North Mpls native now minds the state’s public safety nets
On January 13 this year, Jovon Perry took on a new job that she says fulfills her ambition to bring about changes helping those most in need. The needs are great, but she appears to be undaunted by the immense scope of her new responsibilities.
Perry is now responsible for managing the Minnesota Family Investment Program, Diversionary Work Program, Refugee Program Office, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Food Stamp Treasury Offset Program while leading staff in improving outcomes for Minnesota families with low incomes, and working with counties, tribes and communities to help families achieve economic stability. She also manages and oversees training manuals, policies and procedures, data analysis, and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT).
Even Perry’s new job title seems burdensome: She is director of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Children and Family Services’ Economic Assistance and Employment Supports Division. How does someone prepare themselves for a job of this breadth?
“I do not take it lightly,” says Perry of her new position. “I have a lot of people in my own community and in my own family that I have to answer to. Let alone, the whole state of Minnesota, as well as the whole children and family services administration that I have to answer to.
“But, I do not do this alone,” Perry continued in an MSR interview. “I have an absolutely wonderful staff here of managers, of supervisors, and of front-line staff.” She also acknowledges the counties and the community partners that she works with to make her job possible. Perry says her staff “makes my job much easier.”
Perry grew up in North Minneapolis, right off of 12th and Sheridan “in a double bungalow on the corner. I lived there until I was a sophomore.” Her family then moved to Brooklyn Park, where she currently still resides.
She is describes herself as “an African American woman, a wife, a mother first. I am also a resident of the community that cares a lot about the success of the families of our communities, and ultimately the state of Minnesota.
“Growing up over North, I was really involved with services at NorthPoint [Health and Wellness Center]. At that time it was called Pilot City. Growing up [in the community], you were allowed to hear, and you are involved in what our parents call ‘grown folks conversations.’ You hear a lot about what people are going though, the complications that they are going through and the hardships that they are going through.
“I always wanted to effect change in those areas,” Perry continued. “How can I be of help? How can I effect changes in this way?” These were some of the questions Perry asked herself growing up.
Perry’s previous work mostly involved the nonprofit sector. “I actually went back to Pilot City and had a chance to work with NorthPoint Health and Wellness as their client services director. That really gave me a lot of experience working in our community and working with intense case management, and working through many different barriers that our participants had.”
Before NorthPoint, Perry worked at Pillsbury United Communities as the Urban Institute for Service and Learning director. This allowed her to work in many capacities, which gave her diverse experience across the board.
“You know, in the nonprofit sector, you can wear many hats,” Perry added. “I was working within many of the local communities, working with individuals to realize their own power and how to create self-sufficiency for themselves, whether it be creating a nonprofit or creating their own business or…securing employment or education. Whatever their goals were, [I helped by] building that capacity and helping develop those leaders, by using myself as the leader.
“I think a lot of it was opening up space and saying [those in] our community [are] our leaders,” she continued. “They are the ones that are our leaders and should be giving back to the community.
“Now my life and the work that I have done has led me up to this effort into trying to do that work, and trying to effect change in those areas. Now, I am living it through a dream job of really being able to do it across a state level. I am really excited about the opportunity.”
In terms of her new position with the State, Perry told the MSR she is looking forward to “increasing the family and child focus. It is a full charge of our Assistant Commissioner Jim Koppel that I wholeheartedly agree with. I want to make sure we are creating ladders up, and we are really creating a safety net for families, and that we are partnering more so with our community partners and our counties as an equal learner at the table to address some of the huge disparities that we have in the state.
“[I want] to address the unemployment and underemployment that we have within the state,” continued Perry. “So, those are some of the things that I want to focus on and bring into this position.” Perry acknowledges that she has a huge responsibility and she looks forward to meeting the challenge head on.
Brandi D. Phillips welcomes reader comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated 3/25 11:45 am
Brandi Phillips is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.