Agent of change

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - BUSINESS - BY PAULA BURKES Busi­ness Writer pburkes@ok­la­homan.com

Jani­enne Bella is CEO of A Chance to Change, a non­profit agency that helps clients suf­fer­ing from ad­dic­tion and be­hav­ioral health prob­lems.

The cru­cial ser­vices her or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­vides are all right there on the back of the busi­ness card of Jani­enne Bella, CEO of A Chance to Change non­profit agency for ad­dic­tion and be­hav­ioral health prob­lems.

“We can help with: trauma, fam­ily and mar­i­tal con­flicts, co-oc­cur­ring dis­or­ders, drug and al­co­hol use dis­or­ders, gam­bling ad­dic­tion, de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, stress man­age­ment, to­bacco ces­sa­tion, drug and al­co­hol ed­u­ca­tion, grief ... and more,” her card reads.

“Our clients aren’t that face­less per­son un­der a bridge,” Bella told The Ok­la­homan on Mon­day. “We’re help­ing your neigh­bors, ... the per­son hold­ing of­fice and your good friend who’s hav­ing se­ri­ous be­hav­ioral prob­lems at home but, be­cause of the stigma of men­tal health, doesn’t feel like they can even tell their best friend.”

Last year, A Chance to Change served 1,729 peo­ple, ages 5 to 91, who trav­eled from 24 coun­ties for ser­vices pro­vided by the agency’s staff of 22, in­clud­ing 13 li­censed ther­a­pists. Ac­cepted pay­ments in­clude cash, most pri­vate in­sur­ance and Med­i­caid. Fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance is avail­able for those who qual­ify.

Bella, 47, has led the agency for the past two and a half years. Her most re­cent former job was with the Amer­i­can

Red Cross as CEO of Ok­la­homa and Arkansas from 2010 to 2015.

From the new A Chance to Change of­fices at 2113 W Brit­ton, she sat down to talk about her life and ca­reer. This is an edited tran­script:

Q: Tell us about your roots. A: My par­ents both grew up in north­ern In­di­ana. My fa­ther worked for Trin­ity In­dus­tries Inc. steel fab­ri­ca­tion there; then at the com­pany head­quar­ters in Den­ton, Texas; and lastly in Ok­la­homa City, where he was a plant man­ager. We moved from Den­ton to Ed­mond when my older brother and I were in the eighth and fourth grades. My mother was

an en­tre­pre­neur. She owned Video Ware­house in Kick­ing­bird Square, where I worked from the eighth through 12th grades, and for a while, a Hall­mark store. I had a very sta­ble child­hood. My par­ents were mar­ried 52 years when my dad died this past April. My mother is re­tired, and my brother and hus­band both work for Trin­ity In­dus­tries. We all live in north Ed­mond, near each other. My sis­terin-law is like a sis­ter to me; she and my brother started dat­ing in the eighth grade. And my two neph­ews are very tight with, and close in age, to my son.

Q: Did you al­ways plan a ca­reer in the non­profit sec­tor?

A: No. I was very so­cial ... had a ton of in­ter­ests, and must’ve changed my ma­jor five times in col­lege at OSU. I was go­ing to be a speech pathol­o­gist, in­te­rior de­signer and fash­ion mer­chan­diser among other things. It was my last ad­viser — Dr. Kay Mur­phy — who con­vinced me to stick to a hu­man en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ences ma­jor and fin­ish my de­gree. She was a com­pas­sion­ate and gen­tle guide, yet so firm about pro­vid­ing me a lane and help­ing me to fo­cus.

Q: What was your first pro­fes­sional job af­ter grad­u­at­ing from OSU?

A: I worked two years as a stu­dent as­sis­tance coun­selor to at-risk kinder­garten-through12th-grade stu­dents in north­ern In­di­ana — at a school in Wi­na­mac and at an­other nearby ru­ral school. My aunt told me of the open­ing and I lived with my grand­par­ents, which was fab­u­lous to spend qual­ity time with them while they were still ac­tive and mo­bile. My ma­ter­nal grand­mother was wid­owed and lived in town, and my dad’s par­ents had a farm where they raised corn and beans. I was very close to all of them. My brother and I spent ev­ery sum­mer all sum­mer there grow­ing up.

Still, it was scary when my par­ents dropped me off for that first job. The job was re­ally tough be­cause some of the stu­dents I was coun­sel­ing were only four years younger than I was. And it was hard for me to de­fine bound­aries of when work stopped and be­gan, or where my role was and wasn’t. I found my­self driv­ing around at mid­night to shoo home teenagers so they wouldn’t get in trou­ble the next day for be­ing out past cur­few. On the up­side, I met my hus­band on a blind date in Wi­na­mac. He trans­ferred with Trin­ity In­dus­tries from In­di­ana to Ok­la­homa, so he could move back with me. We mar­ried two weeks be­fore I started my job with the Red Cross. With his first name be­ing Tony and last name, Bella, peo­ple mis­tak­enly as­sume he’s Ital­ian, but he’s Hun­gar­ian. His sur­name was short­ened upon his an­ces­tors’ im­mi­gra­tion to Amer­ica.

Q: What made you leave the Red Cross and join A Chance to Change?

A: The May 2013 Moore and Shawnee tor­na­does were par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult. Though it was a re­ward­ing time to help peo­ple, it took a big toll per­son­ally on my spirit and on my fam­ily. I’ll never for­get the night af­ter the 2013 Moore tor­na­does. I went home in the mid­dle the night to change clothes. My hus­band woke up and wanted to touch base to see how things were go­ing. I broke down telling him about the de­struc­tion, the lives that were lost, the work we had ahead of us, and that I was scared and ques­tioned my abil­ity to lead. He swiftly wrapped me up in a big hug and said, “You are the ex­act right per­son. It will be big. Just take it one sec­ond, one minute, one hour, one day at a time. You’ll get through it; you’ll be fine.”

Af­ter the two-year tran­si­tion that fol­lowed the Moore tor­nado, a friend called me about the CEO op­por­tu­nity with A Chance to Change. I agreed to talk with Joann Pearce, the in­terim and former CEO, and I im­me­di­ately meshed with her phe­nom­e­nal spirit. Then I met the board and we hit it off, too. It just fit. I still think of­ten of my hus­band’s words, al­most more now with my work at A Chance to Change. I’m grate­ful for his and my ex­tended fam­ily’s sup­port. And I love that they love what I do!

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