. We also started to host holiday parties to lift their spirits.
Anyone can sponsor a senior for $50
. Donations are used to purchase blankets, hygiene products, and other needed items.
Where do you find sanctuary? (#WheresYourSanctuary)
My sacred space is fly fishing on a river with my dad who is my regular fishing partner! I’m waist-deep in water, surrounded by beauty. When I’m out on the lake, my mind is occupied in a unique way. I don’t worry or stress in this zone.