Interview by Derek Grosso
Name: Jeremy Ellison
Profession: Executive Director, The Riverview International Center
Neighborhood: Northwest Columbus
Quote: “I am super passionate about providing opportunities for my children. My father told me, when I was younger, that he wanted my brother and me to have a better life than he did. I took that to heart; so whether it is sports, travel, education or even fun; I do my best to provide my kids with new opportunities.”
Jeremy Ellison has a diverse leadership background. It includes owning, and eventually selling, a successful business and working in corporate business development. While serving on The Riverview International Center’s Board of Directors, Ellison looked inward and realized, even though he liked his current job, he hadn’t woken up once in the previous four years excited to go to work. “Like many of us,” he said, “I was working for a paycheck. I decided that I wanted to make a difference in the Columbus community, and when looking at the RIC’s mission, its needs, and seeing the amazing work our staff does; I realized my business background would better serve the RIC in the Executive Director role. Moving to the nonprofit sector has exceeded my expectations, and now I wake up every day excited to get to work changing lives!”
What makes your organization a “Nonprofit to Watch?”
First, we are so thankful and humbled for The Columbus Foundation’s recognition of us as one of the “5 Nonprofits to Watch in 2023.” The Riverview International Center, or The RIC as we are affectionately known, takes the adage, “meet your clients where they are” literally. Proximity to assistance is one of the biggest hindrances to obtaining assistance, so we operate out of a small two bedroom apartment located within a half-mile walking distance of about 1800 immigrants and refugees. Last year we provided 10,411 services to 1047 people from 43 countries; all from our 585 sq.ft. apartment! In addition, the New American demographics in the Riverview Dr. area are constantly changing, so our proximity allows our passionate staff to pivot quickly in order to address unexpected needs, issues and questions.
As a kid what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
Like most boys, I knew, I wanted to be a professional baseball player, specifically George Brett!
What is the one thing you are most passionate about?
I am super passionate about providing opportunities for my children. My father told me, when I was younger, that he wanted my brother and me to have a better life than he did. I took that to heart; so whether it is sports, travel, education or even fun; I do my best to provide my kids with new opportunities. I also provide them the opportunity to “give back,” so they routinely volunteer at The RIC’s Homework Help, food distribution and Summer Reading Programs. The word “opportunity” also reminded me of what my good friend Ahcene, an immigrant from Algeria, said to me. His first job in the States was in a warehouse, yet he has a PhD and was a department head at an Algerian University. He told me, “I did not leave a good life behind for me. I left for my children. The opportunities for my girls were limited, so my wife and I took a step back so that we can give our girls the opportunity to move forward. And the USA is still the best place in the world to do that.”
How do you stay motivated and what drives you to take things to the next level?
As a nonprofit, the free services we provide do not keep the lights on or the staff employed. Our staff has been thoughtfully selected based on the needs of the community, and that need does not go away just because we don’t receive a grant or raise enough money next year. Quality programming is only half the battle in this sector. We rely on generous donations, corporate solicitation, and grant writing with extensive reporting to not only sustain our current level of services, but also to plan for the expected 30-40% growth in New Americans seeking our services in the next year, alone. Knowing the result of not scaling responsibly, in order to provide for our neighbors and our staff, is all the motivation I need.
What might others be surprised to know about you?
I was a Ranger-qualified Paratrooper in the Army, but I am still a big kid at heart. You are just as apt to see me partnering with my 11 year old to sell some of our thousands of sportscards on our eBay store, coaching a sports team or joining a pickup game of soccer with the kids next to our office. One of my favorite parts of The RIC is our children’s programs. For instance, during our Summer Reading Program, I love reading with obnoxiously loud and funny voices in order to keep the children interested and, hopefully, to inspire them to enjoy reading more and more.
How can others in the Columbus community get involved with your organization
We have a plethora of programs and volunteer opportunities. Some that stand out are office administrative assistants, driving neighbors to appointments, reading to kids at our summer reading programs, helping in our workforce development program and so many more. Reach out to email@example.com with more volunteer questions. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, we are only able to sustain our level of service due to the generosity of individual and corporate donors. Whether someone is able to contribute dollars or time, we will ensure it is meaningful and that it will change lives.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that Columbus is inviting, Columbus is passionate, and Columbus is giving. We live in an amazing and diverse city, and it warms my heart to see how we, as a collective, invite and enjoy the cultural differences that our New American neighbors bring.
Since 2014, The Columbus Foundation’s 5 Nonprofits to Watch platform has honored remarkable nonprofit organizations that are working to strengthen and improve our community. Meet all of the Nonprofits to Watch in 2023 »