Editor’s note: This week, Idaho newspapers are telling the stories of people working behind the scenes to make a difference in Idaho health care, nonprofits, government and economic development. Today: Accountant Karan Tucker realized she wanted something different from life. She ended up running what is probably Idaho’s largest social-service non-profit.
Growing up in Kellogg, Karan Tucker was the youngest of 11 children in a poor family. As a teenager, she had one goal: a job that paid enough to make poverty a distant memory. She got an accounting degree at Boise State University and started working for a public accounting firm.
Then her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“Something in me, my gut, just called to me to make sure I was spending time with her. I was traveling regularly to North Idaho to spend one week a month and was able to build a really meaningful relationship,” she said.
Being a caregiver during her mother’s five years of illness changed how Tucker saw her place in the world. At age 32, when her mother died, she realized she needed to reconsider her path in life.
“I came back to work in the public accounting world, and people wouldn’t talk with me,” she said. “People were afraid to interact with me. They didn’t know how to talk about death or dying, or how to be around someone who was grieving. And it was horrifying for me.”
Returning to work made Tucker feel even more lonely in her grief. Her job was draining. So she took a break from work. She went to counseling, got a dog, started running and took a part-time job at Edwards Greenhouse. She also began volunteering — and came alive.
“I knew that I needed to be doing work that I could connect with people in a really genuine way and — it sounds corny — to make a difference,” she said.
Tucker applied for a job in finance at Mountain States Group — the organization now known as Jannus. She was chief financial officer for 11 years, then rose to executive director in April 2012.
Hartzell Cobbs, her predecessor, led the organization for 17 years.
“It’s not that typical that you find that kind of heart, combined with the intellect and the kind of experience Karan has,” Cobbs said. “She is a visionary. ... She also has an attention to detail.”
When the board of directors asked Tucker to become executive director, she wasn’t sure she would fit into the role of leading the entire organization, Cobbs said. “Everyone else could see it,” he said. “She was a natural.”
The nonprofit is now one of the largest — if not the largest — social-services organizations in the state.
“These are very difficult days in which to run a nonprofit,” Cobbs said. Grants now require more matching donations and often don’t cover overhead, he said.
“She’s in a challenging environment, and riding the wave very well.”
15,000 The average number of people Jannus programs serve each year
$15 million Annual operating budget for Jannus, about 78 percent from federal grants and contracts
Here’s how Tucker describes Jannus: “We are a diverse human service organization with more than 20 programs that promote community health, create economic opportunities and advance public policy.”
And when she says that, the response is usually: “Huh?”
Jannus is the umbrella organization. It houses, supports and helps to administer programs — more cost effectively than if those 20-some programs operated as separate nonprofits.
Jannus includes some well-known programs, such as the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline. But Tucker also helps administer lesser-known programs that reach people statewide. One is Nutrition Works, which served 1.2 million meals in the past six months at child-care sites in 21 counties across the state.
The nonprofit is headquartered in Boise, but its reach extends across Idaho. Jannus has several statewide programs that assist with refugee resettlement, homelessness and advocacy on various social issues. Jannus reaches from an Early Head Start program in the north to the Nutrition Works program in Eastern Idaho.
Many people are familiar with Jannus through its refugee program, Center for New Americans. The nonprofit also houses the office that oversees the refugee resettlement process for the entire state — a job that most states oversee themselves but is privatized in Idaho.
The backlash against refugees in the U.S. has rattled Tucker and her employees. They worry about whether their refugee clients are safe going to the grocery store or sending their children to school.
“Once someone meets a refugee and comes into relationship with them, and hears that they’re just as passionate about having strong, healthy, safe, educated kids as any one of us are, it shifts the perspective,” she said. “We have caution and concern with the new political landscape, ... about the safety of our clients.
“We’ve also had just as much outpouring of support from people who would have never been involved but now are calling to say, ‘I know the work you do, and I’ve never been involved, but I want to now.’ ”
We remain devoted to our programs and our values at this moment — precisely because we believe they are important for all of us, regardless of political affiliation or birth place, gender or faith.
Karan Tucker, executive director of Jannus Inc.
For example, Jannus now has more volunteers and donations than before the Magic Valley became a focal point for opposition to the U.S. taking in refugees.
In one week in December, 100 people called asking to volunteer.
“The LDS church, for one, has absolutely stepped up in the past year to be fully committed,” she said. “We got a new moving van, we got $40,000 worth of mattresses.”
