‘Living my purpose’: Cleveland Clinic administrator fighting to hire local, invest local, empower her community

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — In high school, Vickie Eaton Johnson said she was the type of student who wanted to be president of student government, active in her class, participating in the community and helping others.

When it came time for her to go to college, though, she needed a little guidance herself, and luckily, her coach and mentor — now Glenville High School Principal Jacqueline Bell — was there to help.

“She told me where I was going to college,” she said. “I went down a path to go with my friends…she said, ‘No. You’re going to Baldwin Wallace, where I went.’ And I did what she told me.”

Now, Johnson is using her passion for helping others and the lessons learned from her mentor to help youth in Cleveland area as senior director of community development at the Cleveland Clinic.

Her responsibilities in a nutshell?

“We are intentionally focusing on residents, our neighbors outside the hospital because the Cleveland Clinic cannot be a leader in health care if it does not reach out to the communities in which it is located…we want the healthiest community for everyone. Hire local, invest local, supporting economic empowerment for people so they can ultimately live the healthiest lives possible.”

Johnson was born in Alabama but was raised by her parents in Cleveland. She lives here with her family, which includes five children. She’s been with the Clinic for seven years after spending 17 as director of the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation.

“It’s always been about people and helping them be in control of what success is for them and to bring everyone to the table to try to make those things happen,” she said.

Specifically for the Cleveland Clinic, Johnson said she and her team work with the local community development corporation to support the neighborhood’s vision. The Cleveland Clinic is able to use its resources to improve the health and well-being of the area along with attracting businesses, creating jobs and influencing the development of new housing.

For example, she said, the Cleveland Clinic recently made a $6 million committment for 80 units of mixed-inome housing in the community.

“We actually require for our participation that a cert number of those units’ rent comes down so our min wage earners and lower wage earners can afford to live there in close proximity to the campus,” she said.

She and her team also help youth. They created the Louis Stokes Scholar Program meant for students who are not interested in the “health care side of health care.”

“There are so many other career pathways in a hospital that you can choose to be part of,” she said. “An engineer, an attorney, working in finance, law enforcement. To create that just meant everything to me personally because I’ve mentored a lot of young people.”

“And I’m only giving back,” she added. “Someone mentored me. To be able to use the resources of a large institution to do something like that is powerful.”

In the future, Johnson said she’d like to research and study how an anchor institution like the Cleveland Clinic can address more urban problems.

“How do we help people move from poverty…how can we help them aquire assets. How can we help people get ahead. The will is there. When that’s done, I’ll feel like my career is complete, and I’ll go off to university and teach our next generation of public administrators and community development folks how to do this work.”

For now, Johnson said, she knows she is living out her purpose.

“I believe I’m living my purpose,” she said. “The reason I have the opportunity to sit at the table is to have a voice for minorities, to have a voice for people from the community, to have a voice from my lived experiences. I’m not shy about it. I’m encouraged to speak up about it. So I’m doing what I’m expected to do.”

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