Xavier Magazine

Profile: Ellen Katz Johnson

Master of Business Administration, 2004
President and CEO, The Children’s Home

Homegrown Values | “I grew up in a family that really valued children,” she says. “I knew a neighbor who was a child psychologist, and I admired what she did. I just felt like my passion was for kids, and when I started studying psychology in college, things just kind of came together.”

Passion for Kids | “I had a psychology degree from the University of Vermont, and I had worked with kids. My goal was to become a child psychologist, so I got started at The Children’s Home, kind of getting my feet wet in my career of choice.”

The Accidental Leader | “I ended up being pulled into the leadership and management side,” she says. Three years ago, Johnson became the first woman president and chief executive officer of the private, non-profit agency that helps children with social, behavioral and learning challenges. “I am proud of being the first woman to ever lead the organization. We’ve been around 144 years, so it’s about time.”

Inspiration | Helping kids with problems, she says, is very satisfying work. “I get to hear kids laughing,” she says. “It’s pretty inspirational. And it is certainly rewarding hearing the stories of kids whose lives have been transformed. I hear from people who benefitted from this organization when they were children, and I hear from parents who talk about how The Children’s Home has made it possible for their children to succeed.”

Helping Troubled Kids | “We have a high school for kids with severe behavior problems. We had a 16-year-old boy from a public high school without a single high school credit. Our staffers know how to work with these kids, and they are amazing. They develop social skills in these kids so they can have more confidence in their abilities. They peel away the social and emotional challenges so they can do their academics.”

Coping | Despite the successes, challenges abound. “It’s very hard work, and the challenges of the kids’ behavior tend to cause a lot of burnout in our staff,” she says. “Fundraising is also challenging. Children can’t advocate for themselves and resources tend to be very limited for these children. Having the community contribute to this organization is incredibly challenging. It’s also challenging to get other people in the community to support a mission they may never have personally been connected to.”

The Future | Johnson says she’s committed to seeing The Children’s Home thrive and grow. “I’m prepared to make a commitment to be in this role at least 10 years because I think that is a good tenure for a CEO in an organization like this,” she says. “We want to have more impact in the community, whether we do it ourselves or through collaboration with other organizations. We don’t need the credit. We just want the communities and the kids and the families who are struggling to be better off.”

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