Q: Most of your funds are from the federal government. What are you expecting, with the new Congress and president?
A: Our organization has always had an awareness that reliance on federal funding is a business risk. And we’ve been working to diversify that funding already.
Absolutely, in the new political climate, there are a lot of unknowns. And for now, the best we can do is continue to do our work in the best way we know how. ... Our policy team is more engaged now than ever at the congressional level, so that information about Idahoans can be shared quickly and easily so they understand the impact to Idahoans when they make decisions.
Q: What do you struggle with?
A: Being able to tell our story. ... We’ve not been good about being able to articulate the impact that a lot of these programs are making. And that’s primarily due to a lack of resources. We focus so much of our funding on the actual direct service that we haven’t found a way to fund good marketing outreach.
The political climate is definitely challenging. Has been challenging, but in current times has definitely gotten more challenging. ... Being able to see divergent perspectives. And mostly being an educator, so people can understand the work we do and the clients we serve.
Funding is always a challenge in the nonprofit arena.
Q: What is one accomplishment at Jannus you are most proud of?
A: Because of Jannus’s 40-year history of doing complex, meaningful work, when the state’s diverse partners came together to say that Idaho needed a suicide prevention hotline, our organization was invited to be the one to operate it.
To me, that’s a privilege, and humbling for the recognition of this organization and the quality of work we do. To have been seen as an organization that could take that on, get it started.
We’re in year four. It’s (operated) 24/7. We’ve secured, with a variety of partners, 60 percent of its operating budget coming from the state — which is a huge success. We rolled out text response this year.
We were just the operators, but I’m really proud of being sought out to, and entrusted to, do that.
Q: When you think about 2016, what stands out?
A: Over the past several months, I have had countless conversations with colleagues, community partners, friends and neighbors about the complexities and tragedies of 2016 around the world and here where we live. For months, we were subjected to rhetoric at odds with the values of inclusion, social justice and compassion — the values at the very core of Jannus.
I couldn’t be more proud of the work we have done over our last 42 years, and it’s a bit daunting to recognize that we don’t know what the future will bring. There is so much at stake for our world, so much need to address in our own community, and there is much uncertainty. So yes, the significant political shift in our country stood out, no doubt.
What is most humbling for 2016 for me personally, and for Jannus and our programs, is the equal and opposite outpouring of compassion and community, people coming together to defend and advance the issues we care about in the face of waffling support and emboldened opposition.
Formerly called Mountain States Group, the nonprofit changed its name in 2015 to Jannus Inc. The name is derived from the Roman god of beginnings, transitions and doorways, who usually is depicted with two faces — looking to the future and the past.
Agency for New Americans: A refugee resettlement agency in Boise.
EO/Economic Opportunity: Provides training and resources to socially and economically disadvantaged people, such as helping with credit-building and business planning.
English Language Center: Helps to provide English language training.
Global Gardens: Trains low-income families to grow, cook and sell fresh produce.
Global Talent Idaho: Workforce development initiative, helping skilled refugees and immigrants continue or reclaim their careers in Idaho.
Idaho Office for Refugees: Administers Idaho’s refugee resettlement program.
Area Health Education Center (AHEC): Increased access to primary-care services in rural and underserved areas of Idaho.
Early Head Start: Child development, health and social services for low-income families in North Idaho.
Foster Grandparents: Treasure Valley grandparents volunteer to mentor and befriend children in need.
Honoring Choices Idaho: Helps people make and document their health-care choices in advance.
Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255): A call and text hotline for people at risk of suicide, and their families and loved ones.
Legacy Corps: Caregiver support and respite for veterans and military families.
Nutrition Works: Helps childcare providers serve healthy meals.
Office of Consumer and Family Affairs: Information and support for behavioral-health consumers.
Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH): Provides outreach, guidance and support to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and have behavioral health issues.
Peer Support Specialist Training: Trains people to become peer support specialists, who work in mental-health and substance-abuse recovery.
Senior Corps RSVP: Senior volunteer network.
Idaho After School Network: Focuses on awareness, quality and access to after-school programs in Idaho.
Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy: Research and financial analysis on funding for education, health, safety and transportation.
Idaho Voices for Children: Advocates for children’s health, education, safety and economic security.
Unsung Idahoans who change their communities
Idaho newspapers are telling the stories of people working behind the scenes to make a difference in Idaho health care, non-profits, government and economic development.
TODAY: Accountant Karan Tucker realized she wanted something different from life. She ended up running what is probably Idaho’s largest social-service non-profit.