When Katrina Kerns was hired in 2015, North Community Counseling Centers Inc. was at a turning point. The retiring CEO had been in place for nearly 30 years, staff turnover was above 40 percent, and the board was deciding whether to merge with another organization or attempt to grow the agency.
Four years later, it’s another story.
NCCC has added more than 100 employees, going from two major programs and some school programming to nine major programs. More impressively, turnover has fallen to 8 percent.
“The staff are my top priority. I take really good care of them. In turn, they take great care of the clients and the community,” says Kerns, president and CEO. “So the agency looks a lot different. Everybody is on the same page. We believe compassion is a verb, and it means taking action.”
Give people a voice
Kerns is a social worker first — that’s where she started her career. And she remembers the frustrations of being a frontline employee.
“I believe in servant leadership. I think you have to be available for the staff,” she says.
Beyond an open-door policy, Kerns gathers ideas from emails and brainstorming. In fact, that’s how NCCC decided to start a child and adolescent program last October. Employees also have flexible schedules, are encouraged to take vacation time and can participate in staff development.
Meeting the needs
The cores of NCCC’s services are behavioral and mental health counseling, as well as drug and alcohol counseling. Kerns says the agency’s primary focus is on the North Side, but it now has programs citywide, with five locations. One of those is the Center for New Americans, which opened in 2018. It was created as a result of the work NCCC has done with the Bhutanese-Nepali community, although refugees from other places are also served there.
“We have the largest Bhutanese-Nepali population in Columbus out of the entire United States,” Kerns says. “The thing that sets their community apart from a lot of refugee communities is they have a very high suicide rate.”
When the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin Country asked NCCC to help, the Bhutanese-Nepali community center was in danger of closing due to funding cuts.
“That’s how the conversation started — to help deal with the families and do grief counseling. Then once we got in there and got to know people in the community, we realized just how huge the needs were,” she says.
This year, along with strategic planning, NCCC took over Next Generation Housing when the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin Country asked it to step in. Kerns says the agency is ensuring the residential homes for adults with psychiatric disabilities are operating as they were meant to.
NCCC also started an Assertive Community Treatment team to help individuals with serious mental illness.