A Day With Jeri Royce

President and CEO, Esperança


On my way downstairs every morning, I get attacked in a friendly way by my three dogs. I am the “treat lady,” and they know a treat is in store when I get up. I start my coffee, get their treats and contemplate my day. My rhythm is contemplation, action and reflection. I’ve developed a pattern at this stage of my life that begins with contemplation in the morning and continues on my drive into the office. I think about my schedule for the day, what I want to accomplish and who needs my attention today.


I hit the ground running as soon as I arrive at the office. I was selected to participate in Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust’s Piper Fellowship program and have chosen to take Spanish and earn a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Certificate from eCornell to support my professional development. DEI is a big issue for us, particularly in the nonprofit sector. It must be led from the top if the organization is going to embrace it fully; it is not a ground-up type of initiative. I’m proud that Esperança has a diverse board from a gender and racial perspective, and that’s been intentional. A significant percentage of our workforce is of color, and I am the first female president and CEO in the organization’s 52-year history. But inclusion is another story. How do we work together to be inclusive of all our cultures?

I’m taking Spanish as part of my Fellowship because participants and community partners speak Spanish, and I can’t speak to them without a translator, which keeps me stuck. I’m driven by connection with people, and not being able to speak someone’s language is a huge barrier to communication.

The Fellowship is designed as a sabbatical throughout the year focused on personal, professional and organizational development with time off to do the work. I have a strong set of leaders, but if I’m here, they don’t always get to lead the way they would like. They take turns being in charge, which gives them a broader perspective of the organization and benefits us in the long run.


Esperança’s focus is global health and health equity. We understand that building a healthy life is foundational and a human right. But our systems and structures are not set up to deliver that,  so we work in the gaps where communities need us. We don’t swoop in and offer services that we think you need; we offer services you tell us you need. Our community development, medical treatment and intervention work is diverse throughout the seven countries we work in.

For example, Nicaragua has water issues, so we’re building water systems. In Mozambique, we assist with running a medical program. We fund indigenous nonprofits in every country that understand the unique needs of their community. We work the same in Arizona, focusing on health, nutrition, disease prevention and education for Latinos in low-income, under-resourced communities. We have many partners — school systems, community centers, HUD housing — and ask what they need from us. Our model and philosophy are extremely important to us. We’re not serving people who are broken. We are serving people who are whole, creative and resourceful, and we’re helping them be more so.


In 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer while serving as Esperança’s interim president and CEO. My health challenges gave me a palpable connection to the mission of our work because without my healthcare, family support, privilege, education and access, I would not have survived. The people we serve don’t have these. They don’t have access, information, knowledge and don’t speak the same language as most of their medical professionals. I suddenly realized my next mission is to do everything I can to make sure people have the same opportunity I have to live a healthy and happy life. UltIimately, it’s about choice. Giving them the opportunity to choose it is the work. I am committed, energized and care deeply about my staff and creating the future for Esperança, which won’t always be with me. I work hard to build succession by helping every one of my leaders get ready
for the future.


I try to protect the final two hours of my workday so I can read, check emails and put my thoughts together for what I need to do the next day. I often stop at the gym on the way home and spend my evenings playing with my dogs, catching up with my husband and knitting or crocheting my favorite project. I have more yarn than Imelda Marcos has shoes! My grandmother taught me when I was young, and I started doing it again 15 years ago. The rhythm and complexity of patterns and colors get my creative juices going. This is a relaxing activity for me as I settle down, reflect and don’t think so much ahead. I make a lot of blankets and donate them to charities for people in need. Doing this makes me happy. 

To learn more, go to esperanca.org.  

About Julie Coleman

Julie Coleman is a contributing writer for Frontdoors Media. She is Principal of Julie Coleman Consulting, providing strategic philanthropy consulting services for individuals, families, businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations.

From Frontdoors Magazine

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